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U.S. Intelligence Questions; DIA Chief Defends Agency's Analysis; Did U.S. Intelligence Mislead Russian Military?; Crimean Delegation Gets Hero's Welcome; Sanctions Don't Scare Russians; Mother Charged with Attempted Murder of Children; Gupta Speaks Out about Medical Marijuana

Aired March 7, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, new information on when the United States first learned about Russia's plan to send troops into Ukraine. One official says it was seven to 10 days before so why was the intelligence seemingly -- at least parts of it, seemingly caught by surprise?

Also, right now, new attention on an old photo. Some are speculating it shows Vladimir Putin looking leak like a tourist during Ronald Reagan's visit to Russia in 1988.

And right now, CNN Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's doubling down on his support for medical marijuana. He says it's irresponsible for doctors not to provide the very best care they can and that care often includes marijuana.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. A senior Ukrainian border official says 30,000 Russian troops now occupy the country's Crimean Peninsula. That's nearly twice the previous estimate.

Also happening right now, a U.S.-guided missile destroyer is steaming toward the Black Sea for naval maneuvers with Romania and Bulgaria. It was planned before the crisis erupted at the Crimean border. Forty-three unarmed observers from Europe were turned away for a second day in a row. Camouflaged gunmen said they had orders not to let anyone through the check point. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was back in Sochi, Russia today for the opening ceremony of the Paralympic games. The Ukrainian team chose to compete despite the crisis at home.

Here in Washington, meanwhile, there are lingering questions over whether U.S. intelligence agencies misread Russian military movements ahead of last week's invasion of Ukraine territory. Some critics have singled out the defense intelligence agency for not correctly anticipating Russia's intensions. The head of that agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, defended his analysts today on NPR.


LIEUTENANT GENERAL MICHAEL FLYNN, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: For, easily, seven to 10 days leading up to the Russian troops, as we see them now in the Crimea, we were providing very solid reporting on what I would describe as a strategic warning where we move from one level of sort of a condition of warning, which I would just describe for the audience as sort of moderate, to one where we believe things are imminent.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. So, honest disagreements. There are 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, we heard from Mike Rogers here 24 hours ago. Two agencies, he didn't say which ones, --


BLITZER: -- seem to have different conclusions in their estimates, in their analysis. But very often, as you well know, intelligence is sometimes more an art than it is a science.

SCIUTTO: No question. You even look at his answer there, those words, you're trying to figure out what he's trying to say. It was moderate. You know, and that's the way intelligence reports are written because they don't have black and white answers often.

Now -- and I've spoken to intelligence officials who said that they provided the administration with a number of possible scenarios for what might happen there. Of course, the difficulty then was which of those scenarios is going to happen and when? What is Putin going to do, in effect? I mean, the bottom line is it does appear that they were caught off guard by what he did and when he did it.

And I think they can say now, in defense, we presented a number of options here and among those options were things that happened. Could they have given him guidance that said, you know what? This one is 75 percent more likely than this one. You know, it's always a difficult game there. And, you know, I think there is a little bit of competition between the defense intelligence agencies and other members of the intelligence community to say, well, you know, none of us got it 100 percent right but we got it more right.

BLITZER: Yes, I assume the DIA, they saw troops moving near the Ukrainian border. Whether or not they came to the actual conclusion they would move into Crimea, that's a -- that's on a whole different matter. But the technical aspects, you see tanks, you see planes, you see aircraft, you see whatever is going on, that usually is seen -- it sort of reminds me of before the first Gulf War in August 1990, the U.S. intelligence community knew Saddam Hussein had moved 100,000 troops from the Iranian border to the Kuwaiti border. But the estimate was they were not necessarily going to go into Kuwait, because invading a fellow Arab country, that was not the conclusion. There was a minority of analysts who said they were going in.

SCIUTTO: For sure. And there's another challenge here. And intelligence officials have told me this. Our intel on the ground is limited there. We can't fly drones over. You have satellite pictures, but that's way up here. That's six miles in the sky, right? You can't fly drones over it. You don't have human intelligence on the ground. That's a handicap. So, it's not like they're looking into, you know, another country, you know, Pakistan, for instance, where we can fly drones over there with impunity. That makes it more difficult not only to count noses of the troops on the ground, but also to get a sense of what the next step is.

BLITZER: What about this phone call that the president had yesterday with Putin? They spent an hour on the phone, once again. It doesn't look like there is any movement, although you never know what's going on behind the scenes.

SCIUTTO: It didn't sound like the warmest phone call. You know, and in the competing readouts, the one you got from the White House and the one you got from president Putin, from the Kremlin, they both show they have competing interpretations of what's going on the ground and what the solution is for the way forward. And you also had -- as we were discussing yesterday, you have Sergey Lavrov going back now to Putin to discuss --

BLITZER: The foreign minister.

SCIUTTO: -- the foreign minister to discuss Kerry's plan to get the Ukrainians and the Russians down at the same table. You know, I think you can say that we're in a diplomatic stalemate and military stalemate at the same time. The talks -- both sides say they want to talk but they haven't figured out how to. On the military side, you have no troops -- those Russian troops aren't moving back to the bases.

And meanwhile, these other events are moving along. You had some violence against journalists today. Every day, we have seen a kind of violent altercation which shows the volatile mix of things you have on the ground. Plus, two moves in the Russian parliament which are worrisome. One, the Russian parliament endorsed this idea of a referendum on Sunday for a Crimean independence, and you also had the Russian parliament talking about making it easier to give Russian citizenship to ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, which creates a whole other problem.

BLITZER: Yes, and one of those incidents could trigger, we only can fear, a major, major escalation.

SCIUTTO: Lots of guns -- lots of -- lots of guns on the ground, yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

And now, a hero's welcome in Moscow. That's exactly what members of Russia's parliament gave the pro-Russian lawmakers from Crimea today. They told the visiting Crimean delegation they fully back their proposed vote on separating from Ukraine, even if that support means getting hit with western sanctions.

Let's go to Moscow right now. Russian journalists and CNN Analyst Vladimir Pozner is joining us. Vladimir, thanks very much for joining us. You've said Russians aren't at a fazed by the thought of sanctions, that the country has been through tough times before, won't necessarily back down from this threat from the U.S. and the Europeans, even if it's painful. So, what is the west, and Ukraine, for that matter, likely to do if diplomacy doesn't work?

VLADIMIR POZNER, CNN ANALYST: You know, you've got me guessing, Wolf. I have no idea what they're going to do. I've always said that sanctions don't work. They have not worked in the past, not with Russia. I don't think they'll work in the future. I hope that there is a way to solve this diplomatically. But if you are asking, well, what if none of the diplomatic discussions work, what's going to happen? Frankly, I don't know and I'm very uncomfortable with what might happen.

BLITZER: When you say you're uncomfortable, what do you fear?

POZNER: Well, I fear the beginning of a new cold war. I feel -- I fear the -- a new iron curtain coming down. And, ultimately, I even fear a civil war in Ukraine. I don't think there will be a military conflict or a war, shall we say a hot war, between Russia and the west. That's something I discount. But the other things I think are a reality and I think that is very uncomfortable.

BLITZER: What if the U.S. and the Europeans and the Ukrainian government in Kiev insist on the territorial integrity, the sovereignty of all of Ukraine, including Crimea. What would be the bottom line? What could Russia, president Putin, accept under those circumstances? In other words, is there a finesse, some sort of off- ramp, if you will, for Russia?

POZNER: Well, I think there is. And that is the issue of to what extent Crimea can be autonomous while remaining in the Ukraine, remaining part of the Ukraine. I think that the idea of taking Crimea into the Russian federation, making it an administrative unit in the Russian federation, is -- would be a grave mistake. Now, I don't know whether Mr. Putin shares my view, but that -- I feel that because I think that the backlash would be much, much worse than what happened after the war with Georgia. I think there is no comparison to what that might be.

But I do think that there is the possibility of giving Crimea greater autonomy and some kind of guarantees as to what the ethnic Russian population should not fear, which is any kind of law that would ban the teaching of Russian schools. That kind of thing. I think it can be worked out, provided both sides really want it to work out. I sometimes get the feeling that there are some people involved here who do not want to get it worked out. And for whom the worse it is, the better it is. And I don't know exactly who they are, but I feel that in the so-called Ukrainian government, there are certain forces there that would like to see a conflict.

But what you're suggesting is that would -- Crimea would have some sort of autonomy, but it would still be part of sovereign Ukraine, right?

POZNER: Yes, it would have to be. It would have to be because that -- or, in that case, it's no longer part of Ukraine, then what is it? Is it an independent country called Crimea? I don't think that's a reality at all. Does it become part of the Russian federation? Well, I already told you what I think about that. I think it's a -- would be a major mistake.

So, for this thing to be -- to be somehow solved, I think Crimea has to remain -- even though the majority of people in Crimea probably would like to become part of the Russian federation, and this referendum that they're going to hold on the 16th will probably prove that. Nevertheless, I don't think it would be prudent to go that way. But I think there is a way of making Crimea more autonomous, less dependent on the central key of government.

Vladimir Pozner, thank you very much for joining us. We'll check back with you, obviously, in the coming days.

POZNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the crisis in Ukraine coming up this hour. Plus, a conservative political conference sounding like a tent revival, at least in part, as Rick Perry revs up the Republican base. What was the current governor of Texas up to? We're going to talk about the future of the GOP. Gloria Borger is standing by to weigh in.

And later, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's doubling down on medical marijuana. You're going find out why he says Americans shouldn't be denied access to the drug.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: There's breaking news coming out of Florida right now. Authorities have actually filed charges against the mother who drove her van into the ocean with children inside. Listen to Ben Johnson. He's the sheriff of Volusia County in Florida.


SHERIFF BEN JOHNSON, VOLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA: Yes, and that's part of what we look at, is the fact that she was able to get out of the vehicle. She tried to stop somebody from going into the vehicle. That's one of the reasons you have the premeditated first-degree, attempted first-degree murder. She definitely tried to kill her children, from everything we have seen. And in so doing, I mean, there's more to it -- you know, we want to look at. We want to get it into the system so that we can get everybody involved the help that's needed. We sure don't want something like...


BLITZER: So there you heard it. First-degree attempted murder charges.

Ashleigh Banfield is joining us from New York. She's been reporting extensively on this case. Huge interest. You don't every day see a woman with her kids inside drive into the ocean, if you will, and now the sheriff is suggesting she actually wanted to kill her children. ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not the least bit surprised about these charges, Wolf. But I'll tell you when I'll be less surprised, and that is when her defense is mounted as an insanity defense. Because this one looks pretty classic.

I am instantly reminded of Andrea Yates drowning five of her children in succession, face-up, facing her in the bathtub. Two trials. One she prevailed, and one she didn't.

But in this particular case, there are a couple things that she's going to have to prove. At least her defense attorneys will. And that is, No. 1, did she understand the nature and consequences of her actions? And did she know right from wrong? Those are two prongs, and most of the time you've got to prove both of those beyond reasonable doubt to a jury of very suspecting people. It's not easy to do. It rarely works in this country.

But when you watch that videotape and you see a shadow, which is her, emerging from the car, bewildered and playing with her hair, I think that will be very powerful.

But there's a lot we don't know about her. There's a lot that she's already talked about. She's been interviewed; she's been assessed. So there's a lot that we're going to learn as this proceeds to trial, if it ever does.

BLITZER: And you see the video right there. It's very dramatic video. There you see the woman, emerging from the car. Her kids taken by individuals who just happened to be in the area. They saw this car driving into the waves, into the ocean, if you will. They chased; they opened up the rear door.

The woman got out and then fortunately, the men who were there, the rescuers, they got the kids; they brought them out. They described the woman as dazed when they saw her afterward. So that would fit into some sort of mental illness defense, right, Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: A lot of that does. There's some other evidence, as well, that those witnesses said on television and whether they said in a police report yet remains to be seen. One of those witnesses on the scene said the woman kept saying over and over, "We're OK, we're OK, we're OK" and then all of a sudden just hit the gas and made a direct turn back into the ocean.

So there's also some reporting that she rolled those windows up.

But look, there are a lot of different mothers out there in the history of the United States who have killed their children and gone on to say why. Some of them say the devil made them do it. Some of them say, "I was protecting them from the devil and getting them to God faster." Those are two very different reasons, legally speaking. One of them is that you didn't understand right from wrong. You thought you were doing the right thing, sending the children to God. The other one is "The devil made me do it. I knew it was wrong, but the devil made me do it. I knew it was wrong." That's a very critical issue in this particular case, if that's the -- if that's the defense she decides to mount, and I've got to be honest, Wolf, I will be astounded if that is not the defense. And if she doesn't, this is -- she'll go away for the rest of her life for this.

BLITZER: Yes. Stand by, Ashleigh. Tory Dunnan has been reporting on this case for us. So walk us through the specific charges that were just announced, Tory.

TORY DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. Well, Wolf, they held a news conference, obviously, minutes ago, where they announced the charges that she is going to be facing. This woman who drove the minivan into the ocean is facing three counts of first-degree attempted murder. Also, three counts of child abuse.

Now, some of the reporters in the room asked law enforcement up there how they came to this decision. And basically, bottom line, they said they took a look at all of the evidence. The fact that there's so much video that police say showed the woman actually taking a turn into the ocean.

They also say they talked with many witnesses and some of the rescuers. Some of the rescuers saying that she prohibited them, or tried to, from getting into the minivan while she got herself out.

At the same time, they say they've interviewed the children who were involved in this. And talked with them really many times about what they say happened. They say that at one point or another, they were claiming their mother was trying to kill them. That one of the children got into the front seat and literally tried to turn the minivan around to keep them from going out there into the ocean.

So basically, police put all this information together, and they decided that yes, in fact, they were going to charge her.

BLITZER: Tory Dunnan, thanks very much for that update.

Ashley Banfield, thanks to you, as well.

Obviously, when we get more information, we'll share it with our viewers.

So when we come back, we'll take a look at what's going on here in Washington. A conservative political group is -- that conference is underway right now, and major potential Republican presidential candidates, they're outlining their views. Gloria Borger is here. We'll have a complete update on that.

We'll also have much more coming up on the crisis in Ukraine.


BLITZER: Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, made news last year after publicly changing his stance on medical marijuana. Since then, many lawmakers around the country may have been following his lead. In his new CNN op-ed, Dr. Gupta writes this: "I am more convinced than ever that it is irresponsible to not provide the best care we can, care that often may involve marijuana. I am not backing down on medical marijuana. I am doubling down."

Sanjay is joining us now live from Atlanta.

Sanjay, powerful stuff. And you say the science showing the benefits of medical marijuana, the science is there today more than ever. And you say it would be irresponsible for lawmakers to deny Americans access to medical marijuana. Go ahead and explain.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There are situations out there where we have good evidence now, scientifically, much of it coming from other countries around the world, where certain strains of cannabis, the marijuana plant, can provide relief, help treat an ailment, when nothing else has worked.

So these are situations, Wolf, where, now look, they've tried what has been recommended to them. They've tried several different medications to try and treat the ailment, and it hasn't worked. And then they've turned to this strain of marijuana and have gotten relief.

This has moved out of the realm of the anecdotal, much more squarely into science. There are still clinical trials that need to be done. But these again are cases where there are no options left, and the evidence is pretty clear. That's where the irresponsibility, I think, comes in, Wolf. They have no other options. And they're being denied this one.

BLITZER: And I know you've spent some time in other countries, including Israel, where they seem to be far ahead in the science, showing that medical marijuana actually helps these patients.

GUPTA: Yes. You know, they've done some of their earliest work in Israel. It's quite an amazing history with regard to their scientific discovery there. It was there in the early 1960s where they first isolated some of the most important therapeutic compounds in cannabis, CBD and THC. Those are the two main ones people often think about.

But they -- they've gotten to the point now where many clinical trials have been done. You go to some big hospitals in Jerusalem, and cannabis is part of the treatment protocols, meaning patients are even using it in the hospitals. You know, I was there with these patients as they were doing this.

So it's far ahead compared to in the United States, where it's still categorized, scheduled as a substance that is among the most dangerous and has no medicinal benefit. Go to Israel, they're using in hospitals. You can see the difference here, Wolf.

BLITZER: You certainly can. And your documentary really, Sanjay, hits on the big issue, at least one of the big issues, the government impact on all of this. I want to play a little clip from your second documentary, part two.


GUPTA (voice-over): The federal government says marijuana is among the most addictive drugs with no medicinal value. Many serious scientists say they're wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a medicine.

GUPTA: It's the politics of pot, pitting policy against patients. Trapped in the middle: sick, qualified people who want medical marijuana but can't get it because it's illegal.


BLITZER: As you know, Sanjay, the argument that some make is that you give them medical marijuana, it's only going to cause them to begin using harder drugs. And there's going to be no end to this.

GUPTA: Yes. Look, there are legitimate concerns out there, I think. And you know, one of them, this idea that it creates a more permissive culture in some way and increases usage. Yes, look, I worry about that, as well. I'm a dad. I don't -- that's not the message that needs to be sent here. That's a legitimate concern.

The offshoot of that, though, the counter to that is there are patients out there for whom this works when nothing else does. Are you going to deny people that therapy because of the concerns about this permissive culture?

You know, look, it's a good question. It's a tough question. It's not the first time this question has been asked with regard to medicine. We've asked these same questions about opium and poppy and the precursors to OxyContin, Vicodin, lots of those other medications. There is always concerns about these types of medications.

With regard to gateway -- the gateway idea that it's going to lead to harder drugs, I just don't think the evidence is there of that, Wolf. I mean, this idea that your brain changes somehow in response to marijuana, then making you crave harder and harder drugs, I've looked at this. And, you know, again, I was somebody who bought into that idea more than before -- more before. And I think it's just not true. I don't think it leads to that sort of harder drug use.

But these are legitimate concerns, and they're concerns that should be addressed.

BLITZER: Sanjay, thanks very much for doing your excellent reporting on this really important subject that potentially could benefit a lot of people out there who are very sick. Sanjay, thanks very much.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf.

BLITZER: and this note to our viewers. Sanjay continues his groundbreaking reporting on medical marijuana in a special report entitled "Weed 2." You'll meet families leaving everything and everyone behind to have access to this medicine. "Weed 2: Cannabis Madness" premieres Tuesday night, this coming Tuesday night, 10 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Of course, you can always see Dr. Sanjay Gupta's weekend show, Saturdays, 4:30 p.m. Eastern; Sunday mornings, 7:30 a.m. Eastern. "SANJAY GUPTA M.D."

Still ahead, Rick Perry revs up the Republican base. But what about the future of the GOP? Gloria, she's here with me. We'll discuss.