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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Harold Ramis Dies; Where Is Ukraine's President?; Interview With U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; Is Acetaminophen Safe for Pregnant Women?; Freedom or Bigotry?

Aired February 24, 2014 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He helped give us "Caddyshack," "Stripes," "Animal House," "Groundhog Day." He warned us not to cross the streams. We're all going to miss you, Harold Ramis. I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, has anyone seen the leader of Ukraine? What is left of the government there would like a word with him, Ukraine's president wanted for mass killings of civilians. Will Russia get involved after the U.S. warned Putin of the consequences?

The national lead. Pregnant women reach for it all the time for their aches and pains, but a startling new report out right now claims your child could end up with a much feared disorder if you take this common medicine during your pregnancy.

And the pop culture lead. If you have laughed at a movie in the last 35 years, well, there's a good chance he had something to do with it. Harold Ramis, the writer, director, actor and by all accounts kind soul, died this morning at the age of 69. We will look back at his legendary comedy career.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAROLD RAMIS, ACTOR: I collect spores, mold and fungus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the world lead today. I'm Jake Tapper.

He went from leader of Ukraine to the most wanted man in the country in the span of a weekend. President Viktor Yanukovych has not been seen since Saturday when he was ousted during the midst of violent sustained protests. Ukraine's Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych, alleging that he's responsible for the mass killing of civilians.

Scores of protesters were killed last week of course in clashes with police, as we covered. Demonstrators angry that Yanukovych turned his back on a deal with the European Union, choosing closer ties with Russia instead.

We know that Yanukovych fled to pro-Russian stronghold near the border, and he tried to charter a plane, but was turned away for not having the right paperwork. Yesterday, Parliament put an interim president in place. Russia questions the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian leadership, saying it claim to power through a -- quote -- "armed mutiny."

Moscow recalled its ambassador to Ukraine, saying that the ouster of President Yanukovych puts the lives of its embassy staff in danger. The real question is, could Russia send troops into Ukraine?

Ukraine's Parliament now has the unenviable task of trying to keep the country from falling even deeper into chaos.

With evidence of death in the streets still very fresh from recent days, our senior national correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is in the epicenter of the unrest, the capital city of Kiev.

Nick, what is happening there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right behind me, as has been for the last two days, still mourning, flowers on the ground over the soot where rubble was once burning during the fighting that happened there.

The question, how can Ukraine find the $35 billion it says it needs right now to simply keep the country afloat? Its opposition leaders saying they have looked in national treasury and the coffers are frankly empty. The major concern in the forthcoming days is whether Yanukovych will in fact be arrested. Will he face trial for the mass murder that he's said to have been accused today of by opposition leaders?

He was last known in a private residence in Balaklava down in the south and, as you said, tried to leave the country on a private plane, but his whereabouts not quite known. A lot of rumors and a lot of speculation he might be on a Russian naval base. No evidence to that effect.

People are still waiting, Jake, to actually hear what Vladimir Putin, the main man in Moscow, would actually say. We have heard from his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, saying that the government is not legitimate here and saying that armed rioters took over the court. We just don't know what Vladimir is thinking. And that's the real question here, whether this stops being a geopolitical and Ukraine can rebuild itself or Russia decides to intervene somehow or other -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Nick, startling scene when protesters stormed the presidential mansion there. Tell us about that.

WALSH: Well, quite remarkable.

This is an estate that just goes on and on and on. It's on the outsides of Kiev and it's built by him by money -- frankly, no one quite knows where it came from, certainly not on his $50,000-a-year salary. The question is, where did the money come from? The question is, why do you need an ostrich if you're a president? Why did you need a 1950s Bentley, fish tanks? Endless signs of extravagance in this particular place, even a tunnel that went from some of the mansions linking them to the troops ones, a huge boat on the river where the only real activity seems to have been partying with extraordinarily expensive wine.

The strangest thing about all of this, Jake, the vast amounts of money spent on it, but the real signs of very little human life or activity there. Only one real bedroom looked like it was lived in and that may have been for a daughter of one of his -- the president's acquaintances here. So, extraordinarily large amounts of questions to be asked particularly there, but those walking around it, what was all of this for? Because it didn't really seem as if people was getting much enjoyment out of it -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

While Russia is figuring out its next move when it comes to Ukraine, its leaders seem to know whom to blame, at least in part. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing the West of encouraging "extremist actions in Ukraine."

How will this affect the already sensitive relationship between Washington and Moscow?

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul joins us from Moscow. Tomorrow is his last day ambassador.

Mr. Ambassador, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

You have been there in Russia for two years. You know the government well. Russia has now recalled their ambassador to Ukraine for consultations.

I want to play for you what National Security Adviser Susan Rice's response was to the question about what would happen if Russia might send in troops to Ukraine to restore order. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: That would be a grave mistake.

It's not in the interest of the Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see the country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Mr. Ambassador, how likely do you think it is that Russia would send troops in, especially considering the fears of the Ukrainian unrest spreading across the border?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: I can tell you that things here remain very tense.

And what government officials are saying about what is happening in Ukraine, on the television stations here, you see a lot of very heated rhetoric because of what they call their special relationship with the Ukraine, especially those oblasts, those regions in the east.

TAPPER: How strongly has it been conveyed to Putin and the Russian leadership that the U.S. does not want Russian soldiers marching into Kiev?

MCFAUL: We have been very clear that we don't see more -- greater exacerbation, especially violent conflict, as in anybody's interests.

We saw the tragedy on the streets of Kiev. And as somebody who has traveled many times to that fantastic city, it was shocking to me to watch what happened. It obviously did not lead to any good political result for anyone on either side. And so we're working hard to try and get in place a peaceful resolution to the political crisis there right now.

TAPPER: Ukraine is, as you know, a divided country, with the east speaking Russian, feeling heritage with Russia. Russia has already granted thousands of passports to residents from that area.

Does it benefit Putin in any way if there ended up being some sort of war between east and west?

MCFAUL: I can't imagine anybody's thinking of this as a Russian national interest, because let's be clear.

If this country is divided or moves down that path, you will have political violence in Europe. And, second, you will have an economic total meltdown. Russian has a lot of trade with Ukraine. Russian businesspeople have a lost investments in Ukraine. Those will be hurt by political turmoil in Ukraine.

TAPPER: Your boss, President Obama, had an interesting thing to say about the U.S.-Russian relationship when he spoke last week about the events in Ukraine and his relationship with Putin. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we're in competition with Russia. Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: This has been a theme of the Obama administration's conversations with and about Russia, the idea that there are still too many people in Russia.

MCFAUL: From the very first meeting, I remember it well.

TAPPER: Yes. And...

MCFAUL: Sorry to interrupt you, Jake.

TAPPER: No. MCFAUL: But I remember very well the first time he said that, April 2009, when he met with President Medvedev.

TAPPER: And I wonder, do you think Putin views this as a Cold War chessboard, to use the president's terminology?

MCFAUL: That imagery, kind of 18th century balance of power politics, where if it's two points for America, it's minus two for Russia, just doesn't work in the 21st century.

It's an argument that we have proposed to the Russians from the very beginning. And I think, if you look at the past five years, on some issues, we have achieved what we'd like to call win/win outcomes. On others, we have had stalemates.

But with respect to Ukraine, it just doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

TAPPER: And when you were at the White House as a National Security Council person who focused on Russia, primarily, and I was a White House reporter, I remember talking to you, being briefed by you, you discussing ways that the relationship was making real progress, especially when Medvedev was calling the shots to the degree that he was.

But now you look at Syria, you look at the human rights issues, especially when it comes to gays and lesbians in Russia, you look at Edward Snowden, do you think Russia is moving in the wrong direction now?

MCFAUL: I actually leave this more optimistic about Russia's future than I did two years ago.

With respect to our relationship, it's also complicated, because some of the things that we began to cooperate with, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin -- I would remind you, he was always part of this government -- several years ago, that continues.

And on things that are most important to us, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, reducing nuclear weapons in the world, increasing trade and investment, that cooperation continues. And, at the same time, your list is a correct one. We have places where we disagree. I think that's just the nature of the relationship.

TAPPER: Are you concerned about the crackdown on human rights and gays and lesbians in Russia?

MCFAUL: Yes, I'm concerned.

But I didn't get concerned just two weeks before the Olympics. It's been a concern of our administration from the very beginning. As ambassador here, I have lots of contact with the entire human rights community, civil society, including the LGBT community, which we are very supportive of their efforts here.

And we all need to remain vigilant. By the way, they were extremely pleased with our delegations. I saw them right before I went to the opening of the Olympics, and the outpour of support for the two delegations that we sent was quite profound. The symbolism of that meant a lot to this community here.

TAPPER: Do you know where Edward Snowden is? Have you reached out to him at all?

MCFAUL: I do not know where he is.

We have tried through intermediaries to reach out to him, including people I know personally, and so far, we have been unsuccessful.

TAPPER: Ambassador Michael McFaul, I know you have spent a lot of time away from your family recently. We wish you the best of luck. And I know you're looking forward to being back at Stanford with your wife and children. So good luck with that.

World news, being gay in Uganda was already dangerous because of the widespread homophobia, but now Uganda's president has signed a bill into law that makes some homosexual acts punishable by life in prison.

The bill has been percolating through Uganda's government since 2009 and originally included a death penalty clause. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the president of Uganda said being gay is not a human right and he called homosexuals unnatural.

When asked by CNN's Zain Verjee if he liked homosexuals, his answer was, sadly, not surprising.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you personally dislike homosexuals?

YOWERI MUSEVENI, PRESIDENT OF UGANDA: Of course. They are disgusting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The White House wasted no time in denouncing the new law.

In a statement, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the bill took Uganda a step backward by signing into law legislation criminalizing homosexuality.

Coming up on THE LEAD, you might think it's one of the safest medications you can take while pregnant, but now a new study out this hour says pregnant women who take this drug just once are more likely to have a child with ADHD.

Plus, it's her nomination to lose if she decides to run, of course, but now some Democrats are raising doubts about Hillary Clinton and the focus on 2016.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead now. It's been long considered one of the few over- the-counter drugs to take during pregnancy, but a new study breaking this hour is raising questions about acetaminophen, the main ingredients in Tylenol and other medications, because researchers say it may put the children of expectant mothers at risk for attention hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The findings will no doubt stir up debate and outside the medical community. Even researchers from the study say there's not enough evidence to stop recommending the drug to pregnant women.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's supposed to be the safe option. Acetaminophen, most widely known as Tylenol, is routinely prescribed by doctors for pregnant women in pain. But a new large study out of Denmark calls this long-standing practice into question. In the study, women using the common pain reliever during pregnancy were more likely to have children who went on to have ADHD.

The biggest increase was among women using acetaminophen the most often, and later in pregnancy. Women who took the drug throughout half or more of their pregnancy were almost as twice as likely to have a child with a severe form of ADHD.

DR. BEATE RITZ, PROFESSOR, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Any medication in pregnancy is something to avoid if you can. We have to be extremely careful what we expose fetuses to.

COHEN: Dr. Ritz says acetaminophen may cause damage by disrupting hormones critical to fetal brain development and alternatives to medications, like massages and baths maybe a better option for mild pain relief.

RITZ: You certainly should not just take a pain medication because you have maybe a slight headache.

COHEN: In a statement, Johnson & Johnson tells CNN, "Tylenol has one of the most favorable safety profiles among over-the-counter pain relievers. If pregnant or breastfeeding, the consumer should ask a health professional before use."

Bottom line: most women in the study who took acetaminophen did not go on to have children with ADHD. Experts stressed this is just one study and more research needs to be done. And in the meantime, pregnant women should not replace acetaminophen with other pain medications and, of course, they should talk to their doctors.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And joining me now with more on this story is Dr. Lisa Masterson. She's a practicing OB/GYN. Dr. Masterson, good to see you.

If you were talking to one of your pregnant patients, how would you tell her to interpret the result of this study?

DR. LISA MASTERSON, OB/GYN: To talk to her O.B.

As an O.B., I know this study is going to put a lot of fear into a lot of pregnant women because they have to be so careful about not only what they eat, what kind of medication they take, and how much and when, what trimester. So, women should talk to their doctor because the other thing is fevers. Fevers can actually cause problems in the fetus as well. So, it depends on the reason that you're taking acetaminophen.

So, right now, the rules about when you should take it have not changed at all. We still feel it's a pretty safe medication to take in pregnancy because you cannot take ibuprofen. That you have to talk to your doctor.

Any time you take on a new medication so that we know what it's for, why you take it, right now, this is just as the study said, a link. It doesn't mean that it causes ADHD in a baby.

TAPPER: That's right. We need to emphasize that. No causation. Just a link.

This was a large study, though, we should say. It included more than 60,000 children and mothers and yet researchers say that there's still not enough evidence to tell women not to take the painkiller.

So, what would it take to change their position?

MASTERSON: More studies. There's a lot more studies that need -- the great thing is, we're being vigilant about the medications that we're still taking women -- we're still telling women to take. And we're still studying these things and when new ideas come up, like could this possibly cause problems in their development?

We look at it even though it's the most common drug that we have women taking right now. We feel it's very safe. It still needs to be watched. We need to see if there's a genetic predisposition.

We still need to ask questions and we need more and more studies to look at the cause and effect and the link surrounding this, how much acetaminophen, is it the first trimester, second trimester, all these things need to be looked at now that the door is open. And again, women should minimize how many drugs they take or if they take drugs. And they should always, always consult their O.B. on anything that they are starting new.

TAPPER: That's actually what I wanted to ask you, the last question, Dr. Masterson. Should this study about an over-the-counter medication people regard as safe for pregnant women, should it raise concerns for pregnant women who take other over-the-counter medications that we all just believe to be safe? MASTERSON: Absolutely, it should raise concerns because every woman is different. Again, her genetic predisposition, when she takes it, what trimester, what she's taking it for, if there's other medical condition. That may be adding to it.

Again, if she's taking it for a fever, if the infection is causing the problem, fever that is causing the problem, is it medication that she's taking, all of these things need to be looked at. She should just really, again, follow her care with her obstetrician because it's not black and white. You know, right now we have a link. We need more studies. But right now, most O.B.s are going to be telling their patients that acetaminophen is still safe if you take it in small quantities.

TAPPER: And they should always consult their physicians before they take it. It's something else to think about before they take it.

Dr. Lisa Masterson, thank you so much.

When we come back, John McCain is speaking out against Republicans in his home state. Why he's urging Arizona's governor to veto a controversial bill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In national news, in just hours, protesters will swarm the steps of the state capitol in Arizona over a controversial new bill that pits religious liberty against the right of Americans to not be discriminated against. The bill would essentially let some business owners refused services to customers if that service would valuate their deeply held religious beliefs. The example often cited as the New Mexico photographer who was not willing to take pictures of a lesbian wedding because she said it violated her religion.

Conservatives who backed the bill say it protects businesses from being sued for following their faith. But critics say it's really just a backdoor to legalized discrimination. The bill has already passed through the state legislature. But Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has not said if she will sign it.

Among those pushing the governor to veto the bill, Republican Arizona Senator John McCain, who sent out this tweet earlier today, "Governor Brewer has until next Friday to make a decision."

The U.S. military is shrinking if Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gets his way to levels it has not seen before our boys took on Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Hagel announced plans to cut the military back to its pre-World War II size beginning in the 2015 fiscal year. Hagel says, after 13 years of continuous war, it's time to re-evaluate the military's priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're repositioning the focus on a strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future. New technologies, new centers of power, and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable and in some instances, more threatening to the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: There are, of course, many who disagree with Hagel's plan to shrink the military. Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, says the plan will hurt the military's readiness.

When we come back, it's a cult. That's what one prominent Democrat is calling a political movement organizing in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton presidential run. Are Democrats really ready for Hillary?

And later, he stayed hidden for years and avoided capture by freeing through underground tunnels. Details on the massive operation that nabbed the most wanted drug lord after more than a decade on the run.

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