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Bloodiest Day Of Ukrainian Conflict; President Cruz?; A $19 Billion Deal? Whatsapp With That?

Aired February 20, 2014 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In the World Lead, if you don't like the way I've been running the country, the president of Ukraine seems to be saying, well, here's your chance to change it. President Victor Yanukovych is willing to move up Ukraine's elections, originally scheduled for February 2015 to this year.

According to the Polish prime minister that is who is attempting to mediate in Ukraine. Protests erupted in Ukraine after Yanukovych picked closer ties to Russia instead of signing a trade deal with the European Union. A truce was brokered yesterday and that seems promising the protests only got worse, far worse. More than 100 people died in fighting in the Ukraine today, the bloodiest day of the standoff.

Protesters claim that government snipers are firing upon them. Well, reports say the protesters have taken about 70 police officers hostage. Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is in the war zone of Kiev. Nick, you have a very harrowing report that we are about to show, but I want our viewers to know that what they are about to see is quite graphic.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Jake. I should point out, you know, this evening we're seeing possible signs of a political solution. We've been here many times before where there seems to be glimmer of hope and then it collapses in violence. But as you said, the Polish president saying perhaps there could be an early election and also saying maybe a new government within ten days and maybe a weakening of the constitution and the presidential palace by the summer.

We've not heard though publicly from Viktor Yanukovych if he is willing to agree with this. These meetings with European diplomats will go on into the night. Behind me, not celebration, a solemn mass that I walked through commemorating those who died today, but importantly fireworks have been fired at the police lines and now being fired up in the sky almost in celebration.

Far too early to say that because the legacy of the really ghastly morning we went through where dozens of people died is still certainly hanging in the air here. I'll just warn you the report you're about to see does contain graphic images of what we witnessed this morning.


WALSH (voice-over): This is what a truce looks like. Protesters carried away from police lines, dead, wounded, gathered in the lobby of the hotel under the sheets, head wounds, most here hit by bullets of the dead. The number is rising. Together with disbelief and rage. Outside, this makeshift morgue and hospital with live fire around.

Eight hours earlier, the president agreed on a truce then something changed. Police suddenly withdrew and protesters moved forward. It's unclear why. This man said he fired a shotgun at police once protesters have been fired upon by a sniper. He didn't want his face shown. And this man said that stone grenades have caused protesters to surge forward.

Opposition leaders blamed the provocation in what was once a peaceful protest, shotgun pellets, the tips of live rounds, ripples from grenades. On the road up to the parliament, police and protesters are face-to-face. Barricades being reinforced as many fear an escalation is ahead. Are you ready, one protesters asks a young man who is behind the shield. He may not be. The Ukraine may not be for what comes next.


WALSH: Now, what is key today, Jake, is we have been seeing signs of Yanukovych in the circle. Yesterday, we talked about the army chief being replaced. Today, the mayor of Kiev said I'm leaving the ruling party. I'm going to run the city by himself. Not quite succeeding the capital, but saying its leadership wants nothing to do with Yanukovych. He is clearly under pressure.

A lot of meeting with these key European diplomats, neighboring Poland, France, Germany, Britain, as well, coming here. They say they have a road map that they hope he will sign on to. That's, of course, a whole different jump away from him actually agreeing to leave power early as the protesters go on behind me. We have not heard from him importantly publicly today at all.

We heard what he said to other politicians. That's key because you expect him, if confident, to be addressing the nation as clearly the real fear that the people behind me is that it's not some kind of escalation to again by security forces. There's rhetoric today that they are quite worrying -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you and stay safe.

With Russia, Germany, France and Poland, all working with the Ukrainian president and the opposition on the way out, should the U.S. be taking on a larger role? Joining me now is Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. He is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and he chairs the subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats.

Congressman, thanks for being here. The White House now says it is outraged over the violence in the Ukraine, but besides the human rights element to this, what do you see as the American interests in what is going on there?

REPRESENTATIVE DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, let's just take a look. Ukraine is different than some of the other challenges we face, what you have is a country that is somewhat evenly divided among people who want to take the country in one direction and the other. And those people are in a brutal, political conflict and hopefully, you know, we'd like to be the country that emphasizes settling these problems peacefully through the ballot box.

Unfortunately, what we have is you have players from the outside, both from Moscow and from Europe who are trying to make sure that there are people on the inside are uncompromising about how to proceed and that's why I think we've relied on -- that's one reason why I think that we have seen this violence.

As far as the United States goes, I think that the -- we are no longer in the cold war and for some reason and there was that people seemed to think that any time Russia is doing something in its self- interest, like trying to get a good trading relationship with the Ukraine, it's up to us to come and intercede on behalf of those who oppose it. I think we should sit it out and apply and ask all sides to settle it through the democratic election.

TAPPER: These protests started up peacefully back in November because of this trade deal, Yanukovych opting to go with Putin in Russia as opposed to the E.U. But now there are concerns that more radical elements of the protesters that have turned the protests into something more violent. At least 13 police officers have been killed this week.

The protesters, of course, have a right to peaceful protest. I don't want to distract from the fact that the government is cracking down in a very bloody way, but how concerned are you about these elements within the protest movement?

ROHRABACHER: Well, what we have here, of course, is let's not forget that Yanukovych is a man who was elected to be their president and I have not heard a charge during this whole time from the opposition or anybody that the last election was a false -- a phony election or that there was so much fraud that he shouldn't be president.

The goal of these people from day one should have been to wait until the next election and reverse the policy if they didn't like the policy that Yanukovych was following. They do have a complaint that he changed his direction. Yes. The Europeans offered Ukraine a deal and Yanukovych decided the deal from Russia was better for the Ukraine.

That was -- that's what he was elected to do. They should un- elect this man if that does not reflect what the people of the Ukraine want for their country.

TAPPER: Certainly, sir, you have concerns about the human rights going on there, the oppression of the protesters, reports of snipers by the government, the secret service targeting individuals and journalists, right? I mean, you're concerned that you don't think that the Ukrainian government is acting inappropriately?

ROHRABACHER: I don't think that either side is acting appropriately, quite frankly, look I saw -- I've seen police riots in the United States and when the police get going and some people start throwing things at them, the police lose their cool and lose their discipline and commit acts that are not legal. Even here in the United States.

We've seen that all over the world. That has gotten -- that's what is happening in the Ukraine in spades. I mean, they are hypercharged, sort of a police riot due to this type of political confrontation. But, again, they should settle this at the ballot box and there are all kinds of reports.

For example, there was a deal that was struck between the two sides and the police were withdrawing last night. Now, a report that I heard was that these students are -- not the students but some hot heads, among those who were protesting, went out and started throwing firebombs at the police as they left and then the police turned around and, of course, decided that they were going to show how tough they are.

So there's fault on both sides here and I'm concerned not only about respect for human rights, which we all have to be concerned about, but also respect for the rule of law, which means the person who won the election makes the policy.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, thank you so much for your time and your views. We appreciate it.

Coming up in politics, you might want to pick up some Alkaseltzer, Senator Ted Cruz jokes that that's what a lot of folks in Washington will need if he decides to run for the White House and if he wins. Our own Dana Bash talked exclusively with the man at odds with a lot of Democrats and a lot of people in his own party.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In politics, sure, he's barely been in the Senate for a year, but in an exclusive interview with our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, did not exactly swat down speculation that he may be mauling a run for the White House in 2016.

Dana Bash joins me now from a very rainy Houston, Texas. Dana, the senator was all smiles at the mention of his potential rivals for the presidency. Tell us more about your sit-down with the man who fellow senators have had harsh words for him lately.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I've interviewed him many times. I know you have as well, Jake. It always fascinates me how he claims not to be bothered so much by the fact that his fellow Republicans are often so angry with him especially right now over what happened last week with the debt ceiling, but it's also always clear why he is doing it.

He says it is because he is keeping his promises to his constituents here in Texas, but it is also clear that he has another constituency there, conservative Republicans who might help him in 2016.


BASH (voice-over): With Ted Cruz, there is none of the usual fanning or pretending about his presidential ambitions. Watch him nod and smile when asked about a potential rival for the GOP nomination.

(on camera): Rand Paul, your friend in the Senate, who is possibly going to be your competitor for the White House in 2016, he's been making an issue of Bill Clinton, calling him a predator for taking advantage of a 20-year-old intern. Do you agree with that?

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Look, I'm a lot less concerned with Bill Clinton's escapades decades ago than I am with Hillary Clinton's consistently wrong record when it comes to foreign policy, when it comes to domestic policy.

BASH: So is Rand Paul barking up the wrong tree?

CRUZ: Look, he is certainly entitled to express his views and there are many people who agree with those views. But I want tell you what my focus is, is my focus is on the substantive problems in this country right now.

The people who are getting hammered under the Obama economy, they are young people, they are Hispanics. They are African- Americans. They are single moms and throughout her tenure, Hillary Clinton has embraced the same far left agenda before Obamacare there was Hillary care.

BASH (voice-over): How would Cruz, the commander-in-chief, handle a crisis like the one now in Ukraine.

(on camera): I know you don't feel with hypotheticals, but my guess is this one you'll be OK with. It's 2017. You're the president in the oval office. Kiev is on fire. What would you do?

CRUZ: Well, if that were to happen, I think you'd have to buy some Alkaseltzer for an awful lot of people in Washington if in 2017 that happened. Let me answer it this way. Whoever is president in 2017, I very much hope that Kiev is not still on fire. What is happening in the Ukraine right now is both incredibly heartening and incredibly tragic.

It is heartening to see thousands upon thousands of protesters standing up for freedom, standing up and braving the brutal cold, standing up facing violent opposition, facing kidnapping, facing torture, facing murder, and standing up because they want to stand with the west.

They want to stand with America. They want to stand with Europe. The president of the United States should speak out with absolute clarity and solidarity for the protesters for freedom.

BASH: Should there be more sanctions or should there be sanctions?

CRUZ: Absolutely yes. We should be imposing sanctions on the government officials in Ukraine right now who are oppressing, who are torturing the protesters.

BASH (voice-over): As for his White House ambitions, Cruz may not be coy about having them, but he's a traditional politician on the question of when he'd make it official.

(on camera): So are you willing to help the Alkaseltzer company and throw your hat in officially? When is that going to happen?

CRUZ: You know, my focus, and you've heard this before, is on the Senate.

BASH: I know I've heard that before, but I want to hear something new. When are you going to announce?

CRUZ: Look it's the truth. It's -- these fights are happening now and you want to know how true it is. Look to last week. Look to the debt ceiling.

BASH: That was part of your 2016 campaign?

CRUZ: No. That was doing part of the job that I promised Texans I would do.


BASH: Promised Texas, that's what he would do, but Jake, guess where he is right now. Florida and that, of course, is a very important, early primary state for anybody who wants to be president of the United States particularly a Republican -- Jake.

TAPPER: It's like a fan dance all these candidates pretending. There's one other thing that I want to ask you about. In an interview with syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said, she does not think there is a, quote, "hands up desire for a female president." It's kind of strange thing to hear from a woman who just ran for the White House herself. She also said, quote, "I think there was a cache about having an African-American president because of guilt people don't hold guilt for a woman." Are you surprised by these comments?

BASH: I mean, there is so much to unpack in that. I think we could probably do it for an hour. But certainly, it's a little bit surprising. Actually, very surprising for, as you said, a woman who ran for president in the last cycle to say something like that. I will tell you that I was actually with her the day that she dropped out of the race talking to some of her supporters who were convinced that she wouldn't do well because she was a woman.

And there was a double standard for her and that was their position even though she may have said one or two or ten things that hurt her in a way that maybe didn't hurt the male candidates. But, look, she is not alone in the Republican Party in slamming Hillary Clinton, but the fact that she did it from the perspective of gender is pretty interesting.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, interesting. She's probably talking about her own personal experience if there wasn't this reservoir of feminist support as she hoped. Dana Bash, thank you so much. Wolf Blitzer, of course, is here now with the preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf, you've been covering the Ted Nugent comment with particular interest and now you have a pretty big power player in Texas on your show.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Governor Rick Perry is coming in, another Texan who is thinking, it's fair to say he's thinking of running again for president. Senator Ted Cruz and I think Rick Perry is as well so he's going to be here. He is going to be in "THE SITUATION ROOM." He's in D.C. right now.

So we've got a lot to talk about including the up roar that's developed over the past few days involving Ted Nugent appearing on the stage with a man who wants to succeed Rick Perry as governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. So we got a lot to talk about. I will ask him, of course, will he run again for president of the United States.

TAPPER: I know you will. Thank you so much. We're looking forward to it.

Coming up next, Facebook still in search of the Internet fountain of youth for buying Whatsapp for $19 billion. How about a trillion cookies, pics, and texts that say everything about you, all of that data?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Money Lead now, it's new that has some users of a popular texting app sending sad face, emoticons at a record phase. Facebook announced that it has officially acquired the mobile messaging service called Whatsapp for $19 billion.

Now if you're not familiar with the app, it works a lot like a social network, users can send messages and photos to one person or even a group and share their locations, but without paying the standard text fees that phone companies charge.

So why is it so valuable to Facebook? Well, how about the fact that the service adds a million new users a day from all around the world with each of those users paying a $1 a year subscription fee after a free trial.

Whatsapp users are also younger and they tend to be more active in the social networking than the average Facebook account holder. Now as for consumers, they love the app because of the company's pledge to protect their privacy. The co-founder, Yan Coom is a Ukrainian immigrant who says his experiences growing up shaped his concerns about government surveillance.

So he vowed his company would never sell ads or user data. Coom and his family arrived in the U.S. when he was just 16. In fact, they used to pick up food stamps from around the corner from where the Whatsapp headquarters are located. As if to bring his rags to riches tale full circle, Coom signed the $19 billion Facebook deal on the door of the welfare office his family visited growing up.

The newest members of the billionaire boys club are now trying to ease concerns that they have abandoned their Joe everybody roots. They say the company's privacy rules will stay the same under the new deal despite Facebook's reputation for collecting and distributing user information.

Still you can imagine why there are so many angry birds among Whatsapp's faithful flock. Joining me now to discuss it all is Evelyn Rusli, a technology reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." Evelyn, the $19 billion may sound like a lot of money, but given this app's popularity, was it a no-brainer for Facebook?

EVELYN RUSLI, TECHNOLOGY REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": For Facebook, it may have been a no-brainer. So bullish case on this if you look at Facebook is that they want to own the mobile experience and that's something that Mark Zuckerberg has said again and again over the last few years.

Now, in order to own mobile, you have to own messaging, right? So if you think about the way that we use our phones, a large bulk of the use case is to message our friends and Whatsapp is one of the brightest stars, it was only created about five years ago, but you look at it and it has 450 million users around the world and of those users, about 70 percent are using the app every day.

So Facebook is looking at these numbers and even though 19 billion is a lot for a company like Facebook that is trying to stay relevant, which is kind of funny when we think about it because we think of Facebook as a young company, but in some ways it's also an incumbent these days.

In order to stay relevant, in order to get young users and in order to expand abroad, it looked at Whatsapp and saw 19 billion makes sense.

TAPPER: They also of course wanted to prevent other companies like Google from buying it. I do want to ask you about user privacy, the data. The difference between a lot of social media and Whatsapp is that they have access to your phone book. Now, the company is pledging to protect user privacy, but won't it be nearly impossible to do so under this new deal?

RUSLI: I think it depends -- if you're a user and you look at Whatsapp and you really value the privacy, I think you have to also think about what you think about Facebook and what you think about the founders. Now, Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that they will operate in a way that is kind of independent. In the same way that Instagram does.

Now Instagram is a company that Facebook just acquired just a few years ago for almost $1 billion and it still kind of maintained some sovereignty within Facebook. So looking at that example, you can see that there's going to be some kind of separation probably in this next chapter for Whatsapp, but it's a concern.

If you are a concern and if you feel like Facebook is not -- does not do enough to protect your privacy, then you have to wonder what it is going to look like with a Whatsapp Facebook combination.

Now it seems like the founder has been very milt in the past about privacy being important about the consumer experience being important and he even has a board seat so that's probably a signal that Mark wants to give him what he wants.

But what happens in the next phase and whether or not his interests change as he becomes part of Facebook and if Facebook perhaps wants to make more money eventually from Whatsapp, you know, we'll have to see. That's the best I can tell you.

TAPPER: All right, I appreciate it. Evelyn Rusli, thank you so much for joining us. That it's for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.