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Interview with Texas Governor Rick Perry; Crisis in Ukraine; Harsh Confrontation in Congress; Russia Begins Air Drills Near Ukraine Border

Aired March 6, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Crimea was just voted most likely to secede. Can the U.S. stand in the way? I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, Crimea sharply raises the stakes in the Ukrainian crisis, as the region's parliament votes to join the Russian Federation. So how far will Ukraine and the U.S. go to keep the land?

President Obama calling Russia's actions a violation of international law. The U.S. has made threats and imposed sanctions against Russia, but we will ask the White House, do they have any teeth?

And the politics lead. A harsh confrontation during a congressional investigation into IRS abuses. Between interrogator and witness? No. Between the Republican chairman and the committee's top Democrat, whose mike was killed. Now the Congressional Black Caucus is demanding action.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will of course begin with the world lead.

Do not dare call us Ukrainians. We swear allegiance to mother Russia now. That's the message sent to the world by the local Crimean parliament, which voted to separate the Crimea region from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, accelerating an already rapidly developing conflict.

Crimea will hold a referendum vote in 10 days to ratify its decision, but President Obama says the world will not stand for that after the White House announced new sanctions and visa restrictions on certain Russians. We do not know yet which ones.

The president warned Russia and the Moscow-backed Crimean parliament that they have already gone too far.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since the Russian intervention, we've been mobilizing the international community to condemn this violation of international law.

The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law. Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.


TAPPER: Except, of course, Russia does not recognize Ukraine's interim government as legitimate.

The U.S. has been trying to get Russia to the negotiating table with Ukraine's current leaders, who have been running the country since President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia's arms a few days ago.

Secretary of State John Kerry today met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Rome for the second time in as many days, but Lavrov said that Russia has not yet found any common ground with the U.S. Kerry emerged from their meeting with more harsh words for mother Russia.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The choices that Russia has made escalated this situation. And we believe that Russia has the opportunity now, together with the rest of us, but Russia particularly has the opportunity now to make the right choices in order to de- escalate.


TAPPER: Crimea is the only Ukrainian region where ethnic Russians are the majority. Keep that in mind when trying to predict how this referendum vote to separate from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation might pan out in 10 days.

Let's go to Anderson Cooper. He is standing by live in Kiev -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Jake, as if the diplomatic efforts could not get any more difficult right now, this vote by the Crimean parliament, by the new Crimean parliament has certainly thrown a wrench into just about everything on the ground here.

I can tell you reaction here in Kiev has been universally to condemn it, both among the political leaders and certainly among the protesters behind me in Independence Square and among just ordinary residents here. I had a woman I was talking to earlier who started to cry, saying she could not imagine the idea of Ukraine without Crimea, that the idea of the nation, which is what people here in the square say they fought for, the idea of the nation of Ukraine breaking up is something that they find simply unthinkable.

And it certainly has made it far more difficult for the U.S., for the European Union to come to some sort of diplomatic solution with Russia. If the people in Crimea on March 16 vote to join the Russian Federation, if Russia even then approves it, which is still an open question -- it's not even clear Russia really even wants Crimea to be part of the Russian Federation -- it raises a whole host of questions, as you pointed out. Ukrainian military bases, which are in Crimea, would all of a sudden then -- then the local Crimean leaders could very easily say, look, we're joining Russia. It is no longer valid to have Ukrainian military bases here. All Ukrainian troops have to get out of Crimea.

So there is a huge complication for events on the ground and obviously the result of this referendum are going to be crucial for what happens here.

TAPPER: Anderson, you described the scene there in Kiev as almost something like out of World War II. Expand on that.

COOPER: It really is.

It's very rare that you see battlements handmade, that are made out of fences and whatever people could find, tires, corrugated steel, pieces of wood, whatever garbage bags, whatever they could find. And they're just piled up. You can probably see some behind me. But there are just layers of these very primitive defenses, effective against the riot police more than a week-and-a-half ago, but very primitive.

And it's just kind of an extraordinary scene. You have people camped out, huddled by fires, protesters who refuse to leave the square, boxes of empty beer bottles ready to be made into Molotov cocktails if violence once again breaks out.

So, really -- I have been to a lot of battle zones, a lot of front lines. It reminds me a little bit of Sarajevo, the siege of Sarajevo back in the early '90s, in '93-'94, where you had residents of Sarajevo trying to stop snipers in the hills from firing into the city, from firing mortars into the city. But it's not something you see every day, certainly.

TAPPER: All right, Anderson Cooper. It was just a few weeks ago of course that snipers were firing upon protesters there in that square. Anderson Cooper in Kiev, thank you so much.

Let's go now to Crimea. Anna Coren in standing by live in Simferopol, the capital of the Crimean region.

Anna, you have been speaking with people there. What is the sentiment there in Crimea on this referendum? Do they want to become part of the Russian Federation?


There is overwhelming support for this referendum. The people that we spoke to said this is people power at work. We spoke to one woman who was born here when it was part of the Soviet Union. And she said, this is only right that it returns to the motherland.

We have to remember that 60 percent of Crimeans are ethnic Russians. So there are very strong cultural and historical ties between Crimea and Russia.

Let's have a little now to what some of those people said to us a bit earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): How are you going to vote?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We are from Crimea. We were born here when Crimea was part of Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We're going to vote for the Crimea going back to its roots.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I think there is no need for the referendum, because Crimea is a part of Ukraine, and it should keep being a part of Ukraine.


COREN: Jake, interesting to hear that student speak, because obviously a differing opinion.

She thinks that it should just remain part of Ukraine. But you really do see that divide between the younger generation and the older generation. But, Jake, I can tell you, as far as the new Crimean government here is concerned, they want to be a part of Russia.

The deputy prime minister today basically said that the only troops that should be here in this region are Russian troops, that anyone else would be considered an occupying force. And he's given an ultimatum to the Ukrainian troops that are here saying that you either swear allegiance to Russia or you leave.

And he has offered safe passage out of Crimea. We went to a military base earlier today and there were Russian troops on the ground. Despite what Russian President Putin says about there being no Russian forces, they are present and they are surrounding these military bases -- Jake.

TAPPER: Anna Coren in Crimea, thank you and stay safe.

What do Russians think of this resolution in Crimea and the Obama administration's response?

Well, joining me now is Russian journalist and CNN analyst Vladimir Posner.

Mr. Posner, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

We just heard from the president calling this proposed referendum in Crimea -- quote -- "unconstitutional." He says it would violate international law. Clearly, the White House strategy here is to keep this vote from happening or invalidate it before it happens.

What do you think the result will be of that White House rhetorical campaign?

VLADIMIR POSNER, CNN ANALYST: Frankly, I don't think there is going to be any result. And I would even put this way.

If the White House thought that that particular vote would be negative, that is to say anti-Russian, get out of here, we want to stay with Ukraine, they wouldn't probably call it unconstitutional. They know that the result is going to be not what they would like to be because the majority of people living in the Crimea, 60 percent are Russians.

They're very pro-Russian. And, as you know, Crimea used to belong to Russia before Nikita Khrushchev back in 1954 gave it to Ukraine, when that didn't mean anything, because it was the USSR. So, it didn't really change anything at all. And then suddenly, when the country fell apart, it turned out that what once belonged to Russia, that is to say namely Crimea, now belonged to Ukraine.

And a lot of people have been unhappy with that. Clearly, that referendum is going to take place and the vast majority of people will say we want to be part of the Russian Federation, which, in my opinion, is a pretty dangerous thing.

TAPPER: Why do you think that is a dangerous thing?

POSNER: Well, because it means if -- now, I don't know whether President Putin will accept that, I don't know whether he will say, OK, let's take them into our federation.

But, if he does, let's not forget that Crimea is part of Ukraine. Whether we like it or not, it is. So that would kind of be taking away territory that doesn't belong to you. And I think that's a very dangerous thing to do. It's a first step, in my opinion, towards a very profound worsening relations between Russia and the United States, Russia and Western Europe, and it could have some consequences.

TAPPER: What do you think about the sanctions that the White House has announced? Do you think the Russians view this as a serious threat?

POSNER: Quite frankly, no.

I think that in the past, we have seen all kinds of sanctions in Soviet times, with Afghanistan back then, and then later on. This is a country that has gone through some pretty difficult situations. These are people who know how to tighten their belts. Also, they're a very proud people. And they're not the kind of people who back down when they're threatened by anything.

On the contrary, it usually is counterproductive. And I understand the desire, but it has never worked and it probably won't this time around. I think, instead of sanctions, there should be some type of effort to sit down at a table, American, Western Europe, Ukrainian, Russians, and try and find a way to solve this problem without threatening each other, because these threats really go nowhere at all.

And taking -- for instance, revoking visas for certain Russians who are seen to be part of something the United States doesn't like, so what? Who cares about that? There is a certain number of Russians who won't be able to go to the United States. That's really not going to do anything in changing basic policies.

I think that the time has come to show some wisdom, rather than threatening each other and kind of doing this, who is chicken, who is going to blink first?

TAPPER: Vladimir Posner, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

POSNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, a violation of international law, that's what President Obama is calling a Crimean call to secede from Ukraine. But is the U.S. just afraid the vote won't turn out the way the U.S. government wants to? Well, we will ask the White House.

But, first, defending his potential rival, Texas Governor Rick Perry standing up for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Does the former Republican presidential candidate have it in him to try again in 2016? We will ask Governor Perry next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for our politics lead.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie left the beautiful Garden State for the nation's capital today, speaking at Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC. The welcoming crowd gave him a standing O, pretty good for a guy who wasn't even invited last year because he appeared too cozy with President Obama, leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

Christie today returned the warm reception with a blazing attack on President Obama starting with Obama's handling of the budget negotiations in 2011.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: You're the leader of the government, you see something ready to go off the rails and what you decide to do is stay as far away from it as possible. Well, my question then is the same -- my question now is the same question I had then. If that's your attitude, Mr. President, what the hell are with paying you for?


TAPPER: Tomorrow, it will be Texas Governor Rick Perry's turn at the podium. His last as head of the Lone Star State. He steps down at the end of the year just in time to potentially jump into the crowded race to be the Republican candidate for president in 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: And I'm joined now by the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, the longest-serving Texas governor in the history of the Lone Star State.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Good to be with you. Thank you.

TAPPER: So, I first want to ask you about a big situation going on in the news right now. The White House announced today sanctions targeting specific individuals directly involved in the crisis in Ukraine. Putin not on this list, this is not that extraordinary for an initial list like this.

Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates warned that the United States could actually end up isolating itself instead of isolating Russia if we get too far out ahead of our allies on this. What do you think about the White House action?

PERRY: Well, I think sanctions work. This White House, though, has had very feckless policies. I mean, we've seen policies that have been very muddled, when you look at Syria, when you look at Egypt, all of those have been extremely muddled in their -- in their application. I hope that that's not what we're going to do here.

Working with allies are always very important. And one of the ways is we talked about earlier, possibly using United States liquid natural gas as a diplomatic tool here. I mean, one of the --

TAPPER: That's big in your state.

PERRY: We need to use that and we need to I think flex on you muscle, if you can, if you will, that sends a message to Russia and sends a message to our friends in the European Union that we'd be willing to negotiate to help relieve the pressure from the Russians on the natural gas side. That could be I think a very powerful message to Russia and even more so to the E.U. and to our friends there.

TAPPER: You're speaking at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, tomorrow as you wind down your gubernatorial reign. You've made no secret of the fact that you're contemplating, you may, explore the possibility of running for president in 2016. You and I have talked about how the Republican Party often nominates somebody who has run before.

Not necessarily successfully -- Romney, McCain. In fact, it's almost the rule with your party, with the exception of George W. Bush. I know that you don't look back at your 2012 campaign experience as one of the shining moments of your career and I'm sure you've learned a lot. What's one thing you did in 2012 that because you are wiser you will not do in 2016 if you run?

PERRY: I won't have major back surgery --

TAPPER: Good idea.

PERRY: -- before the announcement.

TAPPER: How much was that a factor?

PERRY: I think it was. This was a very humbling experience for me. I'm 61 years old, I'm bulletproof, I'm 10 foot tall, I can do anything. You'll face that someday as you get a little older.

TAPPER: I'm facing it, I'm not 61.

PERRY: But the fact is we go through humbling events in our lives. And that one certainly was. I mean, anyone who watched that campaign knows it was a very humbling time for me.

But that's not necessarily bad. I judge people on how do you react after a failure. How do you pick yourself up and go forward. And, certainly, it's part of what drives me to finish up my 11 months as a governor of Texas on high notes, economically for our state which we're doing and it is an option for me. And it's one that sometime in 2015, I'll make the decision whether or not that is the avenue that I want for pursue.

TAPPER: You talked about red state versus blue state policies. A Republican who is a blue state governor, Chris Christie, speaking at CPAC today.

Let's put up these polling numbers. Would you vote for Rick Perry in 2016? Definitely 8 percent, would consider it, 52 percent, definitely not 21 percent. That's among Republicans in a new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll.

Chris Christie, the numbers are worse. It is about the same definitely 9 percent, would consider it, 50 percent, but 30 percent, much more higher negatives definitely not.

How -- I know you're a political junky and you keep abreast of these things -- how concerned are you by bridgegate? And do you buy the idea that even if he didn't know and had nothing to do with what his aides did, a governor sets a tone. And you as a governor should be able to speak to that.

PERRY: Well, I think we all set a tone. I think we all represent our state. And I think Chris represents his state and frankly represents his state well.

The issues of this bridge and whether he knew or not, I trust that he is telling us the truth, I trust that the people of New Jersey believe him and they're going to continue on with this. I think there's been a lot of focus on that that has distracted from him going forward. He's the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He has the support of the governors in doing that.

So, we're going to go forward. That will be a story that has some legs for some period of time. But the real way that we're judged is on the economic impact that we have on our states. It's about the vision that we have for America. And that's a long way down the road.

TAPPER: Last question, sir. Whether or not you run for president, whether or not you're the nominee, you will be doing everything you can to defeat the Democrat, who it looks like will probably be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party very united around her, the Republican field all over the map. No real frontrunner.

Can Hillary be defeated?

PERRY: I think that is so far down the road --

TAPPER: Oh, come on.

PERRY: -- for those of you that try to at that time focus off of 2014.

TAPPER: Right.

PERRY: I'm not being coy. It's just the fact.

I mean, there are all types of stories, all types of thing, all types of events that are going to occur between now and November the 14th that completely change the landscape of 2016. My focus and I hope most Republicans and Republican governors in particular will stay focused on 2014. We get that right, then the script for 2016 may substantially look different.

TAPPER: Governor Rick Perry, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it. Good luck with your speech tomorrow.

PERRY: Thanks.


TAPPER: And this just in, the Russian military just began large scale air defense drills, a mere 280 miles east from its border with Ukraine. According to Russian State News, this just hours after the local parliament in Ukraine's disputed territory of Crimea voted to separate and join the Russian federation. These drills reportedly involve about 35,000 Russian troops and more than 1,000 units of military hardware over the next month.

How will the White House respond to this latest move by Russia? Well, we'll ask the president's deputy national security adviser coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The politics lead now.

He cut a fellow congressman's microphone in mid-sentence and now the Congressional Black Caucus wants House Oversight chairman and California Republican Darrell Issa booted from the committee he chairs. Issa adjourned yesterday's hearing abruptly after the witness, former Internal Revenue Service officer Lois Lerner, again exercised her right to plead the Fifth and not speak about the IRS targeting scandal and her role in it and whatever orders she may or may not have received. But ranking member of the committee, Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, was not even finished speaking when things got testy.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), RANKING MEMBER, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that and it's absolutely un-American.


TAPPER: Now, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is calling foul.


REP. MARCIA FUDGE (D), OHIO: The House of Representatives strongly condemns the offensive and disrespectful manner in which Chairman Darrell E. Issa conducted the hearing on the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform.


TAPPER: This afternoon, Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the committee, finally got to finish his thought.