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Russia Asserting Influence over Crimea as Message to Ukrainian Government; Drought Continues in California; President Speaks a Fundraiser for Mentoring Program; Collins Wears 98 to Honor Matthew Shepard; Rob Ford Dares Toronto's Police Chief; Interview with Steve King

Aired February 28, 2014 - 07:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: For more on this, we're joined by Peter Beinart. He is the CNN political commentator and contributing editor at "Atlantic Media."

Peter, talk about a confusing situation but such an important it sounds -- it feels like a very critical moment in what direction this crisis is going to go. You have the Ukrainian government saying it's an armed invasion by Russian forces, others saying that it's a local militia. What do you think this tells us about the direction this conflict is going?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Russia suffered a big defeat with this revolution of Viktor Yanukovych. And I think what Russia is trying to do, what Putin is trying to do is send a message that Ukraine cannot be anti-Russian. And one of the leverages they have is the area of Crimea. The reason is the Crimea it used to be part of Russia, not part of the Ukraine. Maybe half the people in the Crimea are ethnically Russian, which means they may feel more connected to Russia than to Ukraine. So by stirring up some kind of secessionist, pro-Russian sentiment there, it's a way of sending a message to the government in the capitol Ukraine, Kiev, if you go too far in being anti-Russian, we're going to stir up a secessionist movement that's going to cause you a lot of problems.

BOLDUAN: So do you think that while what we're hearing from Russian officials is we're going to stay out of it, we're going to respect the sovereignty of the Ukraine, you're getting warnings from the U.S. to do just that, as we're hearing, do you think they're ignoring those warnings?

BEINART: I think that Russia is going to influence Ukraine. It's not going to allow Ukraine to become an anti-Russian government no matter what the United States says. And they have a history of doing this -- using this kind of leverage in the past. When Georgia, another country formerly in the Soviet Union, started to move away, they started a secessionist movement there a few years ago. So no matter what the Russian government says I think what they're doing is sending a message to the United States that there is a limit to how far we're going to let this new Ukrainian government go in terms of being close to the west and against Russia. BOLDUAN: Do you think there's a real concern that Russia could move military forces into, invade at least a portion of the Ukraine? Do you think there's a real concern in this day and age that this is going to happen>

BEINART: My guess would be that Russia would want to avoid that. Russia's smarter play from their point of view is to do nonmilitary things, things that they don't have their fingerprints on quite as much but would send a message to this Ukrainian government, hey, wait a second, we still have some influence over you.

BOLDUAN: With that in mind, what can the U.S. do? The military involvement is not on the table.

BEINART: I think the best thing we can do for Ukraine is try to stabilize it economically. Economically it's in free fall and desperately needs aid from the IMF. It's going to be better able to resist Russia and hold itself together as independent, hopefully western-leaning country if it's economy is not in collapse.

BOLDUAN: I guess that's one step they can help with, an important step at that. Peter, great to see you, peter. Thank you so much.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Better be careful making ultimatums. Peter made a good point reminding us about Georgia. There the Russians did go in militarily.

All right, also new information this morning out of Washington. The National Security Agency may be willing to change the way it collects information on you. The outgoing NSA chief says one option is to focus just on those domestic phone calls where a link to terror is suspected rather than collecting all phone records in general.

BOLDUAN: To Afghanistan now and a delay in deciding when coalition troops will leave. With the security deal diminishing NATO and the U.S. military say there are two options now, waiting for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to leave office before making a move, or plan for a complete withdrawal of troops by December.

CUOMO: New questions and some confusion over whether there is a shortage of airline pilots. Regional airlines across the country say they can't find enough qualified pilots to hire, but a new government report due out this morning says a large pool of qualified pilots exists, they just don't want to work for what the airlines are offering.

And today, the first batch of a massive trove of papers from the Clinton White House will be released to the public. About 5,000 pages are expected today. In the next couple weeks, more than 25,000 others will be released, including confidential communication between the president and top advisers and potentially sensitive documents relating to former first lady Hillary Clinton. This as she contemplates a 2016 White House run, of course.

CUOMO: On the other side of the aisle, new this morning we're waiting for the release of 911 calls out of Fort Lee, New Jersey, placed during those lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. New documents from the Bridge-gate scandal coming out. They show two top aides to Governor Chris Christie joking about causing traffic jams for a prominent rabbi.

BOLDUAN: This week is a week that's been just brutally cold just got colder and it just won't quit. Temperatures far below normal for this time of year across the Midwest and northeast and it feels even colder of course with the wind-chill. Now we're gearing up for another round of snow next week. Indra Petersons is keeping track of all the winter weather for us.

INDRA PETERESONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's so tough, and we're talking about potential for record-breaking lows this morning. New York feels like five below this morning. And even through the afternoon, it's expected to be colder than yesterday into the northeast. We're talking about temperatures 20, 25 below average, temperatures as high as below freezing today, definitely a tough story for the Midwest and the east with the cold.

But out west, still looking at drought conditions, 26 percent of the state seeing the highest category of drought out there. That is key because they're looking at the biggest winter storm they've seen in three years. This means that flooding concerns are extremely high, even a severe weather threat with isolated tornados could be out there. The same powerful storm is expected to make its way across the country. Who's going to get the heavy snow? That's tough to say. It all depends on the position of the low. One of the models dropping it farther south out toward D.C. Everything else you want to know, how long is it going to stay cold? Look at this reinforcing punch of cold air meaning by next week temperatures going all the way down to 30 below where they should be.

CUOMO: Let's talk about a different part of this that you explained to us, Indra, California, what's going on out there. It's not about the cold. It's about the rain. They need it desperately, but not like this. Much of the state is expected to get hammered over the next couple days with heavy rain, even snow. It could spell disaster, especially in those foothills surrounding Los Angeles. Michaela went out there to cover the Oscars, but she's pulling double duty because the weather is a real story.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: It really is a real story out here. In fact, people around the rest of the nation laugh when people freak out about rain coming here. The way that the way the terrain and climate is set up here and given the fact that they're having one of the worst droughts in modern California history, it's no joke.

I want to show you what's already happening on some of the freeways in the area. There was a real bad accident on the 210 freeway. It was caused by this big rig hydroplaning. That's the concern. When they haven't had rain for a long time, the oil builds up on the roads and it makes it incredibly slick. Add a little water with no area to runoff and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Another concern is some of the areas around the foothills as you mentioned, Chris. They suffered from some really bad fires. The Colby fire back in January, a lot of the area, all of the vegetation was burned away, so now there's a concern about mudslides in the area. People in fact are being evacuated in the Glendora. About 1,000 people so far have already been given evacuation orders. They're concerned about the water from those hillsides, which are now barren, coming down and taking the land and potentially property and homes with it. So they're trying to get people out of harm's way.

This is the other concern. These reservoirs that serve the Los Angeles area have been empty for some time now because of this drought. They're expecting about six inches of rain, and it's going to really cause a concern because those reservoirs could fill up at a really rapid rate. There's a bunch of debris in them, so it's going to cause them to fill up even further. They're watching the dams. Officials are concerned. But they're not concerned to the point that they need to take action. They are keeping an eye on the reservoirs in the area just to see how bad the water level gets.

But here on the red carpet, it's kind of the plastic carpet right now, protecting it from the rain that continues to come down. The whole area is tented. It's no joke really because the show has to go on. They want to keep the carpet as dry as possible. They will take it off at the last possible second. They want to dry it out so the stars don't get soggy and also don't slip obviously in some of the fabulous gowns they'll be wearing.

So that's the scene here in Hollywood. We're hearing the rain, we're feeling it. We're trying to stay dry. Officials are very hopeful though the sun's going to come out and the academy awards, their 86th year will go off without a hitch. Crate -- I made you a crate, Chris and Kate.

CUOMO: It's all about the sound of which one comes first.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, Michaela. All eyes on Hollywood. We're obviously watching a very dangerous situation play out here.

Back out east, 32 people in New York and New Jersey face charges including carjacking and money laundering after being arrested in an alleged car theft ring. Officials say more than 160 cars were recovered. They were going to be shipped to West Africa for profits well above market price. Police are still looking for six more suspects.

CUOMO: We're also learning more about the Boston emergency response in the seconds after last year's shooting at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport. Two identified officials tell the Associated Press the airport's emergency phone system didn't provide a location. The investigation also found broken panic buttons. To remind you, the shooter there accused of killing a TSA officer, injuring two others, and a passenger. He's pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges.

BOLDUAN: Kentucky could be the next state to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. A federal judge ordered Kentucky to immediately do so. But just hours before the order, the state attorney general asked the judge to delay its imputation for 90 days to give him time to decide whether or not to appeal. That request has not been ruled on yet.

CUOMO: Disney cutting off the boy scouts. The company says the group's continued ban on gay and lesbian troop leaders violates its standards of business conduct and donations to the Boy Scouts of America will now stop. Disney has offers benefits to same-sex partners of its employees for decades and allows same-sex marriages on Disneyworld grounds.

BOLDUAN: A controversial decision. An appeals court ruled a California school did not violate the constitutional rights of students when they stopped them from wearing American flag t-shirts on Cinco de Mayo. The court believed the school's action kept the students safe while racial tensions were running high. The year before, a brawl nearly broke out at the school on the Mexican holiday.

And a show in the sky over the mid-Atlantic. This is what it looks like during a meteor shower last night visible from North Carolina to Maryland. The shower got social media buzzing overnight. The American Meteor Society said it got more than 150 reports.

CUOMO: Powerful moments at the White House as President Obama launched what may be his most personal initiative yet. It is called, "My Brother's Keeper." It is aimed at giving young minority men a better shot at success. In laying out the plan the president spoke openly about the young man he once was growing up without a father. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't have dad in the house, and I was angry about it even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do.


CUOMO: It's a raw feel from the president we don't often get. Let's go to CNN's Don Lemon. He's at the White House. Don, you were there in the room, you got to hear the words. They affected you very deeply. What was it like in there and why?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did. It was very emotional, Chris. You know that conversation that you and I have at breakfast occasionally or sitting at the anchor desk during breaks and we talk about these issues and we're honest about them? Well, the president had that conversation openly yesterday in front of the world.

And it was very emotional. People in the room hung on every word because they had never seen the president be so candid and speak of his childhood, about not having a father president, about not really knowing his father, about meeting with these young men in Chicago that he met with as part of a mentoring program, and about meeting with them at the White House. And about his promise and commitment to help young men of color which he has received so much criticism that he hasn't done enough for.

And you know, Chris, he said in that -- I would imagine he did as well, had become used to these statistics, these numbers about these young men falling at the bottom of -- or at the top depending on how you want to put it for unemployment, for incarceration, and for dropping out of school. Let's take a listen and you and I will talk, Chris.


OBAMA: And the worst part is we've become numb to these statistics. We're not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life instead of the outrage that it is.


LEMON: So the president said that he wants to change that. And what he wants to do is take initiatives that are working, like this very successful program in Chicago that has helped so many young men there to get them off the street and have a male role model in their life, to get them to at least finish high school and go to college. He wants to take that and take that model around the country. So he's gotten business leaders, he's gotten philanthropists, civic leaders and church leaders, religious leaders, from around the country to come together and form some sort of consortium. In 90 days, very powerful people like Magic Johnson and Mayor Bloomberg, and other foundations, the Ford Foundation, the Bloomberg Foundation, and then within 90 days they will come together to try to figure out exactly what works and how they need to go forward.

CUOMO: It couldn't matter more. Don, obviously we know it's connected to so many social problems that face this community and others. And I know that you were moved because it matters to you a lot, not just because of the color of your skin but the content of what you bring to covering these issues. So we'll stay on it and see if it works. Certainly the need is great. Thank you for doing it for us, and thanks for being up so early for us after working all night on it.

LEMON: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, we'll talk to you soon. Kate?

BOLDUAN: NBA player Jason Collins is now wearing the number 98. He's made headlines a lot, but this is a move. It's attribute to Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998 for being gay. Last night, Collins wore that jersey in front of not only the crowd, but in front of Matthew's Shepard's parents in Denver. Before the game, Rachel Nichols sat down with Collins, the NBA's first openly gay player, to discuss.


JASON COLLINS, FIRST OPENLY GAY NBA PLAYER: I've grown so much as an individual. I've come across so many great people, great organizations, heard so many great stories, inspiring stories. And it's nice to have a positive impact on someone else's life. And I feel like with my actions that I've had a positive impact on someone else's life.


BOLDUAN: Now, the rest of that interview is going to air tonight on "UNGUARDED" with Rachel Nichols. It's 10:30 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. It's going to be very interesting to hear what he has to say and kind of what this new chapter of his life has meant to him. That'll be very interesting.

CUOMO: Yeah, it's happening at a time that the culture is really struggling with the issue surrounding his identity.

BOLDUAN: Yep. Exactly right.

Let's get back out to Michaela, though, who's on the red carpet in Hollywood for a look at what is trending at this hour. Michaela.

PEREIRA: Hollywood's trending, so let's take a look. Rob Ford, the Toronto mayor, has a dare for his city's police chief.


ROB FORD, MAYOR OF TORONTO: If you're going to arrest me, arrest me. I have done nothing wrong, and he's wasted millions of dollars. I want him to come clean and say how much money did he -- did it cost the taxpayers for surveillance on me.


PEREIRA: Ford says the chief wasted money keeping an eye on the mayor for months. Ford calls the inquiry politically motivated.

A Christian ministry is moving ahead with plans to build a replica of Noah's ark in Kentucky. Now that contributions have picked up after the church's leader publicly debated Bill Nye the Science Guy over evolution. It'll be 510 feet long, 85 feet wide. It is planned for construction in May. It is expected to be completed in the summer of 2016.

And have you seen this? The president and the vice president getting some cardio and stretching in at the White House. Look at these guys go. Notice the president is in front. The video is part of Michelle Obama, our first lady's, Let's Move fitness campaign.

And because we're here in Hollywood, let's find out who the favorites are to take Oscar home. This is from win Los Vegas odds maker John Ovayo (ph). He's really feeling confident about "12 Years a Slave" taking best picture over "American Hustle" and over "Gravity".

He is also loving Matthew McConaughey as best actor for his role that fantastic film "Dallas Buyers Club." And take a look at his pick for best actress, a crowded field. He picked Cate Blanchett over Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep. How about that? The odds makers, you know, they'll bet on anything. Chris, Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. I want to know what their bet is if the rain will stop before the big show. We'll see.

CUOMO: In fact, when we go to break right now, I'm going to lay a little action with you guys and see who you think who you think's gonna win it and who isn't. I need to redeem myself after the Canada hockey debacle.

BOLDUAN: You have a long memory, you do.

CUOMO: Coming up -- not long enough. All right, the Republican party, are they finally done with Ted Cruz? You've been following this situation? He's been trying to get the Tea Party to raise money to go after Republicans in races. What does this mean for the future of the Tea Party? We're gonna talk with Republican Congressman Tea Party favorite Steve King after the break.

BOLDUAN: And here is something you almost never see or never see: a look inside the Supreme Court as it is in session. Oral arguments were secretly taped this week. The court is now scrambling to figure out how that happened. Of course, it's reigniting the debate, should cameras that are banned be allowed in the nation's highest court?

CUOMO: They listen to the police during session?


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. The Tea Party is celebrating its fifth birthday with its leaders gathering to praise what they've done and what they still plan to do. Now, while some say the movement is losing steam, law makers like senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul say not so.

Take a listen.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS: I think the Tea Party is the most exciting political development in decades in this country.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KY: If we become the movement that proclaims our message with the passion of Patrick Henry, that also like a man coming over the hill singing, I think then we'll be the dominant party.


CUOMO: Joining us now from Washington, Republican, another Tea Party leader who spoke at Thursday's event, Republican Iowa Congressman Steve King. Congressman, thank you for joining us.

REP. STEVE KING, (R), IOWA: Good morning. Thanks for having me, Chris.

CUOMO: Question, your tie is red, signature color of Republicans, but I would ask you are you a Republican or are you a member of the Tea Party?

KING: Well, I'm absolutely both. I've been a Republican all of my adult life. I think my DNA goes clear back to Abraham Lincoln. So I'm a Republican. I'm a full-spectrum constitutional conservative. And that fits me right into the mold of the Tea Party. So I think it all fits really well together.

CUOMO: It's seeming like, though, that's not the case as much anymore, that you have to be one or the other. You have your brother, Senator Cruz, looking to raise money to promote the ouster of other Republicans. The message seems divergent. Are you going to have to make a choice? Because I don't understand how you stay in the Republican party if you are actively trying to hurt the Republican party.

KING: There are a lot of open seats out there with contested primaries where we can bring resources and leverage to get behind the candidate that's a solid constitutional conservative candidate. That's where I intend to put my energy. And we can always -- every party can upgrade some of the seats that they have.

I'd like to see the political center move to the right. I'd like to see that happen within the Republican conference and the United States Congress. I'd like to see it happen in the Republican conference in the United States Senate. And we've watched as the House itself has moved to the right as a lot of blue dog Democrats, relatively moderate Democrats, were defeated because of Obamacare and replaced by conservative Republicans.

We're getting this in the right direction, Chris. There were only 28 Republicans that voted for the debt ceiling increase. That's not very many to stand with the people on the other side that were eager to do so.

CUOMO: What motivates people to say that the Tea Party is on the wane is basically that obstructionism has gotten old. People are sick of it. You know that. You see the polls. They're terrible.

So let me ask you, what do you think your main role is in Washington when you think of why you're there? Is it to keep the government from doing certain things, or is it there to pass legislation and promote things?

KING: You know, I've been on both sides of this, Chris. When I first came in -- and this is my 12th year in Congress -- when I first came in we had a Republican president, a Republican majority in the House and the Senate, and my role was to move legislation.

The very first bill that I introduced became law. And I thought, "This is going to be easy." And, of course, it got a lot harder. And Democrats won the majority in 2006. Nancy Pelosi became speaker. Then my job became to be an obstructionist to stop things like cap and trade, to try to stop things like Obamacare, and stop the increase in the national debt.

And when it rolled over now to where Republicans are a majority in the House, we still have Harry Reid, and we have a president that opposes us, so we're more into the position now where we -- we're in the job where we need to be stopping bad ideas. When we win majority in the Senate and we have a president that will sign it, then we'll go back to passing legislation that's good for the country again. That's a cycle.

CUOMO: It doesn't even sound good, though, Congressman, you know? Like, "What we're here to do is to stop everything that happens. And we're gonna filibuster." And now you have this situation in the Senate. I know you're in the House, but, you know, a lot of these things are mirror images of each other. The veterans bill, money for education, health care, your party tries to throw in sanctions to Iran, into a bill that had nothing to do with that. Then they don't allow the votes. They push the Democrats. Democrats all vote for this bill for veterans. You guys don't

I mean, at what point do you stop playing this kind of game? It's so destructive. Look what you did to the veterans.

KING: Well there were -- in fact, each one of my votes on the veterans stood up for them. But there are a lot of Democrats that wanted to be part of sanctions on Iran too. And, you know, this Congress has to --

CUOMO: But why even put it in there? You know, Congressman, it's not your bill. It's not even your branch. I understand. But we know that thematically there winds up being a consistency. I get obstructing. I get fighting for your ideals. I get that it's wholesome on that level. But it has been so inefficient. And when you see it even taking a toll on veterans, isn't enough enough?

KING: Well, I regretted those things that happened to veterans. And I saw some people that put up votes that hurt veterans that came back and said now we have to change it. Now we have to fix it. I didn't have to change my vote. They had to change theirs. But that's -- there's going to be those kinds of things that go on back and forth.

You know, we should think about this, this politics. It is a situation where Republicans need to be the conscience of the spending Democrats. That's just how it has been for a long time. It's how it is today.

CUOMO: But then you have to come up with an alternative.

KING: That means we have to obstruct some things, a little (ph) deeper into that. Pardon me?

CUOMO: You can obstruct. You've been very effective at it. But respectfully, I would submit to you that you need to come up with better ideas. Fix the things that you don't like. Fix Obamacare. You know the law's to the going away. Come up with better solutions. The Dream Act, specifically for you --

KING: You know, Chris, we have offered solution after solution on health care.

CUOMO: Have you really?

KING: We're still offering them. Pardon me?

CUOMO: Have you really?

KING: Yes, we have.

CUOMO: What are the real solutions?

KING: Here's some approaches that I'm bringing. One is to that to change that 30 hour work week to a 40-hour work week. It's causing people to lose 25 percent or more of their income and causing people that had a full-time job now to have to go get another part time job, maybe even four part-time jobs for a mom and a dad that are trying to raise a family because of that. That's one of the changes.

Another one is full deductibility for everybody's health insurance premium. When the government commands that you buy a policy that they approve and punishes you through the tax penalty if you don't pay for that, it's got to be fully deductible for everybody.

That's a couple of pieces that are there. But we need to be able to sell insurance across state lines. We need to open this up and restore the doctor-patient relationship. Some of these are ideas that have been out here for a long time that we've pushed. We've constantly had ideas out there.

We got rolled by a bad piece of legislation. And we were not successful enough in obstructing Obamacare. This country wouldn't be in this angst that it's in today if we'd been better obstructionists when they tried to jam Obamacare out. And I think that will hold up across the country. Obamacare has no chance if it had to come back to the floor of the House and Senate again. It would not pass. That should tell you how bad that is. We just weren't successful enough in obstructing its passage, Chris.

CUOMO: So now you have to fix it, though, because it is the established law of the land. You've got 4 million people signing up for it. There are more every day. You gotta choose progress over the politics of the situation. Hopefully, you guys realize that down there.

I want to leave you with this, Congressman. On the veteran issue, OK? I know it's in the Senate, but hopefully the shame campaign will begin and they'll get their act together. When that bill needs its companion in the House, can I get a pledge from you that you will not play politics on this issue, that you will push your brothers and sisters, Tea Party or Republican, whatever you are, to do the right thing by the veterans?

KING: Well, I have to look and see technically what comes and what the package is going to be. But I can tell you that I will come down on the side of the veterans. And I've always opposed playing politics with our veterans, with our -- and especially our active duty personnel. They put their lives on the line for us, for our safety, our security, our country and our Constitution. We owe them to follow through on every commitment that we have made, and they should never have to wonder if the United States Congress is going to stand with them. We must do so, and I'll weigh in to make sure that that happens.

CUOMO: Great. No just standing up just to keep it from happening, to show that the Democrats are ineffective, no tacking on things that don't belong in that bill. I'll follow up with you on it. It matters too much.

KING: Yes.

CUOMO: Thank you for taking the time, Congressman. Appreciate it.

KING: Thank you, Chris.