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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Secretary of State John Kerry Arrives In Kiev; How Far Is U.S. Willing To Go To Punish Putin's Defiance?; Interview With Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey; Republicans Slam Obama On Ukraine; 161 Years An Error

Aired March 4, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Ivan, if you could, because I'm not sure that all of our viewers are entirely familiar with the geography of this region, explain exactly where you are, where the Ukrainian ship is going to, and where it's coming from. And the same thing with the Russian warships, the two ships that went through the same straits.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Black Sea is basically a pond, and the only way to get ships in and out of there, be they commercial traffic, tanker ships or warships, is by sailing up this 25-mile narrow channel from Istanbul, the biggest city in Turkey.

Now, this morning, two Russian warships (AUDIO INTERFERENCE) moved up this channel on their way to the Black Sea. And we have to recall, headquarters of (INAUDIBLE) is in Crimea. It (AUDIO INTERFERENCE) was rented from the Ukrainians.

We have another military vessel off the coast here. I can't identify it just now, Jake, I'm sorry.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks to Ivan Watson for that.

When we come back, secretary of state John Kerry just arrived in Paris where he's meeting with the Ukrainians. You see live pictures of his plane right now. I believe that's Air Force Two. U.S. officials tell us the Russians are sitting this round out.

Plus, isolating Russia. Threats of sanctions or a trade embargo. But is the U.S. willing to go even farther to punish a defiant Putin? We'll ask the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. You're now looking at live pictures as secretary of state John Kerry arrives in Paris for another round of diplomatic meetings following his visit to Kiev, Ukraine's capital, where he held a news conference earlier today, condemning Russia's aggressive moves into the country. Kerry also visited Independence Square in downtown Kiev where protesters for months have been demanding the removal of the now-ousted president of Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has made their position clear when it comes to Russia and the steps that it plans to take if Putin and the Russian government pass on the diplomatic option. But where are America's allies? Kerry was specifically asked about Germany's role today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We will be having further discussions. I think the president will be talking before long with Chancellor Merkel. I'm having more conversations with foreign minister Schtienmier (ph), and I believe we will stand united. I believe that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So we need to cut through some of that diplo speak. Further discussions, more conversations, he believes that we will be united. That means that right now, the U.S. and others and the European Union are not on the same page. Combine that with the document that surfaced yesterday saying that the UK should not support for now trade sanctions, you see it right there. It's a little confusing to know who is with the U.S. government right now.

Joining me now is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Senator Menendez, good to see you as always. You've been in close consultations with the White House on how Congress will move forward on the Ukraine in terms of aid and sanctions. Can you help clear up which allies are with us? It does not seem as though Germany and the UK are quite where the Osama administration is yet.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ), CHAIRMAN OF FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, Jake, this is always a work in progress. Our country has always led the world, particularly when we're talking about the potential of a sanctions regime. And it is that leadership that ultimately brings the world in concert. So it doesn't all start off with everybody calibrating the exact same way. That's not surprising.

But I do believe that we can get to where we need to be, which is to create a menu of options on the sanctionable side that would be part of Putin's equation moving forward. Russia is no longer the economy of the old Soviet Union. Russia's economy is more integrated in the world. And as such can face consequences versus the old command and control structure of what was the Soviet Union. So there's a big difference here in terms of our ability to affect Russia's thinking as it moves forward, particularly Putin's thinking.

TAPPER: And President Obama not only needs to negotiate with the European Union countries, he also needs to negotiate with Congress. I spoke with your counterpart in the House yesterday, Republican congressman Ed Royce. He said that you two were working closely together on this issue and had met with the Treasury secretary. But he wondered whether the White House wanted to be as aggressive as you and he when it came to sanctions. Is there a disconnect there?

MENENDEZ: I don't think so. Look, Chairman Royce and I work well together on a series of issues. The counterpart on the committee, the Republican ranking member, Senator Corker and I have a great relationship. We have passed every major piece of legislation, including the use of force in Syria last year on a bipartisan basis. We're going to have a bipartisan bill as it relates to the Ukraine. It's my expectation that that will happen, both on the assistance side as well as a menu of options on the sanctions side.

And I think those tools given to the administration will put the administration in the best possible position to have the Russians hopefully get off the - get an offer diplomatically, but at the same time make it very clear of the consequences of not doing that. And that is the one thing that Putin understands is strength. And in this case, it has to be economic strength.

TAPPER: You brought up your work when it came to Syria. I interviewed you last September when Putin published an op-ed in "The New York Times." I want to remind you of your reaction to that op-ed from Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MENENDEZ: I got an e-mail with what President Putin had to say, and have to be honest - I'd had dinner, and I almost wanted to vomit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So your reaction then, you almost wanted to vomit. Putin - that op-ed is certainly interesting to read today in light of what is going on in Ukraine.

MENENDEZ: Well, absolutely. The reason why I made that comment at the time is he was trying to tell us what is in our national interests. I found that a little difficult. But I would say now, listen to your own words. Basically what President Putin was saying to an American audience about Syria is that we have to stop using the language of force and proceed with - you know, the efforts on - just to read the language on the path civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

Well, that certainly is pertinent to the Ukraine. He has used force in an incredulous way, suggesting that there are not Russian troops in the Crimea, which is just beyond reality. But he has used force and instead of pursuing a path of whatever Russian interests there are, whether they be of Russian-speaking citizens, whether they be of economic investments, whether they be about security concerns, all of those can be part of a negotiation with the Ukrainian government and with others at the end of the day.

But Putin has violated his international agreements here and a wide range of them, and ultimately shown that he is pursing his vision of adding to the Russian federation by force, if necessary. And I think that it would be great if he listened to his own words that he said six months ago to an American audience. It would be great for himself to listen to his own words and follow it here.

TAPPER: I want to get your reaction. There's been a lot of criticism, as you know, of President Obama by Republicans. I want to get your reaction to something that former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said last night, if we could play that tape.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We've created a leadership vacuum in the world, and it is being filled by the Putins of the world. It is the United States that has injected that instability into the world equation.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: That is secretary of defense -- former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld saying it's the United States has injected this node of instability because we've created a leadership vacuum. What do you think of that?

MENENDEZ: Well, I'm not going to give Putin any excuse. He has created the uncertainty in the world. It's his own version of Russian roulette. The only thing this time, the gun is aimed at the international community's head, and that's why there has to be a forceful response. It is he that has moved Russian troops into the Crimea. It is he that is talking about that maybe, if necessary, he'll move Russian troops into eastern Ukraine.

So, you know, I think that that statement ultimately takes away the attention of where we feed to have it. And that's on what President Putin is doing, what the international community needs to do in response because I do believe that strength is important. And because Russia's economy is different today than it was under the old Soviet Union was. There is an opportunity to find a path that isn't military but that is powerful to change Putin's thinking in this context, and we need our European allies to be part of that.

TAPPER: Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, thank you so much.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, she knows him well and she says he's delusional. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright takes on Vladimir Putin for listening to his own propaganda.

Plus a correction 161 years later. Why "The New York Times" is apologizing today over a report from 1853, and what it has to do with an Academy-awarding winning film, "12 Years A Slave."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, politics now. There's a fine line between crazy and crazy like a fox. Today on CNN, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had to say this about Russian strong man, Vladimir Putin and to his invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Putin is in many ways I think delusional about this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: She is not the only one who apparently feels that way. German Chancellor Angela Merkel according to the "New York Times" thinks Putin isn't, quote, "in touch with reality," according to a conversation she had with President Obama. But whatever is going on in Putin's head, it has not stopped Republicans from taking aim at, no, not Putin, President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This president does not understand Vladimir Putin.

FORMER SENATOR JOHN DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There's no question that there's a perception of American indecisiveness and weakness.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: People are being looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I want to bring in David Maraniss, the associate editor for the "Washington Post," Molly Ball, the national political reporter at "The "Atlantic" and Jeff Goldberg, a columnist, for "Bloomberg View." Molly, the president has been slammed by Republicans for his response to Ukraine. What other options are Republicans pushing that President Obama and the administration is not?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE ATLANTIC": There's really not a whole lot of difference in terms of what Republicans say that they would do. Perhaps, you know, slightly more muscular sanctions, a more aggressive tone and in diplomacy, tone is not nothing, tone counts.

But mostly they are saying, number one, I told you so. That, you know, when McCain made the case in 2008 that we needed to keep an eye of Russia's intentions vis-a-vis Crimea, and when Mitt Romney made the same assertion in 2012 and was mocked by the president, big laugh line in the national debate saying see, we were right.

And presumably that somehow a McCain presidency or a Romney presidency would have prevented this affairs, obviously we can't know if that's actually the case.

TAPPER: I don't recall -- and this might just be historical ignorance on my part. But I don't recall such criticism when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 under President Bush, David?

DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, "BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY": It's a reflection of the intensity of the times and the dislike of Obama. You know, it's politics, basically. My grandfather was born in Odessa, but that makes me as much of an expert on it as much as 95 percent of the people blabbing away on it. I can guarantee that President Obama is not worrying about that attack from the Republicans right now. He's just thinking about Putin. So you know, whatever this trip check of Benghazi to Syria to Ukraine that the Republicans are going after him with is not what is on his mind at all.

TAPPER: Jeffrey, you interviewed President Obama. The interview came out I think on Sunday. He doesn't buy into the idea that other countries, hostile countries, whether it's Iran or Syria, that they aren't convinced that he would act. In fact, he told you point blank that he knows the Iranian leaders were worried that he would actually do something militarily?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, "BLOOMBERG VIEW": Right. He applied without saying anything, obviously, that they have good information about the way that they react to his moves. His argument was the only reason Syria gave up the chemical weapons is because they actually believed, as did they patrons, the Russians and the Iranians, they actually believe that he would attack.

And so he believes that his deterrent power is in place. Obviously with Russia you're dealing with a much larger power, a nuclear power, so the options are more limited. But he believes that people take him seriously when he says I'm going to use force. It's an open question and different parts of the world including the Middle East and Eastern Europe whether those leaders believe it.

TAPPER: What do you think?

GOLDBERG: What do I think?

TAPPER: Yes?

GOLDBERG: I think he's a president who has found himself using military force far more than he thought he would. Let's put it this way, he's a community organizer who regularly has people assassinated. You know, I mean, there's this bifurcation in his life. Yes, I have argued consistently that on the Iran file, on the nuclear file that, yes, if push came to shove, if Iran was about to get a nuclear weapon, he would use force.

In Syria obviously he's been very, very reluctant and he told me very explicitly, he said, you know, one of the reasons that I'm so reluctant or it's so obviously difficult for the U.S. to go to Syria, is that would make four wars in the Muslim world in ten years for the United States.

So he is cautious but we saw not only in Bin Laden, obviously, but Libya and the surge in Afghanistan, obviously the president has ordered many troops into battle and ordered many kinetic operations as they file them.

TAPPER: Molly, "Politico" has a piece out today titled "Hillary Clinton's Ukraine in 2016 problem" by Mikey Haberam. She writes, quote, "As President Obama grapples to resolve the expanding crisis in Ukraine, the situation underscores Clinton's dilemma as she looks forward to potential presidential run in 2016. Separating from the White House is a very difficult proposition, if it's possible at all." She is the one obviously who had the reset button with the Russians with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister. Do you think that she is going to be associated with this even though she's not secretary of state?

BALL: Absolutely. I don't think there is any opportunity for Hillary to separate herself from the Obama administration's foreign policy since she was the one who crafted it from the beginning. To the extent that she's been out of the office for a year and the administration has taken position since then.

I think there is a pretty clear continuum with what she established as secretary of state, but in a larger sense, it's very important observation that to the extent that this administration does anything unpopular, Hillary is going to be latched to it in particular in the foreign policy sphere. But I think anything that is Obama baggage is going to attach to Hillary quite strongly.

TAPPER: David, a new Pew poll out today shows 67 percent of Americans approve of the job Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state, 69 percent see her as tough. This despite what we've heard from Republicans about Benghazi and other things, I don't know that this is going to hurt her ultimately.

MARANISS: Sixty seven percent of people probably just know that she flew in a lot of airplanes. You know, I'm not sure -- it's obviously a very important policy that went on when she was secretary of state, whatever she did or didn't do and it's an important issue.

But whether it's actually part of the presidential politics, aside from the attacks from certain Republicans, I don't think it will be a major factor in how people decide whether she should be president or not.

TAPPER: Very quickly?

GOLDBERG: She has a personality, she operates more from the gut on some of these issues than from the brain. She's not de-escalatory the way he is and so that works to her credit in these debates.

TAPPER: Molly Ball, David Maraniss, Jeff Goldberg, thank you so much for coming in.

When we come back, everybody makes mistakes, even journalist, especially journalist, but "The New York Times" is making good on a blooper they made 161 years ago that has to do with "12 Years A Slave." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Today's Pop Culture Lead. You know, we all make mistakes in journalism. A few minutes ago I said Crimean instead of Crimea. But apparently on January 20th, 1853, the copy editors or spelling police at "The New York Times" had the day off. Because 161 years later, the newspaper has issued this correction for a news story about the free black man Solomon Northup, whose life inspired the movie that just won best picture, "12 Years A Slave."

Back when Millard Filmore was president, the "Times" spelled Northup's name two different ways under the headline and in the body of the story, both spellings as it turns were incorrect.

The Oscar win Sunday helped stir interest in the original story and the paper's old blurred went viral. An author who calls herself a terrible proof reader saw the mistake and called the "Times" out. Today the paper issued its correction. Apparently sometimes the golden statuette can change history.

That's it for THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.