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Interview With State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki; What To Do Next In Crimea?; Clinton Tries To Clarify Hitler Comments; Parallel Problems With Putin; Tempers Flare At IRS Scandal Hearing

Aired March 5, 2014 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Continuing our World Lead, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke a short while ago from Paris about the progress or lack thereof in talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Let's just say that Kerry set the bar low.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think any of us had an anticipation in coming here at this moment, in this atmosphere of heightened tension and confrontation, that we were suddenly going to resolve that here this afternoon.


TAPPER: But Kerry said he and Lavrov have some ideas they can bring to their respective bosses, Obama and Putin. Can today's efforts be described as progress or status quo?

Joining me now is State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. Jen, good to see you.


TAPPER: So the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers were in the same building today and they did not meet. Does that not suggest that Secretary Kerry's efforts today on the Ukraine were something of a swing and a miss?

PSAKI: Well, Jake, as I'm sure this will come as no surprise, I completely disagree with that.

Look, Secretary Kerry is in Paris because he is there for a conference on Lebanon, but he's also there to engage with European counterparts, to coordinate our steps moving forward. And yes, he had a lengthy meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. Do we expect this to be solved in a day? Absolutely not. We wish it could be.

But there are steps that can be taken. There is an off ramp for Russia. Secretary Kerry laid that out today for foreign minister Lavrov. And if they don't take that off ramp, we have a range of options and there will be consequences.

TAPPER: The range of options that you discuss requires the EU, the European Union, to be on board with what the United States wants to do in terms of specific sanctions and other diplomatic efforts to isolate Russia. Former secretary of defense Bob Gates gave an interview this morning, and he seemed very skeptical about getting allies on board. Let me play what he said.


ROBERT GATES, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm skeptical that the Europeans will get behind a set of serious sanctions. Okay? That's one of the risks for the president if he pushes too far and the United States gets far out in front and the Europeans -- he looks behind him and none of the Europeans are there, then we risk being the ones isolated here. So, I'm not optimistic about how this is going to turn out, quite frankly.


TAPPER: Jen, what's the status of our allies, the United States allies, particularly Germany and the UK? We know President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Cameron just a short while ago.

PSAKI: And Secretary Kerry spoke with Foreign Minister Steinmeier today as well. Part of what Secretary Kerry is doing on the ground today is engaging and discussing with his counterparts about what steps we're considering, what steps they may be considering, and how we coordinate that. There's no question that being unified and taking steps together is the best path forward. But we feel, and we've been pretty clear in this, that we are going to consider taking additional steps in terms of sanctions. And we'll see what happens over the next couple days in terms of consultations with our E.U. counterparts.

TAPPER: But is there any word that Germany and the UK, which have expressed in different ways a reluctance to get on board with sanctions -- is there any movement on that? Have they decided that they want to do something but they're just not where the U.S. is? Or are they still at no sanctions at all?

PSAKI: Well, there is an agreement that we are at a critical point and that sending a strong message using all the political and economic levers we can pull is essential. So in terms of what that will manifest in, we'll see what happens over the next 24 hours. But that is what the discussion is about on the ground right now.

TAPPER: That sounds like a very diplomatic and spinny way of saying that nothing has been agreed upon yet --

PSAKI: Listen, I wouldn't underestimate, Jake. There are discussions about these -- among these foreign ministers. And if you look at what the foreign secretary Haggis (ph) said, a range of foreign officials have said, they are very clear about how unacceptable they find the actions of the Russians. And they have been clear they're prepared to take steps. TAPPER: What about this off-ramp option that you keep talking about and others in the administration keep talking about? Apparently Chancellor Merkel of Germany discussed this with President Obama. Is Russia willing to have international observers in Ukraine instead of Russian troops?

PSAKI: Well, we'll see. You know, today there was some trouble. The international observers had some trouble getting in. They're going to try again tomorrow as I understand it. And the clearest sign that the Russians consent that they want minority rights to be protected is to allow these observers in. So now it's a question of their rhetoric is matching with their actions. It's not matching. And what they'll do in the next 24 hours.

TAPPER: As you know, a U.N. envoy in Crimea was accosted today by armed men. He's expected to take a flight out of the area later they are evening. That doesn't sound like de-escalation to me.

PSAKI: Well, my understanding is there have been plans, and the U.N. of course is the appropriate place for this, to return and continue to play a role. This conflict on the ground is not ending in the next 24 hours. We're all working together with a fierce urgency in the international community to take steps, and the U.N. remains an important part of that process.

TAPPER: Jen Psaki, thanks so much for coming and answering questions.

PSAKI: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, two different administrations with nearly identical responses to Putin's military aggression. So, why the pass from conservatives in 2008 when it was George W. Bush, and the backlash now?

Plus, drama in the House as a public shouting breaks out in a congressional hearing about the IRS abuses today with one Democrat calling out the "un-American," quote, unquote, actions of the Republican chairman. You'll want to stick around and listen to this.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. This just in: earlier we mentioned former secretary of state and possible presidential candidate Hillary Clinton compared the actions of Russia and Ukraine to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s to Europe at a private fundraiser. Moments ago, while speaking at UCLA, she sought to clarify those comments. Take a listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it's a moment of real challenge. And, you know, there are different ways to structure your response to such challenges. There's not one right way and everything else is wrong, but it does require some deft maneuvering, which is certainly what I know the administration is trying to do. What I said yesterday is that the claims by President Putin and other Russians, that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into eastern Ukraine because they had to protect the Russian minorities. And that is reminiscent of claims that were made back in the 1930s when Germany, under the Nazis, kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere throughout Europe.

So I just want everybody to have a little historic perspective. I'm not making a comparison certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before.


TAPPER: Let's bring in Susan Glasser, editor for Politico magazine and co-author of the book "Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution." And Olivier Knox, White House correspondent for Yahoo! News.

Susan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would not have made those remarks. Ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton apparently did.

SUSAN GLASSER, POLITICO EDITOR: Well, it's never super diplomatic to compare anyone in global politics especially the Russians to the Germans of World War II era. So it's not a particularly politic thing to say. Comparisons to Hitler are usually pretty toxic in the political atmosphere, which is why we saw her immediately trying to clarify them.

TAPPER: Right. Of course, millions of Russians died fighting Hitler's army, but she was not really criticized. In fact, a lot of Republicans they agreed with her, Olivier.

OLIVIER KNOX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "YAHOO NEWS": A lot of this going on. A lot of this Putin is acting like Hitler going around. So probably a lot of Republicans actually agree with her. It is part of their narrative, which is that President Obama's weakness has somehow enticed Putin to take these steps. So, yes, they're comfortable with this. She might not be if she has to deal with him and say in January of 2017.

TAPPER: And one other quick note, she had this to say about Vladimir Putin's tough-guy persona.


HILARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: As for President Putin, I know we are dealing with a tough guy with thin skin. I've had a lot of experience not only with him, but people like him but in particular President Putin, and I know that his political vision is of a greater Russia.


TAPPER: Susan, you literally wrote a book about Vladimir Putin. Is he thin skinned? GLASSER: You know, I think he's a guy who can hold a grudge. And remember that this is somebody who told us that the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century so he's got a long memory and he's clearly now acting to do something about it.

Crimea, after all, is a part of what Russians would consider something valuable that they lost with the breakup of the Soviet Union. And so he seems to be acting out of a story. But on Hillary Clinton, I think it is important that these statements, while, you know, kind of eye popping on the one hand, on the other hand I think if you listen to people inside the Obama administration.

Even as secretary of state in their internal conversations, I get the sense that she was always pretty clear eyed about Vladimir Putin. The Russians definitely perceived her to be pretty hard edged when it came to them.

TAPPER: Stay right there. I want to get your feedback on something else. This piece that we're about to run, the president has been hammered by Republicans for his response to this continuing crisis in the Ukraine. But history looms over this conflict.

One could argue that the parallels between the Obama administration's response now and the Bush administration's stance back in 2008 during Putin's invasion of the country of Georgia actually shows some striking similarities.


TAPPER (voice-over): This is what the Russian incursion into Crimea in the Ukraine looks like this week.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian federation inside of Ukraine.

TAPPER: This is what the Russian incursion into Georgia looked like in 2008.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I've just received an update from my national security team on the situation in Georgia.

TAPPER: The situations were different in many ways, of course, Putin was prime minister of Russia then, not president, though he was widely regarded to have been calling the shots. But in both cases Russia sent troops into another sovereign country of former soviet socialist republic upsetting an American president who had tried to improve relations. This week Republicans slammed President Obama's response to the crisis.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: -- always believed that this administration was incredibly naive about Putin.

JIM DEMINT, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Our lack of a concise and clear foreign policy has destabilized parts of the world. SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We have an indecisive president that invites aggression.

TAPPER: Obama and Bush are, of course, quite different, but it turns out looking back to 2008, their responses to Russia's belligerence are not that unique.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: John Kerry is going to be traveling to Kiev to indicate our support for the Ukrainian people.

BUSH: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is there. She's conferring with President Saakashvili and expressing America's whole hearted support for Georgia's democracy.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The steps Russia has taken are a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty, Ukraine's territorial integrity.

BUSH: Continue to stand behind Georgia's democracy, continue to assist Georgia's sovereignty and independence and territorial integrity be respected.

TAPPER: Back then conservatives largely excused Bush. Columnist, Charles Krauthammer on Fox in 2008.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Obviously it's beyond our control. The Russians are advancing. There's nothing that will stop them. We're not going to go to war over Georgia.

TAPPER: Here's Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier" this week.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, COLUMNIST: They should take everything off the table. What if there's a full-scale invasion to Kiev? You're going to do nothing?

TAPPER: Conversely on ABC News "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos in August 2008, Democrat Tom Daschle said this type of crisis was precisely the reason why then Senator Obama's brand of leadership was needed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of attention would --

TOM DASCHLE (D), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, he called early on for a military action plan for NATO working with Georgia to try to deal with these issues pre-emptively, try to deal with them in a much more aggressive way up front.


TAPPER: Senator Daschle's hopes notwithstanding President Obama's more collaborative approach does not seem to have changed the Putin dynamic much I think it's fair to say.

Let's bring back the panel. Susan, it is remarkable to listen to the president saying the same exact words after these different excursions. GLASSER: Well, I think it's important to remember that American foreign policy actually generally does not change that much from administration to administration and that just like Russia has certain national interest so does the United States and so, of course, we are saying that.

What's really striking though is that you have to remember this is Russia's backyard. These are countries that were part of the Soviet Union that directly border on Russia. In reality, what all the punditry, you know, obscures in a partisan side taking is that that we're almost certainly not going to engage in any military action in any of those countries.

TAPPER: Earlier on the show, Olivier, Congresswoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida said that in retrospect it was probably a mistake that the U.S. didn't take a more forceful approach after the invasion into Georgia. Russia is still there in those two breakaway republics.

KNOX: That's right. There was a real reverse to business as usual after some months after the Georgia crisis. I was going back to my own work in 2008 and I found something interesting, which was Susan Rice, then the campaign adviser to Barack Obama, now the national security advisor, saying that this should trigger a full-on review of all our relations with Russia, bilateral relations and multilateral. So it's interesting before the reset there was apparently the rethink.

TAPPER: Interesting. Susan, I went back and looked at some of the transcripts also, and one of the things that's interesting is so many pundits viewed this through the prism because it was just three months before the presidential election of Obama versus McCain and there really wasn't a lot of talk of George W. Bush at all. That might be one of the key reasons why it's different today.

GLASSER: Well, that's right. Remember that Bush was winding down his tenure in office, the accounts now show pretty clearly when he privately consulted with his advisers not a single one of them thought that they should seriously consider military action.

Publicly it was in the throes of the presidential campaign and it was really about, you know, Bush having invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, really had a limited tools in his tool kit, would he change our approach after November of that year.

But I think it's important to remember, too, Senator McCain is out there being very critical of President Obama now. He's been a vocal supporter of the Ukrainian democracy movement. He flew there to be on the stage in the Maidan during the protests.

But in reality there's a big political debate inside the Republican Party that is happening on foreign policy and the truth is that the muscular interventionist wing of the Republican Party is increasingly outnumbered even within the GOP these days.

TAPPER: It's interesting. George F. Will now with Fox, then with ABC, was critical of George W. Bush during that same year. He's one of the few I could find who was consistent saying that he didn't think the Bush approach to Putin was the right one because he peered into Putin's soul and trusted the man. There was a real difference between McCain and Bush foreign policy at that point, 2008.

KNOX: There was. What there wasn't was really was a big difference between McCain and then candidate Obama. They were after the first couple of days --

TAPPER: You mean, Bush and --

KNOX: McCain and Obama 2008. After the first couple days their policies really aligned a lot more closely on Georgia. As Susan has pointed out, you know, at that time, Bush was a little bit on the sidelines, the more tempting weapon was to go after his handling of the Iraq war.

And that's why Bush largely skated through '08 without that much criticism. It's also why Barack Obama today is a magnet for criticism. He still has a lot of time in the oval office. Republicans who are looking to get a good position either in the midterm elections or in 2016 he makes a really inviting target.

TAPPER: One of the lessons, I wonder, Susan, is that it doesn't really matter what the approach is of the president. Putin's going to do what Putin is going to do.

GLASSER: You know, I'm so glad you made that point because really it is in the end about Putin. I mean, you know, Secretary Clinton, people debate her points, but I think we have to remember that this is an action that wasn't Putin looking at Obama in the eye. This was Putin opportunistically seizing an entire chunk of a neighboring country.

TAPPER: Susan Glasser, Olivier Knox, thank you so much.

Coming up next, they cut his mic, but that didn't stop the shouting of a U.S. congressman. The heated argument when a congressional hearing was cut short today. Stay right there. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In politics, it may be one of the few times anything on C-span has felt even remotely like something you might see on Bravo. Today we witnessed the heated exchange between two high ranking members of Congress. During a hearing that was supposed to put all the spotlight on an ex-IRS official and whether the agency intentionally targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Take a look what happened when Republican Chairman Darrell Issa cut the meeting short despite objections from a high-ranking Democrat on his committee.



REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA (R), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: You're all free to leave, we've adjourned, but the gentleman may ask his question.

CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. I have one procedural question and it goes to trying to get the information you just asked.

ISSA: What is your question?

CUMMINGS: No. Let me say what I have to say. I've listened to you for the last 15 or 20 minutes. Let me say what I have to say. I have one procedural --

ISSA: You're released. You may go.

CUMMINGS: But first I would like to use my time to make some brief points. For the past year the Central Republican accusation in this investigation --

ISSA: We're adjourned. Close it down.


TAPPER: Issa says he adjourned the meeting early because he was infuriated that ex-IRS manager, Lois Lerner refused to testify about whether the IRS was politically motivated to scrutinize conservative groups.


LOIS LERNER, FORMER DIRECTOR, IRS-EXEMPT ORGANIZATIONS: My counsel has advised me I have not waived my constitutional rights under the fifth amendment and on his advice I will decline to answer any question on the subject matter of this hearing.


TAPPER: Now as you recall, Democrats in the Obama administration have rejected the idea that Tea Party groups were intentionally targeted, noting that some liberal groups also received extra scrutiny from the IRS.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over the Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Wolf.