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Echoes of Cold War Rivalry Developing Between U.S., Russia; Call Between Obama, Putin Ends in Ukraine Truce; Are Olympics Being Tainted by Ukraine Unrest; High Poll Numbers for Hillary Clinton; Another Government Bailout Repaid, With a Profit.

Aired February 21, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There seems to be echoes, echoes of that Cold War rivalry developing in recent weeks and months.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. The president said yesterday, he doesn't want to look at this as an old Cold War chess board, but in effect, that's what we have here. And you're not talking about returning to the Soviet Union, necessarily. But Russia wants to keep the country and its sphere of influence inside that sphere of influence. And that's what really started these protests, when the Ukraine was going to sign the agreement with the E.U., closer into the sway of the European, the West. Russia comes in, offers them $15 billion, says, no, join our union. They want to start their own Eurasian Union to be a counter balance to the E.U. So the president may not want it but, in effect, it is something of a Cold War chess board.

BLITZER: Certainly has that feeling, especially those of us who remember the bad old days of the Cold War.

The Senator, John McCain, he was on with Piers Morgan, last night. He's very tough in his criticism of President Obama's handling of this crisis.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: The president just displayed his incredible naivete about Vladimir. Remember, after I'm re-elected, we'll tell Vladimir, after I'm re-elected, he'll be more flexible. He doesn't -- the president doesn't think it's a chess game. Certainly Vladimir Putin does. Vladimir Putin wants a restoration of the Russian empire, of which Ukraine is the crown jewel. And I'm very worried about what actions after the Olympics that Putin may take in order to ensure that.


BLITZER: Those criticisms, you hear it not just from McCain, but from a wide range of foreign policy types that the president has been inconsistent.

SCIUTTO: No question. Also, Putin has been consistent, but in a way we don't like. A lot of old hands from the Soviet days saying you're seeing a return to Soviet style tactics that force is the only answer and not just in the Ukraine, but Syria, where the Russians have tremendous influence. The question is, what influence does the U.S. have there? You saw these sanctions this week against 20 leaders in the Ukrainian government. Has an effect on them, but does it move the dial inside the Ukraine? Maybe not. I am told by a number of people watching this crisis, the real key, the real way the U.S. can influence this positively is with an economic aid package, following a political agreement that has to be clearly more than $15 billion, right -- what the Russians have offered, in effect -- to help get the Ukrainian economy back on its feet. They're in danger of a default. But also gives a carrot, in effect, for staying on this side of that East-West divide.

BLITZER: And if you look, even in Kiev but outside Kiev, long, long gasoline lines in Ukraine. People, 50, 100 cars waiting to fill up their tanks. You go to an ATM machine, no money, no cash. People are worried about their life savings right now. That's going to have a dramatic impact internally in this struggle.

SCIUTTO: No question. In all these countries, just like here, bread- and-butter issues make a difference. I saw this when I went to Iran. This is a driving force for an Iran deal. The Iranian people, a weak economy, the government has to get itself out from under it. You have echoes of that here in the Ukraine. And that's where not just the U.S. but the European Union's influence can be. Here's your incentive, economic incentive, to join the West, in effect, and not go back into the sway of the Soviet Union.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens from this phone call between President Obama and President Putin.

SCIUTTO: On that note, I ran into Zbigniew Brzezinski in the halls of CNN before coming here, the national security advisor under President Carter. And he said the real key here is U.S. dialogue with Russian, that these are the key players. That's going to be a solution going forward both politically and economically.

BLITZER: He may be right. He knows about Russia.

SCIUTTO: He does.

BLITZER: He knows a lot about the U.S.

SCIUTTO: He does.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.

We're also standing by. The White House briefing is beginning. We'll see what happens there.

But up next, Putin's great showcase, the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. But are the games now being tainted by the unrest in Ukraine?

And later, American voters weigh in on Hillary Clinton, and why their opinion could be putting her political rivals on edge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Breaking news. We have been reporting the president of the United States, President Obama, will be making a phone call to President Vladimir Putin of Russia to discuss the escalating situation in Ukraine right now. There has been an agreement of a truce of sorts. Just moments ago, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, offered this assessment of what's going on.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On the agreement in the Ukraine, what's the president's message for president Putin today in that phone call?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president either is right now or is about to speak with President Putin. And obviously, they will talk about Ukraine. And we'll have a fuller readout of that conversation after it's been completed.

The fact of the matter is, it is in Russia's interests for the violence to end in Ukraine, as it is in the interests of the United States and our European friends and, of course, most importantly, the Ukrainian people. And we welcome the cessation of violence. And we welcome the agreements that have been reached. And we -- and the measures that have been passed through the parliament were still at an implementation stage, and we monitor this very closely. I'm sure these issues will all be discussed in that conversation.

And I think as my colleague, Tony Blinken noted not long ago, you know, our European friends, foreign ministers from Germany, Poland and -- sorry -- were very much engaged, as were the Russians -- and France -- sorry. France, Poland, and Germany are very much engaged, and Russia observed the agreement. And Russia's efforts on behalf of creating the cease fire and these agreements were obviously welcome.


BLITZER: Jay Carney referring in that statement to Tony Blinken, the president's deputy national security adviser.

The Winter Games in Sochi, by the way, will wrap-up this weekend. It's been a showcase of sorts for the Olympic city, and in particular for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Brian Todd is here, joining us.

A lot of people are taking a look at what was going on in Sochi. But they're also looking to what's going on in Ukraine. And they're wondering, has there been an upstaging of sorts?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And most analysts believe there has been, Wolf. During the first week of the Olympics, Vladimir Putin was at the opening ceremonies. We have images of him beaming, this great satisfied look on his face, visiting athletes, going to the different venues. This was a success. And the Olympics, by most measures, have been a success so far.

Then in the second week of the games, as they're about halfway through, disaster breaks out in Ukraine. You've got now the split screen nightmare for Vladimir Putin. On one screen that we're watching, the Sochi games, a success. On another, incredible violence in the Ukraine. And most analysts believe that violence has tarnished Vladimir Putin's image right at the time he counted on it being bolstered by Sochi. The reason is because he is seen as having a really heavy hand in Ukraine. Even this week, reports of at least one phone call and probably two, at least, between him and Viktor Yanukovych. And impression --

BLITZER: The president of Ukraine.

TODD: The president of Ukraine. The impression he, Putin, really meddling there and trying to influence things on the ground. Russia held back some of the money they were going to give to buy back their debt while all this was going on to see what was going on. Russians are exerted their leverage in Ukraine, and it's not making Vladimir Putin look good right now.

BLITZER: Financially, it could cost him, as well.

TODD: That's right. Some analysts are saying this meddling in Ukraine does not make Russia look good as an investment destination. They are seen as propping up this very unstable government with financial aid and losing a lot of money in the process. They could lose a lot more money. Here is a quote from David Howner (ph), a Bank of America analyst saying, quote, "Meddling with Ukraine certainly hurts Russia's image as an investment destination." Again, at a time when he might have been counting on investment money coming into Russia after Sochi and successful games, now you've got this. So it's hurting him on a lot of fronts.

BLITZER: Good point.

Thanks very much.

We'll have a lot more on Ukraine coming up here on CNN throughout the day.

There was an outcry at the end of the women's figure skating in Sochi, Russia. It was ecstasy over winning gold. The front pages cried foul and claimed Putin himself had a hand in the result. South Korea's defending Olympic champion got the silver. And then there are the Americans. Ashley Wagner finished seventh overall. She said she felt robbed by her result, and questioned the judging. So did Gracie Gold's coach. Gold finished fourth. Lots of controversy going on there.

Coming up, we're going to get some new insight into where Hillary Clinton stands with American voters right now, and her potential Republican rivals.

And later, seven billion reasons to be glad the federal government bailed out the mortgage lenders, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is skipping dinner with the president this weekend. The Sunday dinner is a traditional part of the annual national governor's meeting here in Washington. Christie says he's going home to celebrate his daughter's 18th birthday instead. Christie has come under fire from some fellow Republicans in the past for being too friendly with the president.

Hillary Clinton is making news today for what American voters are saying about her. There's a brand-new poll that is out that may rattle the nerves of some of her potential 2016 political rivals.

Our political director, Mark Preston, is here, going through the numbers.

Tell our viewers what the polls show.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Wolf, she almost looks inevitable if you look at the Gallup numbers. They match almost every poll we have seen right now.

You look at the numbers right now, Wolf. It shows the American public is happy with Hillary Clinton. 59 percent favorable rating. That's almost astronomical when you look at political figures right now. It's ticked down since she was secretary of state, about the middle 60s. If you remember, when she was the first lady, though, Wolf, she was down in the 40s at that point. But she has slowly risen up. And as secretary of state, you tend to have a higher favorability rating, because you're overseas, doing the country's work.

I have to tell you, though, she has nowhere to go but down, though, because she is no longer going to be seen as a secretary of state, as a diplomat. She is going to be seen as a politician, especially if she decides to run.

BLITZER: The history, at least in the past of these situations.

Michelle Bachmann told columnist, Cal Thomas, that Americans are not ready for a woman president. I'll put it up on the screen: "I think there was a cache about having an African-American president because of guilt. People don't hold guilt for a woman. I don't think there is a pent-up desire for a woman president."

Those are pretty controversial words.

PRESTON: And something can be said for that. Geraldine Ferraro tells a story to a "Washington Post" reporter in a book she wrote about breaking the glass ceiling, where Geraldine Ferraro, on Super Tuesday in 2008, calls her daughter and says "Who did you vote for her" and her daughter says "I voted for Barack Obama." Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman on a major political ticket when she was vice presidential nominee. And Geraldine Ferraro was infuriated because she said, how could you not vote for Hillary Clinton? Don't you want the first woman to win? And her daughter said, but is it more important to have the first African-American president?

And I think we're in this time now, certainly were, when we saw Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton running for the Democratic presidential nomination that there was more of a thought that to have a first black president was more important. It might now be the time for the first woman president.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, who likes -- he's a straight talker. He was on Piers Morgan last night and said this about what Bachmann said about Hillary.


MCCAIN: I would bet, my friend, as much as I hate to admit it, that right now, this is why we have campaigns. But right now, if the election were tomorrow, Hillary Clinton would most likely be the president of the United States. And I wish -- she wouldn't be my candidate. I just have a very different reading of the American political scene.


BLITZER: He worries if the election were tomorrow. The election is not tomorrow. We'll see what happens down the road. We've still got a while to go.

PRESTON: That's right. Look, that's what polling shows. Hillary Clinton would be elected president. The interesting thing is, if Hillary Clinton decides not to run, who will be the next woman president? If you look at the ranks of both Democrats and Republicans, I don't know who would actually fill that void then. There's some Senators on the Democratic side that you could potentially look at. I'm not sure who would be on the Republican side. So a lot of people are looking at Hillary Clinton to be the person who breaks that glass ceiling. So that's why there's a lot of pressure on her to run, even if she might be hedging that she might not want to run. Of course, we don't know what she is going to do.

BLITZER: Probably Governor Susana Martinez is one name you sometimes hear mentioned. Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, on the Democratic side. So there are women out there whose names have been floated.

PRESTON: But are they at the level of Hillary Clinton? Susana Martinez has to run for re-election. Warren is just a freshman Senator, although I guess Barack Obama was just a freshman Senator and look where he is now.

BLITZER: Good point.


Thanks very much, Mark, for that.

So how healthy is your heart? It's a matter critical to everyone's well being. In this segment of "Heart Beat," Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us there are clear-cut ways to track and maintain heart health. Important information. It's all in the numbers.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Being heart healthy is a numbers game. You need to keep track of certain numbers like blood pressure and cholesterol and heart rate. Numbers like these can tell you how heart healthy you really are.

Which numbers are the most important to know? I've decided to give you the top five.

The American Heart Association says watch your blood pressure. That's the pressure your blood is going to put on your blood vessels. This is measured with two numbers, systolic and diastolic. I remember saints over devils. Good blood pressure is around 120 over 80 or less. The higher, the more likely you are to develop a heart attack or stroke.

Know your sugar or glucose levels. That is associated with diabetes. It can increase your likelihood of having a strike or diabetes. Best around 100.

A good cholesterol level is under 200, but there two types of cholesterol. The good and the HDL or bad that is LDL. I remember "L" for lousy. A healthy level is above 40 for men and above 50 for women. LDL for both is under 100.

Ask your doctor whether your weight is in the healthy range. Something they can tell you.

These numbers are for healthy people without preexisting conditions. It's best to talk about all the numbers and aggregate and figure out which levels are best for you.


BLITZER: Just ahead, another government bailout loan repaid, this time with a very hefty profit to U.S. taxpayers.


BLITZER: Take a look at the big board. The Dow, S&P and NASDAQ have been tracking slightly higher for most of today. Take a look at where things stand right now. The Dow is up one point.

Government bailouts have resulted in significant gains for American taxpayers as the loans are repaid. The latest to close the books, the federal mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Alison Kosik is joining us now with details that taxpayers spent billions bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

What's the bottom line now, Alison?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The bottom line, Wolf, is it's been more than five years. Taxpayers are finally getting their money back, and then some with the deal. After taxpayers shelled out $187 billion to bailout Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Fannie today is saying it's going to go ahead and pay the government $7 billion in profit. Remember, it was the taxpayer who is had to shoulder the heavy cost of the bad decisions happening in the mortgage market. Fanny's reimbursement means the government would have recouped $192 million coming out $5 billion on top. It was the bursting of the housing bubble in 2006 that caused massive losses not just for both Fannie and Freddie. Today comes the pay back with the profit -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Billion dollars --

KOSIK: Billion. Billion.

BLITZER: -- they have gotten back. What about the huge bailouts we were familiar with during the height of the economic troubles five years ago?

KOSIK: Not everybody came up with a profit. General Motors came up $10 billion short. More than $1 billion short when you look at Chrysler. They are not the only firms to pay back more than they got. Taxpayers made almost $23 billion of profit on the AIG bailout. The taxpayers made $22 billion from the combined bank bailouts and that includes Citigroup that paid the most back.

As you know, this sparked a lot of controversy at the time, not just for the banks, but the automakers as well. Critics say the government shouldn't be in the business to step in to rescue private companies. The government's argument was, hey, without the intervention, letting these firms go belly up would have had a bigger impact on the U.S. and would have cost countless jobs and made the recession more painful. This is, really even after the companies approximate continue to pay back the money, it's a debate that really continues.

BLITZER: They said AIG, the big banks, Fannie and Freddie, they were too big to fail. That's why the government intervened. Now the American taxpayers have made some money. Let's see if G.M. and Chrysler can repay taxpayers for what the $11 billion still owed on their part.

Alison, thanks very much for the update.

A sad note. We lot of a terrific journalist to cancer. The veteran reporter and news anchor, Garrick Utley, has died at the age of 75. Garrick and served as a foreign correspondent and news anchor at "NBC News" for decades and was a moderator on "Meet the Press." He was also a colleague of ours at CNN for five years, shown here during the 9/11 attacks. Wherever he reported from, Garrick Utley was the ultimate, ultimate professional and a great journalist and a wonderful man. Our deepest condolences to his family and his friends.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back at 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM starts right now. Don Lemon filling in.