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NEW DAY

Putin Plotting To Counter Sanctions; Kerry To Meet Russian Counterpart Today; Obama Pushing Minimum Wage Hike; Davis, Cornyn Survive Texas Primary Tests; Poll: Clinton Gets Some GOP; Emotions High at Pistorius Trial

Aired March 5, 2014 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a strong belief that Russia's action is violating international law.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, John Kerry set to square off with his Russian counterpart this morning as Russian lawmakers strike back, moving to seize U.S. assets in Russia if they're sanctioned. We're live everywhere the story is with what comes next.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, the dramatic rescue caught on tape. A mother drives her van into the ocean with her three children inside. Bystanders raised to the rescue. We're going to hear from them this morning.

CUOMO: Happening now, what made Oscar Pistorius cover his ears at trial? The prosecution is laying out critical parts of its case, but the defense has a strategy of its own as one witness testifies about threatening phone calls he received.

Your NEW DAY starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. You see, we have breaking news. It's Wednesday, March 5th, 6:00 in the East.

Up first, the news about growing fears that Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is plotting to escalate the crisis in Ukraine. Here's the latest information. Secretary of state, John Kerry, scheduled to meet with Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov in Paris just hours from now. Now, world leaders are converging there this morning for talks to try to end the crisis obviously.

Kerry is publicly expressing concerns about Putin expanding his military operation in Crimea. The Russian president is refusing so far to join these group talks, but claims there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Putin insists those 16,000 armed trooped are just local self defense forces. BOLDUAN: Reuters is now reporting Russian forces have seized part of a Ukrainian missile defense unit in Crimea although still under Ukrainian control. Also the White House continues to try to put pressure on Putin to de-escalate the crisis. President Obama working the phones with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last night to try to find a solution.

We have reporters on the ground in Ukraine, Russia, and Washington this morning covering all the angles. Let's begin with CNN White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, the very latest. What are you hearing from the White House this morning, Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Nothing this early at this point, but we know that Kerry is in Paris today. The secretary of state yesterday was in Ukraine. Today he is going to meet with his counterpart, the Russian foreign minister. But already early this morning, leaders there are expressing concern at not seeing Russia at this point at the table to talk about this situation.

That talk between Secretary Kerry though and the foreign minister, as far as we know at this point, is expected to go forward in a matter of hours. Everyone is hoping that that does continue. But the views between the U.S. and Russia have sharply diverged at this point over what has happened and continues to happen in Ukraine.

I mean, at one point, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright called Russia's view of this delusional. Yesterday Putin gave this lengthy press conference saying as you mentioned, that those soldiers that we've seen and the uniforms without insignia are not Russian soldiers, even though in interviews we've seen reporters approach them saying, where are you from, and they responded Russia.

Also you mentioned that President Obama spoke by phone to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel last night looking for that desired off ramp to the situation as they discussed, it would include international monitors. Merkel had said previously in her conversations with Putin, he seemed to be amenable to that.

But since then, Russia has said they have their own people looking into that possibility. There are other possibilities to, of course, we know sanctions that the U.S. and its allies are preparing for that, but no movement on this point. We'll have more for you later.

CUOMO: All right, Michelle, thank you very much. We also have word on a twist on the issue of sanctions. Now they have been seen as the main weapon against Putin, but now we're hearing Russian lawmakers just ordered up a new law that would allow them to confiscate the assets of European and U.S. companies if sanctions are imposed on Russia. Phil Black is following that live in Moscow this morning -- Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, it would allow them to confiscate assets, property, and accounts as well. This is according to a draft that is being worked on by the upper house of Russia's parliament effectively the Russian Senate. It would be a big dramatic move. A lot of large American multinational companies have literally invested billions in Russia over the last 22 years as it transitioned from a communist economy to a capitalist one.

This is what Russia refers to as asymmetrical response, coming back even bigger and harder or perhaps coming at the other side from a different angle. To give you an example, just over a year ago when the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which is designed to punish human rights abuses in this country, the Russian response was to pass a law banning American families from adopting Russian orphans.

In that case, a lot of families have begun the process, met the children here in Russia, and were not allowed to take them home. Completely unrelated to the issue at hand, but it made the point Russia doesn't like it when it believes its sovereignty is under attack.

Gives a sense of what Russia could be prepared to do if Europe and the United States follow through with their threats of economic sanctions -- Chris.

CUOMO: And also yet another look at just how dominant Putin is over the policy of that country. Phil Black, thank you very much. We'll check back with in a little bit. Now let's get to ground zero in Ukraine, Crimea.

This morning, it appears pro-Russian forces are in control of the Crimean peninsula. The question, how long will that standoff last. Anna Coren is live in that area -- Anna.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, the tense standoff continues here in Crimea. We're outside the government building in Simferopol, which is the capitol of Crimea. You can see behind me the Russian flag flying next to the Crimean flag. No Ukrainian flag in sight.

You have to remember though that this city is very much staunchly pro- Russian. More than 60 percent of the people are Russian speaking on the peninsula and they have very strong ties to Russia historically and culturally. There's a real feeling that they don't want to be part of Europe, certainly don't want have any ties to the west whatsoever.

I can tell you that there are reports of some 16,000 Russian troops or pro-Russian forces that have surrounded or at least occupied the military installations and bases on the Crimean Peninsula. There are also, obviously, the naval fleet, the Black Sea naval fleet showing their presence as well.

There are many people who believe it's a foregoing conclusion, Chris and Kate, that Crimea has been lost to -- Ukraine no longer has control of Crimea. It will be up to the international community, certainly up to United States as to whether they are willing to accept that -- Kate. BOLDUAN: Anna, thanks so much coming to us from Crimea this morning. Let's talk more about this. Let's get to CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, in Washington for more.

Jim, I want to tick through as much as we can of what we're hearing from reporters on the ground in the region there. What do you think of -- what's the expectation for today's meeting between John Kerry and his Russian counterpart in Paris? Is there any real expectation that they could reach a solution, they could come to some agreement today?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think too early to say that they would come to an agreement today. Fact is, they're talking. That's a step forward, talking face to face. There are been times there where U.S. officials reached out to Russian officials and couldn't even get them on the phone. That's a positive.

They could begin at least to move towards a solution here. Remember, Kerry and Lavrov, they have a good personal relationship. Last fall, the two of them basically worked out this agreement in Syria to remove its chemical weapons. They worked together on Iran peace talks, nuclear negotiations, that kind of thing.

If you want two folks who know each other well between the U.S. and Russia, it would be those two. The trouble is, you know, often times when U.S. officials are talking to Russian officials, they're talking right by each other.

You mentioned earlier when President Putin was speaking about this crisis, you know, he's dealing, as U.S. officials say, with a different set of facts on the ground. Even denying that those Russian troops on the ground are Russian.

BOLDUAN: Right. I mean, you do wonder how much progress they can make when they can't even agree on the fact on the ground at this point. What do you make then of what the E.U. is putting out now, this timeline or I guess, we called it a deadline for Russia to de- escalate or they're going to look at sanctions? Is that being taken seriously?

SCIUTTO: I think it is being taken seriously. That's one reason why you have Russia (inaudible) and Russia passing or looking to pass legislation to see how they would punish American companies, European companies to show, this is the price you are going to pay.

I also think that Putin, Russia, they don't like being pushed around. This talk of deadlines, we're going to make you pay, this kind of thing. You know, a lot of this use of force in Crimea is an expression of Russian power.

They feel that they've been pushed back too far. They're showing they're a force to be reckoned with. I wonder how those public proclamations, how well they go down in Moscow and with Russian leaders.

BOLDUAN: That's a good question. I mean, I guess, we can say the fact that the interested and important parties are talking is a good step. What do you think, is there any step towards this off ramp that we've heard so much about?

SCIUTTO: Well, I think so and it's interesting, Lavrov, today, in addition to saying that he didn't like CNN's coverage of the issue. I guess, the good news in that is that he watched the CNN. He did mention this February 21st agreement. You may remember this. This is last month before the Ukrainian president fled the country.

They came to this agreement to end the protests in the square, which included things like early elections, a more inclusive government in Kiev. That takes into account a lot of these ethnic Russians in the Eastern part of the country.

And what Lavrov said is he said, listen, we've been talking about this as the way forward for the last two weeks. The fact that he mentioned that, and as an expression of public support for that that could be part of an off ramp.

But, you know, it requires like all these things, concessions on both sides, including moving those Russian troops in Crimea back into their bases. That's something we haven't seen happen yet.

BOLDUAN: We sure haven't and of course, then you have the challenge of trying to parse if what they're saying in public is matching what they're saying in private, and that's a whole other bag of trash. Jim, thanks so much. Great to see you. Thank you -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, stay with us for whatever happens in Ukraine, but there's a lot of other news going on. So let's get to John Berman in for Michaela.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: All right, thanks so much, Chris. President Obama heading to the northeast today to push for his proposal for a minimum wage hike. He'll be joined by governors from four states at Central Connecticut University. The president wants the national minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. This comes a day after he unveiled his 2015 budget looking to close the income inequality gap. Republicans say that budget pretty much dead on arrival.

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis becoming the first female nominee for governor in Texas since Ann Richards. Davis clinched the Democratic nomination on Tuesday's primary. She will now face Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott who won the Republican nomination.

Other notable primary winners, George P. Bush taking the Republican race for Texas land commissioner and John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate turning back a Tea Party challenge.

So if Hillary Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, a new poll finds she may have support from a somewhat unlikely group, Republicans. A Pew Research Center/"USA Today" poll found that 8 percent of Republicans said there is a good chance they would vote for her, 8 percent.

Seventeen percent says there were some chance they would vote for her, 74 percent says, no chance at all. No surprise Democrats firmly back Hillary Clinton in the poll. Mrs. Clinton will speak to college students at an event at UCLA today.

Investigators are waiting for autopsy results on a woman who was killed in a huge gas leak and explosion in New Jersey. They were unable to identify the woman who was found on a car near the blast site. Seven other people were injured in the accident. At least 10 homes in the townhouse development were destroyed. Dozens of others were damaged.

So an asteroid is on the way and it's going to pass closer to earth than the moon. It's going to happen today around 4:00 p.m. Eastern. The newly discovered space rock is fairly big. It's about 100 feet across. Experts say it poses no threat. It will get no closer than some 200,000 miles away.

You will not be able to see it from own backyard probably because the asteroid could be too dark to view correctly. Does it make a sound if you do not see it?

BOLDUAN: Is that the age-old --

BERMAN: Something like that. I think it does make a sound. Except the space thing with "Gravity" and Sandra Bullock. She couldn't hear anything.

BOLDUAN: I made that up.

CUOMO: There is no sound in space.

BOLDUAN: I made that up I said.

BERMAN: At the very beginning of "Gravity" it says no sound in space.

CUOMO: No question left unanswered, specifically about the weather. We all can't hear it, but we can feel it. It's cold. Let's get to our meteorologist, Indra Petersons with the latest there. What do we see? That graphic is not helpful.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We were hoping temperatures were not going to be cold anymore, but unfortunately, yesterday morning, we set records that even go back to the 1800s. I mean, places like Baltimore, about 4 degrees, it was 1874. That's the last record they broke where the coldest temperature they ever had was 5 degrees on that day.

If you look out toward D.C., Atlantic City, Jersey, Baltimore, Maryland, all have already seen the lowest temperatures. They won the coldest winter. Things are finally getting better. Temperatures are warming up to not only normal, but above normal. Temperatures going back to the 40s in the Midwest. Northeast, same thing, things are really improving here, especially as you go through Saturdays.

We could see some above-normal temperatures. There's still snow showers today from Midwest, Ohio valley to northeast. We are going to be watching this guy. This low could cruise up the coastline meaning snow showers potentially in the northeast by the weekend. Who cares if it's warmer?

BERMAN: I don't care as long as it's warmer. I don't care as long as it's warmer.

CUOMO: Are you clicking your heels three times?

BERMAN: I don't care as long as it's warmer.

CUOMO: His magic new shoes.

BOLDUAN: Let's take a break. Coming up next on NEW DAY, day three of testimony in the "Blade Runner" murder trial. Oscar Pistorius' neighbors recalling the blood curdling screams they heard moments before his girlfriend was shot and killed. We are going to tell you about the moment that caused Pistorius himself to cover his years in court.

CUOMO: Every parent's head will snap around when you hear this, a teen suing her parents for financial support, including college tuition and expenses. It made it to a judge. There is a ruling. We'll tell it to you and then get into the debate that ensues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back.

Emotions running high at the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius. A neighbor back on the stand this morning after saying he heard the screams of someone whose life was in danger. And Tuesday, the stunning moment the Olympic Blade Runner seeming to cover his ears during testimony.

CNN's Robyn Curnow is at the courthouse in Pretoria, has been covering this trial from the very beginning.

Good morning, Robyn.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there.

Well, the court has adjourned for the lunch break. During the morning session, once again Oscar Pistorius' defense tearing into those state witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW (voice-over): As the murder trial got underway for a third day, Pistorius' defense wasted no time in trying to completely discredit the testimony of Charl Johnson and his wife Michelle Burger, neighbors of the Olympic champion.

WITNESS: I recall, my lady, that there was a pause between the fist shots and the shots that followed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A small pause between the first shot and exactly the same as your wife's evidence.

CURNOW: Both claim adamantly that they heard gunshots that night.

WITNESS: I'm convinced that I heard gunshots, my lady.

CURNOW: The defense is trying to show that the witnesses tailored their testimony to match one another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said the following, the last scream faded moments after the shot. The fading.

She spoke about the fading of the scream after the last shot and you speak about the fading.

CURNOW: On Tuesday, the Blade Runner's neighbor broke down on the stand. She testified she heard horrifying screams the night Reeva Steenkamp was killed and four gunshots.

WITNESS: It was awful to hear the shout before.

The defense tried to poke holes in the neighbor's credibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You heard that out of a closed toilet in a house 177 meters away.

CURNOW: Offering their own explanation, claiming the high-pitched yells were actually from Pistorius, occurring after the double amputee realized he had accidentally shot his girlfriend and not an intruder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paragraph 18.1.4.

CURNOW: Pistorius became visibly emotional during the cross- examination, slouching down, appearing to cover his ears and wiping away tears. Prosecutors maintain Pistorius killed Steenkamp in a fit of rage.

Steenkamp's mother June who's only present on day one says the trial is a small step towards healing.

JUNE STEENKAMP, VICTIM'S MOTHER: I'm not the person who hates another person. One has to forgive. I don't want it to burn me up. It's got to go.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Our thanks to Robyn Curnow for the reporting.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps from Pretoria.

Kelly, it's great to have you. Let's start with giving an understanding for the crucial element for the prosecution which is premeditation. What needs to be shown by prosecutors to make that case?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Premeditation is going to be one of the most interesting legal parts of the trial because it's not clearly settled in South African law. So, essentially, what they will need to show is that in a sort period of time after the fight occurred, Oscar Pistorius had a sober moment of thought where he made the decision to kill Reeva Steenkamp, fetch the gun and executed that decision.

CUOMO: That's very interesting, because one of the fascinating things here is our comparison of U.S. law and what we're used to in trials versus South African. In the U.S. a premeditation that can be formed in an instant. You know, a single action. But here, you need that beat were there is actual thought between one action and the next. So, that will be interesting to demonstrate because hard to prove the fight for the prosecution.

The next point, ear witnesses very important. What people heard in this trial. There are two of them who say they heard screams that indicate a fight. The defense pushing back very aggressively seemed to shake one of them about her memory and about the similarities to her husband's statement.

What was your take?

PHELPS: Yes, absolutely. I think the defense made quite a bit of headway with both witnesses, both Michelle Burger and her husband in terms of being able to suggest a reasonable doubt that their memory of events was in fact accurate, that they can really with confidence they claimed it was that it was gunshots they heard and not the cricket bat breaking the door.

CUOMO: And again, now, the defense was working all of the variables to the advantage. The door was closed, 177 meters, the middle of the night. This was all a year ago. So, it's been interesting to watch because you don't know what those fact assessors will find important, what the judge will find important.

Now, lastly, we're through three days of this trial. They've had a couple of witnesses. The first one on the stand for almost two days, 107 witnesses are on the sheet. What is your take on how long this trial could last?

PHELPS: It's impossible to tell how long it could last. I would estimate that a trial of this nature would usually take between four to six months if there aren't many postponements and objections from either side. I'm considering that the state themselves acknowledged in their opening statement that their case is based very heavily on circumstantial evidence. They will be relying on the testimony of witnesses very heavily in order to persuade the court that that circumstantial evidence should be considered beyond a reasonable doubt.

CUOMO: And there's going to be a lot of testimony, a lot of trails to follow. Kelly, we look forward to having you help guide us through what you hear in the weeks and months to follow. Thanks for joining us on NEW DAY, Kelly Phelps.

Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, a possible way out of the crisis in Ukraine. Germany's chancellor coming up with an off ramp, it's being described as, for Putin to withdraw troops from Crimea. But will he take it?

CUOMO: And a terrifying scene in Florida. A pregnant mom and her three kids rescued from their van after it drove straight into the ocean. That's what you're watching. Was this a tragic accident or something more disturbing? We'll take you through it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Let's get back over to John Berman, in for Michaela, for some of today's top stories.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks so much.

Let's take a look at the headlines right now.

John Kerry and Russia's foreign minister set to meet face to face in Paris later this morning. It's a very important meeting. The secretary telling reporters that he fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to escalate the invasion of Ukraine. Russian lawmakers are now ordering the creation of a new law that will allow Russia to seize the assets of U.S. and European companies if sanctions are imposed on Moscow.

For the 50th time, the House is set to vote today on yet another modification to Obamacare. This one would effectively push back the individual mandate by one year by reducing the penalty for not buying insurance to zero. This is the fist such vote since the law took effect on January 1st. It is not likely to be taken up in the Senate.

In just a few hours, a former IRS official will appear at a house agency in regards to the scandal. What's not known is whether she'll testify or invoke her Fifth Amendment rights as she did before. Lerner is a key figure in the investigation of IRS' targeting of the Tea Party and other conservative groups seeking to apply for tax exempt status.

And the friendly skies taking an unfriendly turn when it comes to passengers trying to squeeze oversized bags into overhead compartments. The United Airlines says if the carry-on bag exceeds the six limits, president will have to go back to the ticket counter and pay a $25 checked luggage fee.

The airline says its carry-on crackdown is all about speeding up the boarding process.

You know, I can see their point. On the other hand, you have to pay for your checked baggage, I don't know -- Chris.

CUOMO: John, you're even but fair.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

CUOMO: Not always the same thing. All right. Back now to the conflict in Ukraine. A suggested off-ramp solution to the crisis may be in sight with international observers in place to make sure ethnic Russians stay safe in the country. Will the Russians take the deal?

We're joined now by Vladimir Posner. He is a CNN analyst, a Russian journalist and TV personality.

HAYES: Mr. Posner, welcome to the CNN family.

VLADIMIR POSNER, CNN ANALYST: Well, thank you very much, Chris. I appreciate it.

CUOMO: Now, let's have at it. Looking at it from 30,000 feet, the idea of acceptance by Russians in Russia for what Vladimir Putin is doing in the Ukraine. State-sponsored research had 73 percent of Russians not wanting any Russian involvement in the Ukraine fights for its own sovereignty.