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Crisis in Ukraine; Interview with Former U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley; Senate Blocks Sex Assault Bill; Crackdown on Journalists in Ukraine

Aired March 7, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Ukrainian military now says that Russian Kazakhs have just stormed one of their key bases in Crimea. Has this cold conflict suddenly turned red-hot?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. With an American warship, the U.S. steps up the presence in the Black Sea near Ukraine. But why does the U.S. seem to be playing catchup? A key Bush administration official joins us with lessons we should've learned from when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008.

The money lead. Notice how the British, who are usually quick to stand with the U.S. on international matters, are pretty quiet on this one? Could it maybe, just maybe have something to do with all the Russian millionaires now living in London and all their Russian money being pumped into the U.K. economy?

And the national lead, an Army officer accused of doing the very thing he trained prosecutors to go after, sexual assault, while a bill to reform the way such cases are handled in the military dies in the Senate. What hope is there for soldiers like our guest, who says she never saw justice after she was raped?

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

We will begin, of course, with the world lead, the standoff beginning to boil over in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula after days of tension. The Ukrainian military says that a group of Russian Kazakhs smashed the gates of a base that controls all the airspace in southern Ukraine, using a Russian military truck.

Now, some Ukrainian officers are said to be barricaded inside the control room. Others are reportedly trying to negotiate with the force outside, which still claims to be a Crimean self-defense group, not Russian.

Words have been the real weapons fired through much of the standoff, of course, but those words have come fully loaded. Russia's foreign minister warned Secretary of State John Kerry today that U.S. sanctions against Russia will -- quote -- "inevitably boomerang" on the U.S. But the two sides are not cutting off talks.

This comes as a U.S. destroyer armed with guided missiles is sailing the Black Sea to hold exercises very close to the disputed Crimean Peninsula. The ship will conduct naval maneuvers with Romania and Bulgaria. According to the U.S. military, this was planned before the crisis in Ukraine exploded.

As we speak, there are about 30,000 Russian troops estimated to be in Crimea, according to a senior official with the Ukrainian border service. The U.S. believes it's probably slightly less than that. Russian forces have surrounded Ukrainian military installations in Crimea. Armed men are not allowing military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to enter Crimea.

Pro-Russia guards today turned away those international observers from a checkpoint, claiming they had orders not to let anyone in. Now, who those orders came from or whether they're even real orders, that's all unclear.

And where is Russian President Vladimir Putin during all of this? Well, he's back in Sochi, Russia, for the opening of the Paralympic Games. American athletes are there, but the U.S. chose not to send a presidential delegation because of Russia's incursion into Ukraine.

Let's now go right to Crimea, where, again, the Ukrainian military says Russian Kazakhs have stormed that air base that controls all of the airspace in Southern Ukraine.

Our Matthew Chance is standing by live in the capital of Crimea.

Matthew, what more do we know?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not a great deal, except that about three miles or south outside of the port of Sevastopol in the south of Crimea, then this incident has taken place.

It seems that according to Ukrainian Defense Ministry officials, a Russian military truck driven by what they describe as Russian Kazakhs, part of what they say is self sort of defense group, not part of the regular Russian army in Crimea, driven that into the gates of this Ukrainian military base.

It's a tactical base. It controls the airspace for the south of Ukraine. There are about 100 Ukrainian officers inside. They have now reported to have barricaded themselves into the sort of control room area and are currently negotiating with the Kazakhs outside.

Significant, though, because Russian forces or pro-Russian forces surround at least a dozen Ukrainian military bases across Crimea. In the past week or so, there have been ultimatums that have been reported, saying that these people should surrender, switch to the Crimean side, pledge loyalty to the Crimean government. All face what they have called a storm. And so this may be possibly the first part of that -- Jake.

TAPPER: Matthew Chance in Crimea, thank you so much.

Stormed bases, some 30,000 Russian troops in Crimea, tough words from Putin and his spokesman, instead of an off-ramp for Russia, are we seeing a ramp-up in this conflict? What should President Obama do?

Joining me now is Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser for President George W. Bush. He's now a principal at Rice Hadley Gates, which is an international strategic consulting firm. The Rice and Gates in that firm, of course, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates.

Mr. Hadley, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: So, a lot has happened since the White House announced yesterday that there would be sanctions. President Obama and Putin had what sounded like an unpleasant conversation. The Russian parliament announced its support, basically, key members of the Russian parliament, for this Crimea referendum.

And Russia's foreign minister told Secretary of State John Kerry these that sanctions could boomerang on the U.S. If you were national security adviser to President Obama right now, what would you tell him to do next? It seems like things are escalating.

HADLEY: I think one of the problems is our cranking up of pressure has really lagged events. And I'm afraid that it's pretty clear what's going to happen here in the next 10 days, that there will be a referendum with Russian troops occupying the country with a -- basically a Russian-installed government in Crimea.

The population will vote to join Russia, and the Russian Duma has made it clear that they're going to facilitate the entry of Crimea into the Russian Federation. I think that's where we're headed. And all this talk about off-ramps, I think it's pretty clear that Putin doesn't want an off-ramp. He has decided to gobble up Crimea.

TAPPER: Do you think the U.S. needs an off-ramp?

HADLEY: I think what we need is an on-ramp.

I think we need to recommit to NATO, recommit to the security in Europe. I think that the things the administration has done to increase the air cover over the Baltic states, to expand exercises in Poland, I think these are all important things.

TAPPER: So, in other words, accept the reality that Crimea is basically going to Russia?


TAPPER: Don't accept it?

HADLEY: We should never accept it. We should not accept the legitimacy of this referendum.

I think the administration's going to do everything it can to delegitimize that referendum. We should -- our objective should be not to accept the referendum and not to accept the annexation, to strengthen the Ukrainian government economically in every other way we can, to send strong messages of reassurance to our friends and allies in Europe that we are looking, and we are present.

And then we have got to punish Putin, not to punish him, but to show that the strategic costs of what he's done outweigh the benefits, because the goal here is to keep him from doing it again in some other place. He's got an M.O. now.

He tries to win these countries over. He tried to win over Georgia. He tried to win over Ukraine. If he cannot do it, then he gobbles up a piece of the country. And that does two things. It sends a message to all the other countries. If you have a Russian population and if you don't toe the line, you could lose some of your territory.

And, secondly, it damages those countries. Once there is a territorial dispute between a Ukraine and Russia, the Europeans are going to have no appetite to bring Ukraine into the E.U., no appetite to bring Ukraine into NATO. So he freezes them, if you will, in this limbo territory, between East and West. That buys him time so he can continue to put pressure on these countries, particularly if the new Ukrainian government cannot deal with the economic challenges it faces.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Georgia for a second, because that's obviously a very relevant precedent. In 2008, as you point out, you were national security adviser. President Bush was in the White House, and he did a similar thing, not the exact same thing, but Putin did a similar thing with Georgia.

The U.S. did a lot of the same things that the U.S. is doing right now, the U.S. government, but then ultimately accepted the status quo as Russia created it with the two breakaway republics and then moved on. Was that a mistake?

HADLEY: We did some things right, and we did some things wrong.

We did stop Russia from doing what it wanted to do, which was go to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and overturn a democratic elected government. We did negotiate an arrangement whereby the Russian troops went back into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where they were before.

TAPPER: The breakaway republics.

HADLEY: The breakaway republics, which they -- and those troops remain there today.

We did send some messages diplomatically and through signaling through the military standpoint to try to send the message to Putin that the strategic costs outweighed the tactical benefits. We essentially threw Russian/U.S. relations into the toilet.

And there they remained until the reset of the Obama administration in 2009. I think there were two mistakes made, once by us and by the Obama administration. We did not use economic sanctions, partly because economic sanctions are now much more sophisticated than they were. We have additional things like the Magnitsky Act.

But we did not impose economic sanctions. That was probably a mistake. And, secondly, I think the Obama administration did the reset too soon. We should've imposed economic sanctions, and the effect of that should have been allowed to isolate and hurt Russia for a longer period of time before got back into business as usual.

TAPPER: One last question, sir. The director of a Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, spoke to National Public Radio today about what he says the DIA knew about Russia's movements before they moved into the Crimea area. And he said they had solid reporting seven to 10 days before they moved in. Take a listen.


LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: When the evidence, if you will, is looked at, the results will show that there was good strategic warning provided to our decision-makers in order to make the right kinds of decisions about what sort of policy actions may be taken.


TAPPER: So, there was something of a warning. It looked like the U.S. government was caught completely flat-footed.

HADLEY: There are two kinds of warnings. There's strategic warning and tactical warning. Strategic warning is there's something going on, there's an opportunity, there is a risk that Putin will do X, Y and Z.

It sounds like the intelligence agencies provided strategic warning to the administration. But that's very different than the kind of tactical warning that says, at 3:00 on Friday, Russian troops are going to cross into Crimea. That's something very hard to do.

What you really look for is military communications and things like that. It sounds to me what the intelligence community is saying is, we gave them plenty of strategic warning. We didn't have tactical warning. Strategic warning oftentimes in these situations is the best you can do.

TAPPER: All right. Former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

HADLEY: Nice to be here.

TAPPER: Coming up next, he's an Army lieutenant who fights for justice for sexual assault victims. But now he's been suspended after a woman accused him of groping her. Will this deter other sexual assault victims from coming forward?

Plus, masked gunmen attacking journalists and local television channels blocked as tensions soar in Crimea. Who's behind this information crackdown? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead now. He's the army top sex assault prosecutor. His primary job: to help get justice for victims. But now, he stands accused in a sex assault case involving a fellow army lawyer.

Joseph J. Morse is on suspension while the case is being investigated. According to "Stars and Stripes", he's accused of groping a female attorney two years ago. Adding to the irony, officials say it happened at a sex assault legal conference.

The news broke on the same day U.S. Army General Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to having inappropriate relationships with two army officers. He still faces charges that he forced a female captain to perform a sex act and threatened to kill her family if she told anyone. Charges he denies.

These cases highlight what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently called a stain on the honor of millions of military men and women. It's also why New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pushed hard to pass a bill that would let military lawyers instead of commanders to handle sex assault cases. The belief is that the current system makes victims less likely to come forward.

But the bill failed to get the votes it needed to avoid a filibuster this week with some Republicans and Democrats insisting that it would cause more harm than good to take these cases outside the chain of command.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASSKILL (D), MISSOURI: The argument was posed its victims versus commander, whose side are you on? And it's not that simple. And if you take the time to really get into the complexities of the military justice system and how these cases are handled, I'm confident that the choice the Senate made today is the right one for victims of sexual assault in the military.


TAPPER: That was Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Joining me now live from Atlanta is former Army Specialist BriGette McCoy. She's founder and CEO of Women Veteran Social Justice. She's a rape survivor who says the Senate got it all wrong.

Specialist McCoy, thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate the courage it must take to talk about these things on television.

Your story is horrific. You were abused not once but twice during your time in the military. Tell us what happened.

BRIGETTE MCCOY, SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVOR: Two separate times, basically, I was sexually assaulted by senior enlisted male soldiers in my unit who had direct responsibility that had to report to. At the time, I did not report those two incidences.

I was transferred to another duty station. It was fine. I didn't have any challenges from that point forward with any sexual assault or harassment. They moved me back to the unit that I was originally at and the sexual harassment began.

And when I reported that to my commanding officer and wrote a written report and stood in front of him and explained what happened, they basically said I misunderstood what was going on, that this NCO was trying to help me. And within a 90-day period, during the Gulf War when it was going on, I was exited out of the military very quietly.

TAPPER: So just to get it straight, you were sexually assaulted and later on you were sexually harassed. Did you report the sexual assault?

MCCOY: I did not.

TAPPER: Why not?

MCCOY: At the time, I was working for the commander, the first sergeant and then my senior NCO. So, I would have had to report to my commanding officer that my senior NCO who was the only person over me other than my first sergeant that I had been raped by him.

TAPPER: Obviously, hindsight's 20/20. But do you think if there had been a different way to report this, an outside group of prosecutors that you would have been more likely to report the person who assaulted you?

MCCOY: I believe if there would have been support and some type of outside of the chain of command. Someone to report to, I would have more than likely done that. It just wasn't available. And it still isn't available.

TAPPER: You supported the Gillibrand amendment that died. You don't agree with the McCaskill one that passed. Tell me why you think the current system is flawed.

MCCOY: Well, it's an antiquated system, it doesn't work, and we know it doesn't work, how do we know? Because we have the numbers to show it hasn't been working. And so -- you don't keep doing the same thing over and over again. When you realize it doesn't work, you find something -- some other strategy that works.

And I believe that the Military Justice Improvement Act, anything that's going to radically change Article 32, it's something that needs to be in place.

I do not agree with Senator McCaskill, and I'm very triggered and upset behind her behavior here recently. She sat down with us survivors, asked us so many questions and included us in so many dialogues, and we perceived over a year or so ago, that she was going to be supportive of making changes within the system. And now, it's a blanket betrayal what has happened.

TAPPER: You feel that you were betrayed by Senator McCaskill?

MCCOY: Absolutely, absolutely.

TAPPER: You, I imagine, were watching the vote in the Senate yesterday. What was your reaction? How did it feel to see the Gillibrand bill to go down?

MCCOY: It was -- again, I was very triggered. I had to disengage completely. I'm in the middle of a planning a national conference here locally in Atlanta. And so, I really couldn't stay by and continue to let it distract me, because we have to move forward. We have to move forward and make changes. We have to get people on board to support the military justice improvements.

And we can't, you know, keep going back to McCaskill and asking her, you know, to consider something else. We know where she stands. She has shown us her cards. We know who she is now and where she stands.

So, we can go ahead and start working on some other -- some other strategies that will actually bring, you know, men and women together who have been abused by the military and come up with some other strategy that will work.

TAPPER: As you know, those who support the McCaskill bill say that the data does not indicate that outside prosecutors are more likely to crack down on people who rape or sexually assault others in the military than the chain of command. When you say the data is with you, the numbers are with you, are you talking about people being more likely to report it? Is that what you're talking about?

MCCOY: I'm saying across the board, we do have more people coming forward saying that this is happening to them because they perceive that something is going to change. On the flip side of that, we have people who are, you know, on the other end of it who are, you know, survivors like myself who are saying, you know, we want to support something that's going to protect the people coming in. So, we have to do something that the data is showing that what they've been doing in the past has not worked.

So, they can say what they want to about, you know, projections and all of that, but at the end of the day, we know that what they have been doing for the last 50, 60, 70, 100 years has not worked. And so, you have to do something different.

TAPPER: Specialist McCoy, a lot of senators have their TVs on CNN during the day. What is your message to those people who voted against the Gillibrand legislation? Talk to them right now.

MCCOY: You know, I'd almost want to go to the "Christmas Carol" Scrooge and say that the ghosts of the women and men from the past, the present and the future would visit them and maybe lean on their consciences about the way they decided to vote.

TAPPER: Former Army Specialist BriGette McCoy, thank you so much. We appreciate the time and courage it takes to talk about these issues.

MCCOY: Thank you so much for your time.

TAPPER: Coming up, an unidentified masked gunman attacked journalists while a local television station taken off the air and -- surprise, surprise -- it's replaced with Russian state TV. Details on how our own reporters on the ground are being threatened coming up next.

Plus, a secret document exposes Britain's lack of support for U.S. sanctions against Russia. Could it be because of the flow of the money from the richest Russians straight into the London economy?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Continuing our world lead now -- control the message, control the people. Journalists and media outlets covering the Russian incursion into the Ukrainian territory of Crimea are now increasingly being subjected to a crackdown for simply trying to report what they see.

Our own correspondent Anna Coren and her team were ordered by management at their hotel to stop broadcasting or they'd be kicked out.

Anna Coren joins us now from Crimea's capital.

Anna, did you get the feeling someone was putting these hotel managers up to it? Who?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Interesting question, Jake. We wanted to know, as well, but it is definitely coming from the top. And it's not just us. It's not just CNN. Two Ukrainian TV stations have been shut down here in Crimea. Masked men entered the building and basically told them to stop operations altogether.

And then individual journalists are being attacked. Bulgarian journalist was attacked in the street on broad daylight. He was taking photos of these paramilitaries, masked paramilitaries, coming out of a building with TV equipment, confiscating TV equipment. And they spotted him. They raced over. There's this amazing CCTV footage of them tackling him to the ground, put a gun to his head and went off to his assistant.

So, you know, there definitely is a shift in the feeling towards the media here in Crimea, a great deal of angst and hostility. We know that the Crimean self-appointed government that came in a week ago, they are the ones who are really cracking down. They are the ones who are trying to get a grip of the media, control the information coming in because they really only want one message, Jake, and that is the pro-Russian message.