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Crisis in Ukraine Continues; Russia Parliament Considers Bill to Seize U.S. Company Assets in Face of Sanctions; Recent U.S. Foreign Policy Assessed; Venezuela Marks Anniversary of Hugo Chavez's Death; Oscar Pistorius Trial Day Three

Aired March 5, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Up first, the latest on the crisis in Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart set to meet in Paris. World leaders converging on that city to find a resolution to this crisis. Kerry is telling reporters he fears Russian President Putin is plotting to make the crisis worse. Meantime, Russian lawmakers are working on a new bill that would allow Putin to seize property and other assets belonging to U.S. and European companies doing business in Russia if those countries impose sanctions on Russia.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: At the very same time German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to broker an end to the crisis. She is looking for a way to help Putin back away and save face with a so- called off-ramp that would guarantee the safety of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, which Putin said was a key concern.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama says there is consensus among U.S. and European Union officials that Russia is acting illegally.


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


BERMAN: The president says that Vladimir Putin's actions are not a sign of strength, but, quote, "a reflection that countries near Russia have a deep suspicion of this kind of meddling." President Obama says if anything it will push many countries further away from Russia.

CUOMO: Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton weighing in on the crisis in Ukraine with a stinging indictment. At a private fundraiser Clinton reportedly compared Russia's move to issue passports to ethnic Russian in Crimea to the population transfers in Nazi Germany prior to World War II. Clinton said, quote, "If this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the 1930s."

BOLDUAN: We are covering every angle of this breaking story for you. Let's begin with Michelle Kosinski live at the White House for us this morning. Good morning, Michelle. MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. Yesterday we saw Secretary of State John Kerry in Kiev. Today the scene is Paris where he will be meeting with his counterparts from the U.K., Ukraine, and Russia. Sounds like a good step, right? Well, there are a few setbacks. This morning, Kerry was saying he was disappointed along with the other leaders there that Russia hadn't shown up yet. There is still an opportunity to talk this afternoon, though. And that's what everyone is waiting for. The U.K. foreign secretary said that he was not optimistic about the outcome and that this group would us diplomatic opportunity to find a resolution to the crisis and that it would be a test to see this morning whether Russia was prepared to sit down with Ukraine. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, thank you very much, Michelle. The U.S. is planning, as you just heard. But it does seem that Putin is driving the situation. The question is, what will his next move be? Let's bring in Phil Black live from Moscow.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Chris, here politicians are working on draft legislation that if it becomes a reality would enable the Russian government to seize money and property belonging to American and European companies if those countries do put into place sanctions against Russian. It sounds dramatic, and it would be a dramatic step, one that would impact many American multinational companies that have invested billions here over the last 20 years or so.

It sounds extreme, but recent history shows it is something that Russia is prepared to do. It often takes what it describes as an asymmetrical response to sanctions when it feels its sovereignty is under threat. When U.S. Congress passed a law to punish Russian human rights abusers, the response was to pass a law here banning American families from adopting Russian children. It is a sign of the sort of steps Russia is prepared to take when it believes it is unfairly being persecuted by the international community. Back to you, John.

BERMAN: All right, Phil, let's go from Moscow to what really is ground zero in this crisis, Crimea in Ukraine. This morning it does appear that Russian forces or at least pro-Russian forces are in control of the Crimean peninsula. Let's bring in Anna Coren live now from Crimea. What's the latest, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we believe there are some 16,000 Russian troops or pro-Russian forces that have either occupied or surrounded military bases here on the Crimean peninsula. We are in the capital of Crimea. The government building is behind me. And I can tell you the Russian flag is the one flying next to the Crimean flag. The Ukraine flag has been taken down.

This is a staunchly pro-Russia city. And 60 percent of people here speak Russian, and people who I was speaking to a bit earlier said they want Russian forces to come here. They want to be saved, if you like, from the fascists. That's what they refer to the pro-western Ukrainian government.

So certainly, at the moment things are calm. But as we know, this is a volatile and unpredictable situation. The new prime minister here, he is holding a referendum at the end of the month and that will determine whether or not Crimea becomes independent from the Ukraine. There's a real feeling that Crimea has been lost -- or I should say is lost from the Ukraine. So that is -- that is the feeling at the moment from the people here in the peninsula. Back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Anna, so we have the feelings on the ground there. Then we have the politics going on back here at home. The question of the future of Ukraine a big function of the question of how did we get here in the first place. President Obama took office declaring a reset of American relations with Russia. But did that policy wind up becoming part of the problem we're facing today?

Joining us Republican strategist Kevin Madden and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, both are CNN commentators. Good to have you, gentlemen. Kevin, let me start with you. President Obama and much of the media scoffed when Mitt Romney said back in the election Russia's the biggest threat. You make the case for why. What we're seeing with Vladimir Putin is a reflection of President Obama's weakness as opposed to him just being reckless.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: First Governor Romney said Russia was our number one geopolitical foe in the sense that everywhere where America was looking to promote its strategic interests that Russia was on the other side, often many times trying to counter American interests or destabilize some of the situations that we were involved in.

So I think one of the reasons -- this was a point of contention in one of the debates that we had in the 2012 election, Governor Romney said that he's a realist, that he's not looking at Putin and Russia and their strategic objectives through rose-colored glasses, and instead that we should not be naive and see Putin as an ally or somebody we should be promoting flexibility with, but instead that what we need to counter or check Putin and some of the Russian interests in places like eastern Europe is that we need a firmer American foreign policy posture. So I think that was the big difference that we had then. And now what we're seeing is the fruits of essentially a very muddled foreign policy on behalf of President Obama.

CUOMO: So Senator John McCain used the word, Paul, "feckless," big word, but it means weak at the end of the day when you want to just break it down, Are we seeing the result of too much of the open hand and not enough of the fist from President Obama? Is that why we're in the situation we're in?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think the options are pretty limited, you know. First off, we saw long before President Obama in 2008, George W. Bush was president, who was randomly invading countries. And yet Putin moved into Georgia and occupies a chuck of what was then the sovereign territory of the country of Georgia. So this is all about Putin.

And the U.S. certainly has options, but frankly, we have far, far fewer because of the blood and treasure that we exhausted in Iraq, which many people, certainly I, thought was a terrible, tragic mistake when it was going on. It will be a half-century before I think the United States of America is over that. We're a very war weary country and a half bankrupt country because of the choices we made in Iraq. And that really limits this president and it limits the next three presidents in terms of what they can do overseas.

CUOMO: Kevin, you got the allegation. Here's the criticism. Is this just an extension of more Republican blocking of this president? Abroad, you're saying the Republicans, oh, see, this is his fault, he's too weak. What else could have been done? Where are the Republicans saying if this, this, and this had been done, we wouldn't be where we are today?

MADDEN: I don't think the criticism is partisan. I think it's quite substantive. You have many Republicans that have just a different world view from Democrats and particular with President Obama on many of these issues. Take, for example, the criticism promoted by Senator Lindsey Graham or Senator John McCain. They have a very long track record of promoting greater American engagement and a stronger American posture around the globe. I think what they've sought to do is hold President Obama more accountable in that regard.

CUOMO: Kevin, Senator Graham says it started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression. Are you serious? Do you really believe that Vladimir Putin is moving on the Ukraine because he sees weakness from Benghazi?

MADDEN: I think the point that he's trying to make is that this is a track record. When President Obama goes out and offers rhetoric but doesn't really follow through a lot with actions -- where he said look, there will be grave consequences in Syria, there will be great consequences if Russia were to provide Edward Snowden asylum, there will be great consequences for having invaded Crimea, and not really backing that up, that track record starts to undermine the president's position. So that's I think what the overall theme was behind Senator Graham's remarks.

CUOMO: Paul, you shake your head. But then offer an alternative explanation for why the president does seem to have more trouble rallying countries to the cause as we go from crisis to crisis.

BEGALA: Because countries have their own agendas. The whole notion that this is all about the United States or all about President Obama, it's frankly silly. Our viewers should know, Chris, that I've been to the Ukraine in the past. I've advised some of the pro-democracy forces in the Ukraine. I've been there and talked to Ukrainians. It's not about Washington. It's mostly frankly about Europe versus Russia, Berlin versus Moscow. The notion that this is all somehow about America is so America-centric that it's a little -- I think it's a little silly.

I will say this about Lindsey Graham. Of course he sort of embarrassed himself making it about Benghazi, but I would much rather have too much criticism during a foreign crisis than too little. I think this whole canard that you can't criticize the president when we have a foreign policy issue is nonsense. I think one of the great regrets I think most Democrats have is that they were too feckless, to use Senator McCain's word, when George W. Bush was marching us off to war. By the way, so was the media. So I am for criticism of the president on foreign policy even though it's my president and I support his policy. In the main, I know Graham's got a primary in a couple months, and the Benghazi this is embarrassing. But in the main I want to encourage more debate and even criticism at a time like this.

MADDEN: Especially when it's substantive.

CUOMO: You guys are agreeing. But I'm going to disagree with both of you on this, and I'll bring it back to Kevin to end this. You say especially when it's substantive. I'll challenge that assertion. What about when it isn't substantive? What about when it's cherry- picking and an extension of this ugly toxic game that we're playing domestically, but now you're messing with these matters that are big and set big things in motion? Is this the time just to try to play political advantage by attacking the president?

MADDEN: I don't think this is about political add van. You're right, we also shouldn't cherry-pick some of the people just out there offering partisan swings at the president or the other party. But when you have an issue like this that's so important and American interests at heart, I think what you're seeing mostly is people offering substantive criticisms, trying to promote policies they believe are going to impact the White House decision-making in a way that is ultimately better for the American strategic interests.

CUOMO: If you can't get the left and the right to unify around opposition to Vladimir Putin, I do not know what the prospects are for cooperation going forward on anything domestic. Kevin Madden, Paul Begala, thank you very much for the perspective this morning, gentlemen.

BEGALA: Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: President Obama is taking his push this morning for a higher minimum wage to Connecticut. He's going to be joined by governors from four states at Central Connecticut State University where he's going to be discussing efforts to try to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. This comes a day after he unveiled his 2015 budget where he focuses on closing the income inequality gap which we all know has become a big political issue.

It is also a big first step toward getting another Bush elected into office. George P. Bush, son of Jeb and the nephew and grandson of the two former presidents, winning the Republican primary race in his bid to become Texas land commissioner. In the governor's race in that state, Democrat Wendy Davis and Republican Greg Abbott won their primary contests. They're going to face off in November to replace outgoing governor Rick Perry. And John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate, turned back a Tea Party challenge in that state.

CUOMO: We have some breaking news overnight from here at home. The end of Mardi Gras turned tragic when two men were shot and killed after a rap concert along the New Orleans waterfront. A third person was wounded in a different shooting at the same event earlier that night.

BERMAN: All right, let's take a look at what's happening in the morning papers this morning. In "The New York Times," the CIA inspector general's office asking the Justice Department to investigate alleged agency misconduct in connection with a Senate report on a secret CIA detention and interrogation program. It may be related to CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides preparing the study which would violate on agreement between the intelligence committee and the agency and infuriate committee staffers.

In the "Washington Post," the nation's capital could soon partially decriminalize recreational marijuana. The city council is voting to remove criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of pot. Instead civil fines would be imposed for most offices. We're talking about $25. Mayor Vincent C. Gray says he intends to sign the bill. The district would join 17 states that have taken similar steps.

The "Wall Street Journal" reporting on the overuse of antibiotics by U.S. hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control says it is putting patients at risk and creating potentially deadly super bugs. The CDC studies hundreds of hospitals and found some prescribed antibiotics at three times the rate of other hospitals, and this is rendering many of the drugs less effective and making patients more vulnerable to other types of infections. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, thanks, John.

Happening today, Venezuela marks the first anniversary of the death of Hugo Chavez. Tens of thousands of people expected at rallies in Caracas and around the country to honor the long-time socialist ruler.

Now, Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, has faced a flood of anti- government protests challenging his rule. They have led to clashes with security forces, violence against innocents, and at least 18 deaths. It is a situation that needs world attention.

BOLDUAN: Pope Francis is making Ash Wednesday -- marking Ash Wednesday with a special procession between two basilicas in Rome ending at the Basilica of Santa Sabina where he'll celebrate mass, which includes the traditional imposition (ph) of ashes on the foreheads of the faithful. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of lent, the season of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter.

CUOMO: Gotta get my ashes today right after the show.

A skier is dead after an avalanche in Colorado. The avalanche near Conejos Peak struck almost 2,000 feet above sea level and sent snow barreling into the back country. This is the 7th person killed by an avalanche in Colorado this winter and the 19th nationwide, many of them in the last month.

BOLDUAN: United Airlines is cracking down on passengers with oversized carry-on bags. Any passenger whose bag exceeds the size limit will be sent back to the ticket counter to pay a $25 fee. The carry-on size limit of nine inches by 14 inches by 22 inches, this has been in place for years, but airlines say they haven't consistently enforced the rules.

CUOMO: NEW DAY trivia, who never checks a bag and is therefore misery to have to travel with while on assignment?

BOLDUAN: I only check -- I never check.

CUOMO: The answer: Indra Petersons. She packs the biggest, heaviest luggage --


CUOMO: -- wherever she goes away, as if anticipating anything that can happen.

PETERSONS: And who is warm and who is cold in the field? Just saying.

CUOMO: I'm only cold partly. Weather, please.

PETERSONS: We will give you weather, which is, by the way, a little bit better today. We're talking about these current temperatures, warmer than yesterday where they were record breaking for not only yesterday morning but more the entire month of March. So finally it's feeling better.

And hello, check this out. It's looking so much better as we go towards the weekend. So, yes, temperatures are climbing and it's not just the Midwest this time. I don't have to pick a spot. We can go all the way to the northeast, temperatures are going in the upper 40s, maybe the 50s. I'm crossing fingers for that. How nice would a 50 feel?

And then even, yes, a little bit of snow, though. We don't care though, right? As long as it's warming up, it's OK. Those clouds are fine. Down in the southeast, still talking about some rain that did affect Mardi Gras yesterday.

But the key is, we are going to watch the low that's down there. Temperatures OK for the southeast, but it's that low that we're going to be monitoring. This guy is expected to go up the coastline. And as it does so, we need to watch to see whether or not it brings closer to the coastline and brings more snow for the northeast by the weekend. Right now, it's trending offshore. But don't worry, if it's close to the coastline, you can wear shorts. I'll put the jacket on, Cuomo, because I've got the luggage.

CUOMO: I'm worried about my back from shoveling.

PETERSONS: I'll pack you a shovel.

BOLDUAN: Shoveling snow one of the worst chores ever. Thanks, Indra.

PETERSONS: Sure. BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, the Oscar Pistorius murder trial is now in day three. His defense trying to discredit neighbors' testimony has been going on. Is it impacting the judge? Which side has the edge so far?

CUOMO: And we're undertaking some very important work in the Ukraine. Vladimir Putin had a lot to say, suppositions about why what he's doing is justified. How much of his suppositions are true? We're doing a fact check. You're going to want to hear it when we come back.


CUOMO: OK, it is day three of the murder trial of Olympian Oscar Pistorius underway in South Africa. There has been testimony already that may move the case one way or another.

So let's walk through the major make or break points. We have for the prosecution and defense one analyst for each. Vinnie Politan, the host of HLN's "After Dark" a former prosecutor. He'll take the prosecution's side.

Danny Cevallos, CNN legal analyst, criminal defense attorney, he'll take the other side.

First of all, allow me to say, Vinnie, I like the new do. OK? Let me get that out of the way.

VINNIE POLITAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Oh, thank you. I'm crazy, wild, and young again.

CUOMO: Otherwise, I am objective. So I will begin with you. There has been big testimony very early on in this case. What do you think the prosecution has done well so far?

POLITAN: I think one thing they've done is established that there was a woman screaming before the gun shots. And that a key to this case, Chris. If there's a woman screaming before the gun shot, then Oscar Pistorius cannot get up and court and say, "Oh, I thought it was an intruder. Oh, I thought it was burglars coming into the house." He knew that she was awake. He knew who was behind the door when he put the bullets into Reeva Steenkamp. So I think that's one thing they've done really well right out of the gate with three ear-witnesses.

CUOMO: Danny Cevallos, countering Vinnie's open collar look with the tie and the clip, more buttoned-down, suggesting that you're going to be very strict on your defense. So how do you rebut not one, but two witnesses saying they heard sounds of a lot of enthusiasm. Vinnie's saying there. But there's two we've heard from so far. How do you counter that as defense?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I will concede that by now we now have corroboration between the witnesses, the ear-witnesses in this case. But even with corroboration, they're all telling sort of the same story, the problem is virtually every factor negatively affecting ear-witness testimony is in this case. You have a distance of about 200 yards. And at least one of the participants was behind a locked door in the bathroom with the window closed. So even though you had some corroboration, you have the fact that it's been a year, these witnesses have had the opportunity to be influenced by media reports. And now their testimony, while it is consistent, simply is undermined by science. And that is that at least one of the participants was 200 yards away in a locked bathroom. And now they're saying they can hear clearly two distinct screams. It just belies common sense.

CUOMO: All right, so Vinnie, you're shaking your head because you don't like the "one of them was behind a closed door." Deal with that, but also this suggestion, that just because there was screaming doesn't mean that you have premeditated murder. So connect the dots.

POLITAN: OK, OK, let me start first with the window, OK? The whole thing of being locked in that toilet, that's if you believe the defense attorney in his cross-examination and the statement of Oscar Pistorius. If there's an argument, she's going to be screaming before she gets into that door. And Oscar Pistorius is the one who told us the other window was wide open in that bathroom. Let's put that aside.

Premeditation, that's going to be, perhaps, the biggest obstacle because we're in South Africa, and you need a little bit more planning to prove premeditation. But how much time does it take for Oscar Pistorius to go from the bathroom, go back to his bedroom, retrieve his gun and then go back to the bathroom and then decide to shoot? In my world, that's enough for premeditation. He took the time to plan, "I'm gonna get the gun. I'm gonna get it. I'm gonna bring it back here, and I'm gonna shoot her."

CUOMO: Let me stay with you for a second because this matters. How do you show that Oscar Pistorius did any of those things that you just mentioned instead of what he says happened, which was him making his way over very difficulty because he didn't have his prosthetics on, and firing almost randomly into what he thought was surely a threat and he had had threats like that before in a very dangerous area where he lives that has big walls and barbed wire?

POLITAN: It's absolutely dangerous. Electrified barbed wire, by the way. Absolutely true that is dangerous there. But here's the thing, the whole thing about him not being on his prosthetics, I think gives him more time to think about what he's going to do. It's going to take longer to go retrieve the gun. It's going to take longer to follow her into the bathroom. It's going to take longer. So the whole way that he's arguing that one, "Oh, I don't have my prosthetics on, I can't think about what I'm doing," he's just bought twice as much time at least.

CUOMO: Danny, what do you make of the suggestion about whether or not he had the legs on -- he says he didn't -- and what that says to premeditation? And also comment on why are you arguing that your client screams like a woman?

CEVALLOS: You argue -- you absolutely argue amidst the truth, first of all. And second of all, it's a really brilliant strategy because it shows the panic that Oscar Pistorius may have felt, that he was in anguish after this happened. And that, even though it may be embarrassing, who cares? The truth is, the man was in anguish. He was screaming whether it was like a girl or like a man, it really doesn't matter. And maybe that humanizes him to the jury.


CUOMO: What is that, like "The Princess Bribe" defense, where, you know, that is the scream of one who can only be in true love? Who's ever heard of that before?

CEBALLOS: Actually -- actually, it is -- no, it's the idea that sometimes the truth is not so glamorous. And if he screamed like some may say a girl, then that may be more credible then him purporting to have done something admirable.

Look, at the end of the day, Oscar Pistorius has to convince a judge that instead of having murderous intent, he was merely galactically stupid when he did what he did. So in that sense, he already has to make that sort of concession that he didn't do the right thing. We already know that he shot into a bathroom that most of us wouldn't do. So he already has that sort of defense lined up and ready to go.

Ultimately, whether he was -- well, we know that they've conceded he's on -- without his prosthetics. So that will be key in evaluating the ballistics. But ultimately, the key is for the defense to defuse the ballistics, defuse the blood spatter, get rid of the science and attack those ear-witnesses.

CUOMO: Still explaining a scenario, though, that just doesn't make sense to a lot of people on the outside, how he lost track of his girlfriend and she wound up shot up in that bathroom so tragically.

But a really good take on where we are so far. Danny Cevallos, thank you very much. Vinnie Politan, a pleasure. We're watching you on HLN. Great coverage there. Appreciate it, guys.

All right, so what do you think? Those are kind of the -- that's the, kind of, the bedrock of where the case is so far. Let's keep the discussion going. Ask any questions if you want. I'll try to get answers for you. Tweet us with the hash tag new day. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made some very serious claims defending Russia's involvement, invasion, occupation, whatever you want to call it, in Ukraine. We're going to separate fact from fiction for you.

And are even the most conservative parts of America coming around on medical marijuana? Georgia took a big step towards that. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be here with a preview, talk about that and a preview of his new documentary.