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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Sen. John McCain

Aired February 27, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


LEMON: And I understand that. As journalists, you know, you weigh whether you should -- how much you should criticize the president because he's black or what have you, but then you have to do it because ultimately you're a journalist.

So he gets it from all ends. He gets it from everyone. So I think now that he's in his second term five years in and he sees he's thinking about his legacy. He realizes that he must do something on this particular issue and you know what, I believe him.

TAPPER: Right.

LEMON: I believe him when it comes to this particular issue. I think that everyone has to hold him to it. Journalists have to, black people have to, white people, Hispanic. We all must hold him to this because as he said it is an issue for the country, not just for one demographic in the country.

TAPPER: All right, Don Lemon in the east room, after President Obama's remarks, I want to thank Don and of course, Jim Acosta, and Gloria Borger, thank you so much.

I want to go right now to Senator John McCain, if we can. We were going to talk about a lot of issues having to do with Ukraine and Russia. And we will to get those in a second.

But, first, Senator McCain, I know that you are somebody that -- you and I have talked about this, about your education as a white man from Arizona, in learning more about the African-American community during your 2000 presidential run, during your 2008 presidential run.

I'm wondering if you have any thoughts today about President Obama's address?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think it's an excellent initiative and obviously the president is deeply committed to it and I think that's very praiseworthy.

Look, I -- I was in the United States Navy. We had a very large percentage, I'm happy to say, of African-Americans. The issues are not new to me.

And I certainly don't agree with the assessment that President Obama came to office with the adversarial media. In fact, I think he's still a fawning media. But that's neither here nor there. But I certainly do agree that this is a cause that he is deeply committed to and I think he can make a difference.

TAPPER: All right. Let's turn to foreign affairs.

As we speak, Senator, there is a Russian warship docked about 200 miles from Miami, Florida, at a port in Havana, the capital of Russia's old communist comrade, Cuba. Reportedly, the ship is armed with giant 30-millimeter guns and anti-aircraft missiles. "AFP" first reported its presence. But there's been no official explanation for what this Russian ship is doing there.

And, of course, in southern Ukraine today, dozens of armed men stormed regional government buildings, including the parliament there and raised Russian flags, ethnic Russians in a rejection of the power claimed by Ukraine's interim government are clashing with Ukrainians in the streets there.

What do you think Putin is up to?

MCCAIN: I think he's up to trying to preserve his absolute commitment and ambition of maintaining Ukraine as the part of the Russian empire. You got to -- we don't seem to understand that Putin is a KGB colonel apparatchik who believes in the Russian empire. That's why he invaded Georgia, that's why he put pressures on Moldova, the Baltic crowns, and the crown jewel of that is the Ukraine.

I have said all along, I don't believe he's going quietly and I don't believe he's going to invade. By the way, the warship in Cuba is sort of just a little saber rattling. But what's really concerning now is, particularly Crimea but also eastern Ukraine and Crimea is the naval base in Sevastopol, which he does not want to lose, and I believe that what is happening now is they are creating unrest.

He's not going to send troops in ala Hungary. He's going to -- he's going to -- his people and special forces are in there fomenting unrest and I think he would -- he will take further steps in order to achieve a goal of at least a maintaining control of parts of the eastern Ukraine and especially Crimea. And I believe that he's intent on it.

And we need to have a very strong statement about the unacceptability of such actions.

TAPPER: Senator, there are reports that ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych is going to hold a press conference tomorrow from Russia. He's still claiming to be the president. He released a statement that said, quote, "I continue to consider myself the lawful head of the Ukrainian government, elected on the basis of the free expression of the will of Ukrainian citizens."

Senator, if Russia is giving Yanukovych security, do you consider that an escalation on their part?

MCCAIN: Not particularly. Putin and Yanukovych did not get along very well. By the way, these dachas (ph) that we're now finding about, it really shows incredible depth of corruption.

I'm sure that Putin realizes that Yanukovych would probably never be accepted by the Ukrainian people. But at the same time, he's giving some sanctuary.

Watch eastern Ukraine, watch particularly the capital of Crimea and the area around the naval base there.

And -- by the way, they arrested Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, yesterday and they are throwing him in jail. Sochi is over. The crackdowns begin.

TAPPER: There's been a lot of talk about the Cold War returning. Secretary of State John Kerry just yesterday said this is not East/West. It's not "Rocky 4". President Obama said last week, this is not a Cold War era chess board.

But talking about the Cold War as much as they have in a way brings attention to it. Do you think this is a new Cold War? Should the administration do something different than what they are doing?

MCCAIN: Well, I've always believed that this administration was incredible naive about Putin. The reset button, "Tell Vladimir I'll be more flexible when I'm re-elected". It's -- as I said at the beginning of the conversation, who we are dealing with. He views it as a semi-Cold War in that he wants the Russian empire restored and that means the near abroad of which the crown jewel is the Ukraine.

And when you look at a map, you can certainly understand that and he certainly doesn't want to give up the naval base of Sevastopol because he thinks that place would be in danger.

The next move I think he may make is restricting some of the energy supplies and we need to help the Ukraine quickly and we need to get them some money quickly and we need to have the IMF agreement done as quickly as possible so that the people of Ukraine will have a brighter future than the one they've got now.

TAPPER: Senator John McCain, thank you. And thank you for your patience.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Talk to you soon.

Coming up on THE LEAD, the federal government wants to remain relevant. What better way to do that than stamping your favorite foods with the bolder and more in your face calorie count and if you usually eat the whole bag, there is something for you too in these new food labels coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The National Lead, bet you can't just eat 15. Be honest. When was the last time you stopped yourself at 1 ounce of potato chips or put the cap back on your soda after enjoying just your 12-ounce allotment of this 20-ounce soda?

Today the Obama administration proposed the first change to U.S. food nutrition facts labels and almost a decade, here are the big differences you could see at the grocery store. Calorie counts in a shame inducing bigger and bolder font and in a refreshing acknowledgment of reality serving sizes that will account for what actually people eat in one serving.

But in a country where more than one-third of people are struggling with obesity, can labels really change the way we eat? Joining me now is Dr. James Hamblin. He is the health editor for the "Atlantic" magazine. All right, let's walk through these new rules. This is, according to current rules, how many servings of soda?

DR. JAMES HAMBLIN, HEALTH EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": So the idea is to reflect what people actually consume?

HAMBLIN: Exactly so that will have a bigger number of calories, but at the same time, it's saying that's one serving so that might sort of condone drinking more soda.

TAPPER: That's interesting. And we don't have specific rules on this, but as of right now, this is how many servings of potato chips?

HAMBLIN: That's three. And the law says that the FDA should regulate the servings in a way that people actually consume food, not just based on some arbitrary standard.

TAPPER: OK. Well, when I was a younger man and go out and eat stuff like this, I would eat this. I would not split this with two friends.

HAMBLIN: So I don't know where the serving size line will come down on something like that. Probably not that big but a lot of things are going to be bigger than they were previously. The standards we have right now are based on what we ate in the '70s and '80s.

TAPPER: In the 70s and 80s, we were a leaner, meaner people back then.

HAMBLIN: Things were smaller.

TAPPER: Things were small. The serving size for ice cream is also different. It will be -- it was that the serving was considering - considered a half cup. Now it's half a cup. It's going to be a full cup, which is what people eat at the bare minimum. So the FDA statement in their press release says, by law serving sizes must be based on what they are actually eating, not what they should be eating. And some people say, maybe it's condoning bigger samples.

HAMBLIN: Well, I think it's important to remember that these are not serving regulation recommendations. This are just based on what we actually eat. So that you are seeing a number. You get an idea of what you're putting into your body, but it's not saying that's the ideal thing you should be putting into your body. TAPPER: One of the things you think is most important is the difference between added sugar, so for instance, this orange juice has a lot of sugar but it's naturally occurring. This Pepsi does not. Why is that important?

HAMBLIN: Right. So some studies have said the average American gets about 300 calories of added sugar every single day. So if you can be more conscious of that, try to cut back on it, 300 extra calories, that's a big dent in the obesity epidemic that costs us $147 billion a year. That's also motivation for the food companies not to add the sugar because their competitor has no added sugar. You are going to look bad if you can sell that orange juice so you take the sugar out.

TAPPER: And calories from fat, that is something that I always used to look at. I still do when I buy something. That's actually just going away. They are not going to have calories from fat?

HAMBLIN: So in the '80s and '90s, fat was the big, bad thing and now we know that there's such a broad spectrum of what fat is. Some of it is great. Poly unsaturated fats, the omega 3 fatty acids are some of the best fat that you can eat.

TAPPER: Where do you get those from? What kind of foods?

HAMBLIN: Those are from wild fish, nuts, have a lot them, and almonds and that at the other end --

TAPPER: Those are fine?

HAMBLIN: One of the best things that you can possibly eat and then you have the trans fats, which are chemically produced and not naturally occurring and they were just added to nutrition labels a few years ago and they are one of the worst things that you can eat. So putting that all together under fat, they are breaking down the fats that you are getting.

TAPPER: Bottom line, are these new labels good generally or are you going to reserve judgment?

HAMBLIN: I think it's good. It's not radical. Some people would want more, but it's going to be good. The food industry is going to put less sugar into their food, ideally, and people are going to take more note of it.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. James Hamblin. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, another traffic target of Chris Christie's aides. This time a rabbi who one staffer said had officially pissed him off. Don't blame me. That's his language not mine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for the Politics Lead. So did you hear the line about the rabbi, a top aide to Governor Christie in the airport? Actually it's no laughing matter, at least not for the governor of New Jersey. Newly released documents show that David Wildstein, who at the time was a top executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, sent Bridget Anne Kelly, then a top aide to Governor Chris Christie, a photo last August.

That included a rabbi says, quote, "He has officially pissed me off." Kelly responded, "Clearly. And we cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we? Wildstein's reply, flights to Tel-Aviv all mysteriously delayed. It's not clear why the officials were upset with Rabbi Mendy Carlback seen here lighting a menorah with Governor Christie back in 2012.

Wildstein and Kelly, who no longer work for Christie were the same two aides who exchanged text messages last September agreeing that it was, quote, time to cause some traffic problems in Fort Lee. The town at the foot of the George Washington Bridge to the three access lanes to the bridge was closed for nearly a week back in September turning parts of North Jersey into a parking lot.

Allegedly, as retribution, after the Fort Lee mayor refused to endorse Governor Christie for re-election. Now we now know that it is Bridget Kelly who was the one who said, "I feel badly about the kids on school buses that were stuck in traffic and Wildstein who said, they are the children of Buono voters. Buono being Christie's Democratic opponent.

Christie still says he did not know about the scheme until it ended yesterday in radio interview, Christie seemed to dismiss the scandal as a distraction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: You folks are the only people at the moment who are asking me about this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

CHRISTIE: I've been to two town hall meetings in the last two weeks with 28 questions and there has not been one question on this. Not one. I will be damned if I let any of this stuff get in the way of doing my real job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Wildstein resigned in December after claiming the gridlock was caused by a traffic study. Kelly was fired in January by Governor Christie. The investigation continues.

When we come back, he is the producer behind "Survivor" and "Shark Tank," but is Mark Burnett's next goal really attainable? The movie he says a billion people will see, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. If you plan to head to the movies this weekend, you could see Liam Neeson play an air marshal, fighting to save his fellow pastors, but the real buzz is around the film "Son of God," which opens in theaters tomorrow. It's the story of Jesus Christ with scenes taken from the miniseries "The Bible."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has begun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peter! Turn the other cheek.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Turn the other cheek. Box office analysts say they can't even really give an estimate of how well the film will do weekend in part because it's hard to difficult analyze the performance of faith- based films.

Joining me now are the producers of "Son of God," Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who plays Mary in the film. Congratulations on all the success of the mini-series and good luck with the film. Mark, you've gone around the country selling this to churches. There's already more than $4 million in advanced ticket sales. Tell people, why should they go see this film if they've already seen the miniseries, which millions of Americans did.

MARK BURNETT, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "SON OF GOD": This starts with John at revelation, which is the end of (inaudible) started that with John looking back and establishing this awful tyranny of roman rule. This is a political thriller. It has special effects from the gladiator and it's a big, big feature film that you can see in your community. It's great.

TAPPER: Roma, I have to ask. It must be the most difficult thing I think to play Jesus, but to play the mother of Jesus would be I would think a little daunting. How did you go about it?

ROMA DOWNEY, PRODUCER AND ACTRESS, "SON OF GOD": Yes. You know, I have loved Jesus all my life, but I've never really considered what it would be like to be his mother before, what she must have been feeling watching her son die in such a way. I'm a mother myself. So all I needed to do was bring a mother's heart to feel as a mother, to see through a mother's eyes.

TAPPER: Roma, the narrative structure of the film takes out the temptation of Christ from the film the miniseries as you recall was criticized by some because they believed the actor playing Satan bore a resemblance to a certain U.S. president. Do you worry that you sacrifice too much from the story in an effort to avoid that controversy?

DOWNEY: No. I think it became such a distraction and raised such a level of hatefulness when the movie was always intended to share the loving message of Jesus. I think it was the right choice. The movie is epic. It he will it's the story of Jesus' life from his birth to the resurrection and from the early screenings, we can tell that the audiences are really impacted by it.

TAPPER: I know there has been praise for the film from the anti- defamation league of (inaudible), the film's web site notes that this is the first major film about Jesus since Mel Gibson's film "Passion of the cite" that brought in $611 million worldwide, but it was also very criticized. You worked with Jewish groups to make sure the film did not offend non-Christians the way the Mel Gibsons did. Why was that important to you.

BURNETT: The last thing you want to do is not be sensitive. We've worked with Evangelical groups and Jewish groups and accomplished nearly all of them without hurting the story or just were very sensitive and one example is being clear that Jesus was Jewish as were all of the disciples including after he was taken from the cross and laid in the tomb. So several things that are very clear and accurate.

TAPPER: Last question, Mark, you made a career, obviously, out of being a reality show guru. Those shows are a little rougher around the edges than the religious-theme films. "Survivor," "Apprentice," is there anything unchristian you think about that attitude in reality TV?

BURNETT: The catch phrase is I am the way, the truth and the life. It's a great catch phrase in "Son of God."

TAPPER: All right, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, thank you so much. Best of luck with the film.

DOWNNEY: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, he is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." over to Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in the SITUATION ROOM.