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State Department Expelling Venezuelan Diplomats; Interview with Adam Schiff; U.S. Sending Marines to Kiev; Uganda's New Harsh Law Against Homosexuals; Bill Clinton Hits Campaign Trail in Kentucky; U.S. Had Secret Plan for Cyberattacks on Syria

Aired February 25, 2014 - 13:30   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And the breaking news just coming in, CNN has learned the State Department is now expelling Venezuelan diplomats from the United States. Three Venezuelan diplomats are being sent home. This, after Caracas expelled three U.S. diplomats earlier this month Venezuela accusing the United States of pushing protests, something U.S. officials strongly deny. The diplomats from Venezuela now have 48 hours to leave Washington. Another strain in U.S.- Venezuelan relations.

Let's get to the situation in Ukraine now, where the U.S. is sending Marines in to beef up the security at the United States embassy of Kiev. The future of the Ukraine is hanging in the balance between East and West. On one side is the United States and the European Union and the other side, Russia. It's a tug of war that could have grave consequences.

Let's discuss what's going on in Ukraine, important implications for the United States. California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff joining us, of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

So what do you think? Are we on the eve right now of a potential Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, in part, because of Ukraine?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think that's certainly the perspective that Mr. Putin has. And I think he's had it for some time. It isn't going to be a return of the Cold War. But nonetheless, I think that the United States should be very forward- leaning on the Ukraine. This involves not only the future of the democracy in the Ukraine, but also the countries around Russia and Russia itself. I don't think we should shy away at all from promoting our core value of democracy.

BLITZER: Won't that irritate Putin and the Russians to the point they would retaliate?

SCHIFF: It certainly will irritate Putin and the Russians. But I also think that the Russians respect strength. They expect us to be forceful in the promotion of our values. They may not like it. We don't like what the Russians do either. But I think they'll respect it. And what's more, I think that those that are pushing for democracy around the world really count on the United States to continue to be that beacon. So I think that we ought to be working with the E.U. on financial assistance and a package of reform. I think we ought to be very outspoken in terms of the peaceful right of the Ukrainians to self-determination and democracy. And I don't think we should shy away from this one bit.

BLITZER: Because here's one of the concerns that has been expressed to me -- I'm anxious to get your reaction to this -- that there is, of course, a pro European, pro American -- excuse me -- element in the streets of Ukraine right now. But there's also a pro Russian element in Ukraine right now. And there potentially could be a real confrontation, maybe not a Syria-like civil war, but some real battles.

SCHIFF: Certainly possible, and I think the Russians had the capability of trying to bring that kind of a confrontation about on the street. We have not seen, by any means, the end of Putin playing his cards here. This is part of the reason why, while I think we need to be very forward-leaning in the Ukraine, we want to avoid doing things that are unnecessarily provocative. We want to urge the Ukrainians to be inclusive in the next government, bring in all parties, including the pro Russia party. I think that's very important, because this is part and parcel of the Ukraine. But again, I think that we should be very outspoken and very helpful in terms of financial assistance to keep Ukraine on the path to democracy.

BLITZER: Not just U.S. financial assistance, because there is a limited amount of U.S. money right now, but getting others to contribute to the Europeans, specifically.

SCHIFF: Absolutely.


BLITZER: Putin keeps saying he's going to pump in billions if they go with Russia.

SCHIFF: Well, and to some degree, we're in a bidding war. But I think we have to recognize what's at stake here is not only the future for the people of the Ukraine, but for the future -- for the future of the people in that entire region and, indeed, in Russia itself.

BLITZER: What do you make of this decision to beef up the security at the U.S. embassy in Kiev and send some more Marines over there?

SCHIFF: Well, we have to be on the look out for Russian efforts to provoke, to create even more of a crisis there that might justify their intervention in some form and attacks on the U.S. embassy, that might be something in the Russian playbook. We're in the playbook of extremists within the Ukraine. I think it's prudent and I think they're wise to do it.

BLITZER: Bottom line, where is it heading in the Ukraine right now? Because there's a new government that seems to be coming into place. They're looking for the ex president, Yanukovych. Do you know where he is? Does the U.S. intelligence community have any idea where this guy is?

SCHIFF: They probably have some idea. I'm not sure whether they have pinpointed it or whether, even if they did, they would want to broadcast that. In terms of where we're heading, I don't think we know. I think there are a lot of chapters to be told here. It looked just a couple weeks ago Putin pulled a coup with that $15 billion offer and then it looks, this week, as if we're in a very different chapter. How it will look next week, we can't say. But we should be doing everything we can to make it peaceful, inclusive and a democratic future.

BLITZER: Very quickly, the decision by the U.S. to expel three Venezuelan diplomats from Washington in retaliation for the Venezuelan decision to expel three American diplomats from Venezuela.

SCHIFF: It's the right call. And, you know, both in Venezuela, the Ukraine, and around the world, we shouldn't vie away from promotion to peaceful protest and democracy. Democracy promotion got a bad name under the last administration. But it is a core value of ours. And I think we ought to be very forward-speaking about it. And I think the retaliatory measure of expelling those diplomats was the right call.

BLITZER: Adam Schiff, member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee in the House, also the Intelligence Committee.

Thanks very much for coming in.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, Bill Clinton lends a helping hand. He's campaigning for a Democrat trying to unseat the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell. We will go to live to the campaign trail. The former president is speaking.

And a secret U.S. plan to strike Syria. We're going to find out about a new era in warfare, cyber attacks.


BLITZER: Gays and lesbians, they are now scared for their lives in Uganda. In the wake of a new law imposing harsh penalties for homosexual acts, including life in prison for repeat offenders, some are reportedly fleeing the east African nation and even attempting suicide in an effort to escape a nation consumed by homophobia. And in a sign of mounting hostility, a national tabloid has now exposed the names of alleged homosexuals in Uganda. They did it this morning. And in an exclusive interview with CNN, the president of Uganda called homosexuality -- and I'm quoting now -- "disgusting." There is even widespread belief that homosexuals are possessed by the devil.

CNN's Arwa Damon spoke to members of the LGBT community in Uganda about what life is like for them. Some were too scared to show their face.


UNIDENTIFIED UGANDAN HOMOSEXUAL: I am so much involved with God, praying so hard.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Malcolm still prays, but now knows who he is. Transgender, born female, but identifying as male in a nation that is deeply conservative, religiously, and rabidly homophobic.

UNIDENTIFIED UGANDAN HOMOSEXUAL: Physically, it's -- it's been difficult, because it has been mostly done by my family.

DAMON: Male relatives, including, he says, by his own brothers.

UNIDENTIFIED UGANDAN HOMOSEXUAL: They want to teach me, like, how to behave, like a woman. And they have raped me.

DAMON (on camera): And you had no one to protect you. No one who you could talk to.

UNIDENTIFIED UGANDAN HOMOSEXUAL: No. They're just blaming me. The experience made me hate my family. It made me leave. And I stayed with my grandmother. But unfortunately, she also died.

DAMON (voice-over): Most members of Uganda's LGBT, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community tend to live secret double lives.

Kasha Nabagesera, a gay rights activist, one of the few to speak out in public.

JACQUELINE KASHA NABAGESERA, FOUNDER, FREEDOM AND ROAM UGANDA: I've been beaten on so many occasions, I can't count.

DAMON: Kasha goes to great lengths to protect those around her from repercussions because of her sexuality, rarely leaving her home and, these days, never alone.

NABAGESERA: I've tried to come up with a security plan of my own, to see to it that I stay alive, because I believe it's between alive or dead.

DAMON: Homosexuality has always been illegal in Uganda, but this bill imposes draconian measures, life in prison, and simply being viewed as promoting sexuality a crime that could land someone in jail.

UNIDENTIFIED ARCHBISHOP: Homosexuals are children of God. We welcome them to repent and have ever lasting life.

DAMON: At church on Christmas day, praise from the archbishop.

UNIDENTIFIED ARCHBISHOP: Sexual immorality. And I want to thank the parliament for passing that.


DAMON: The widespread belief is that homosexuals are possessed by the devil or victims of sexual deviance brought in by the West.

UNIDENTIFIED ARCHBISHOP: Maybe in your country, you understand, but here it's a new thing, a new idea that is not from here. Someone is imposing it on us. Another kind of colonialism.

DAMON: But Kasha will not be scared off.

NABAGESERA: I'm not going to allow someone to push me out without a fight. Another thing is that our movement needs a face, our movement needs a face. I don't want them to think that they have won because the battle is just starting now.

DAMON: For a community already living in the shadows, the fear is that the new bill only legitimizes the violence against them.

UNIDENTIFIED HOMOSEXUAL UGANDAN: It's hard when the people you expect to be near you are just the people who hurt you even more.

DAMON: Arwa Damon, CNN, Kampala.


BLITZER: We're going to continue to monitor the story tomorrow here on CNN, as well. Shocking developments in Uganda.

Coming up, the former president, Bill Clinton, hits the campaign trail in Kentucky. We'll go there live.


BLITZER: Former President Bill Clinton out there on the campaign trail in Kentucky right now, rallying support for the Democrat running against the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. Clinton's appearance on behalf of Alison Lundgren Grimes is his first campaign stop in this, the 2014 midterm elections.

Here's what the former president said only a few moments ago.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I've reached the age now I'm not running for anything, I can tell you exactly what I think.


And since I'm not in office, you can ignore it.


Although sometimes when I was in office, I thought people were ignoring it.


I told somebody once, being president is a lot like being superintendent of a big cemetery.

We're living in kind of a crazy time, because so much of politics is dominated by mass media and big money that what works in an election is exactly the reverse of what works when the election is over.

Here's what I want you to know. You know, since I left office, I worked all over America and all over the world, and I've, blessed to do the work I've done. And we've created a lot of jobs. We've saved a lot of lives.


BLITZER: Let's go to Kentucky. Our Erin McPike is standing by in Louisville.

Erin, how significant is President Clinton's appearance in this race?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Bill Clinton won this state in 1992 and 1996. He obviously has those southern roots and appeals to working class voters that Alison Grimes is going to need if she can possibly pull off this race in a very tight race against Mitch McConnell.

BLITZER: Mitch McConnell has a Tea Party challenger in the Republican primary going against him. What are the prospects there looking like?

MCPIKE: I spoke actually this morning with one of McConnell's top advisers, and while they are taking that primary race very seriously, they are not as worried about it as they were before. As you may remember, the big driver behind the Tea Party was the bank bailouts of 2008, and she has made that a big issue in this campaign. But in recent weeks, it's come out, at the time, he supported those bank bailouts, so because of that, he's lost some allure in this state. So it's really the general election that the McCain campaign is a little bit more worried about.

BLITZER: Let's assume he wins that Republican primary -- and polls indicate he probably will, although by no means definite -- what would Grimes' main strategy be to defeat McConnell in November?

MCPIKE: Wolf, we're looking at two things. She's talking a lot about how she would be the first female Senator of Kentucky. Many of her campaign proposals talk about how she's tailoring a lot of her message to women. So that's one thing. She also said today about how 53 percent of the Kentucky electorate is women. So that is a big push there.

The other big thing is that, obviously, you know Mitch McConnell is a minority leader of the Senate, and she's talking about how he is responsible for the gridlock, for the dysfunction in Washington, and she's running against that. Of course, McConnell's campaign has many answers to that, very nuanced specific responses, and I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more of that this summer.

BLITZER: Yes, she invited Bill Clinton to come to Kentucky to campaign for her. Let's see if she invites the president of the United States to come to Kentucky to campaign for her. I suspect she probably won't.

All right, thanks very much for that, Erin McPike. Coming up, it's the age of cyber-ops, a new type of warfare. We'll tell you about a secret U.S. plan to hit Syria's government.


BLITZER: More breaking news coming in, this time from Turkey. Look at these pictures. Police in Istanbul are using a water cannon right now to fire on anti-government protesters. The protests follow the leak of telephone recordings of the Turkish prime minister that appear to be wiretapped. They were heard discussing how to hide what are described as "vast amounts of money." Remember, Turkey is a NATO ally.

Meanwhile, we're getting word of a super secret U.S. plan of cyberattacks against Syria's government. A "New York Times" report unveiled the Obama administration was mapping out ways to hit Syria shortly after the civil war there erupted.

Brian Todd has been digging into this report by "The New York Times'" David Sanger.

What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it details the plans that the Pentagon and NSA made for a sophisticated cyberattack against Bashar al Assad's command structure in Syria. "The Times" saying this plan was developed shortly after the civil war there started to really escalate and get very bloody in the spring of 2011. The target would have been the Syrian military's ability to launch air strikes, according to "The New York Times." And, to quote one former official familiar with the planning, saying, "This could have really turned the lights out for President Bashar al Assad."

Now, "The Times" does report that after briefings of variances of this plan and different ways the plan would be carried out, President Obama so far has turned it down and never really signed the go ahead for this cyberstrike to take place. But it has ignited this debate in the administration and outside of it on whether cyberweapons should be used like regular weapons, and what some of the consequences of that are. So, that is really kind of what the story kind of spreads out to, is this debate, as to whether you can launch a preemptive strike like that. And some people believe it's a good way to kind of hit someone like Bashar al Assad without bringing casualties upon yourself. But other people say it could open a Pandora's Box if you hit him with a cyberattack and he finds out it's you who did it, maybe Iran or Russia or the Syrian electronic Army, that group that's alive with him, could launch a cyberattack in retaliation against the United States. So a big debate there.

BLITZER: But you know it's wildly reported the U.S. did engage in a cyberattack on Iran and its nuclear program --

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: -- the so-called Stuxnet program. That apparently was in collaboration with the Israelis. It was a major cyberattack that appeared to cause some serious damage to Iran's nuclear program.

TODD: And Stuxnet prompted the Iranians to try to launch some cyberattacks on United States. And one of the reasons that the president so far has not signed off on this cyberstrike on Syria could be, could be, Wolf, that since it got out, when Stuxnet happened, that the U.S. and Iran were very likely behind that, he's a little bit tentative on ordering this kind of a cyberstrike on Syria, again, out of concern of possible reprisals. You know, the U.S. is always under cyberattack. We know this now, from Iran, from the Chinese, from other places. So this really does open up a Pandora's Box here.

BLITZER: And the president made the decision not to go forward, at least for now. We'll see what happens.

TODD: Now. That's right.

BLITZER: And the critics are suggesting there was an opportunity that was missed and a lot of Syrians could have survived if that Syrian military capability would have been destroyed.

TODD: Sure. It could have at least disrupted some of the air strike capabilities.


TODD: We should say, the Pentagon and the NSA, not commenting on this. The White House is saying they won't discuss their internal deliberations on this.

BLITZER: A sensitive subject.

Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Take a quick look at the markets, see how they're doing. The Dow was up yesterday, pushing to near-record territory, up about 15 points today. The next big market mover could come Thursday. That's when the head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, addresses the Senate Banking Committee here in Washington. We'll be all over that.

That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM." In the meantime, thanks very for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.