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THE SITUATION ROOM

John Kerry's New Mission; Winter Weather Hits East Coast; Forgiving Edward Snowden

Aired January 2, 2014 - 18:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: About 100 million people in 22 states are in its path. And the coming hours will be the most brutal in parts of the Northeast.

We could see 14 inches of snow or higher in some places, and some of the coldest temperatures in years, with windchills as low as 25 degrees below zero. Throw in strong winds and it's a dangerous mix for travelers. More than 2,000 flights have been canceled from the Midwest to the Northeast.

We have team coverage. Meteorologist Alexandra Steele is standing by, but first to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Boston.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake.

Yes. And as you can see, the flakes are coming down horizontally. That's because the wind has really been picking up in the last couple of minutes. The snow is also intensifying as well as the Northeast is bracing for blizzard-like conditions. Let's have a look at how some people are preparing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Residents are bracing for the worst in the Northeast tonight, as the blizzard bears down. Heavy snow in places like Bedford, New Hampshire, and the weather will only get worse. Many people are stocking up ahead of the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bread toilet paper, milk, yogurt, all the good stuff.

PLEITGEN: Parts of New York and Massachusetts are expecting around a foot of snow with blizzard-like conditions into Friday. Many schools will be closed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to keep -- sleep in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been a long couple of weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was actually excited at first to have them go back, after having them home, but it actually works out, because we get to sleep in late.

PLEITGEN: And authorities warn freezing temperatures could make things even more dangerous for anyone who ventures out. GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The temperatures will be extreme and they are -- and that's a serious hazard, not just for ice conditions, but for the impact on human beings. We want people to be mindful of that and to exercise extreme caution.

PLEITGEN: Most areas had salt spreaders and snowplows on the roads early. Still, the weather led to many accidents and road conditions will get worse as winds and snowfall increase.

Things are not much better in the air. Hundreds of flights have been canceled in the Midwest and Northeast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like the character of this storm is not so much of amount of snow that's coming in. It's the intensity and the winds that will be associated with it that will make air travel difficult to locations like Boston and New York.

PLEITGEN: Authorities in the affected areas are urging residents to remain inside if they can, to stay safe during the first major winter storm of 2014, which almost certainly will not be the last.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Jake, the authorities are also telling people to keep their emergency kits ready, especially in this area here, things like extra batteries, flashlights, and also of course stock up on canned goods, dry goods, just to make sure you might be able to make it over three days at least if in fact it gets as bad as many people predict, especially for people who are living outside in the suburbs.

If you look around here, you can see that the street behind me is getting whiter and whiter as the snowplows are having more and more trouble keeping up with this adverse weather. During the day, it was actually OK, but now we can really, really feel things pick up here and also actually get a lot colder as well, Jake.

TAPPER: Frederik Pleitgen, thanks. I guess we know the church bells haven't frozen yet.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

TAPPER: Still ahead: hero or trader? New appeals to make the a deal and let the NSA leaker come home. The journalist who first reported Edward Snowden's story joins us for a fiery debate.

And Secretary of State John Kerry's new Middle East mission. Will his plan to promote peace be successful? We will go live to Jerusalem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: There are new calls today for President Obama to let the NSA leaker Edward Snowden come homes. A "New York Times" editorial says Snowden is a whistle-blower who deserves a clemency or plea bargain deal so he can end his temporary asylum in Russia. The editorial says -- quote -- "Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed and the abuses he's exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service" -- unquote.

The British newspaper "The Guardian" that first published Snowden's information is going even farther than "The New York Times," calling for an outright pardon. Snowden himself offered a new defense of his actions in a Christmas Day video message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARD SNOWDEN, LEAKED DETAILS OF U.S. SURVEILLANCE: The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Joining me now is Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist for First Look Media. He broke scoop after scoop on the NSA using information Snowden gave to him. Also with me here in studio Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post" who just wrote a piece calling Snowden a -- quote -- "insufferable whistle-blower."

Ruth, I'm going to start with you."The Times" board also writes, "When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government."

Do you agree with "The Times" that Snowden should get some form of clemency?

RUTH MARCUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No, I don't.

In fact, I think he should have -- if he really believes in the Constitution as I wrote, he should have stuck around, tested the constitutional system, taken his punishment, argued that he was justified in the leaks that he did. He didn't. He just turned tail and fled the country.

TAPPER: Glenn, I'm sure you want to respond to that.

GLENN GREENWALD, FIRST LOOK MEDIA: I want to say two things. I think Ruth Marcus' argument exemplifies everything that's really horrible about the D.C. media.

First of all, what she said is just completely factually false. If he had stayed in the United States, as Daniel Ellsberg, widely considered to be a hero by most Americans, argued in "The Washington Post," he would have been barred from making the very argument that she just said he should have made. Under the Espionage Act, you're not allowed to come into court and say I was justified in disclosing this information. There is no whistle- blower exception in the Espionage Act, which is why whistle- blowers don't get justice in the United States.

But I think the really important point is that people in Washington continuously make excuses for those in power when they break the law. Ruth Marcus was one of the leaders in 2008 saying that Bush officials that torture people shouldn't be prosecuted, they should be protected. She praised and protected FBI agents in the '70s who entered people's homes without warnings and were criminally prosecuted. She said they shouldn't have been prosecuted.

That's what people in Washington do. They would never call on someone like James Clapper, who got caught lying to Congress, which is a felony, to be prosecuted. They only pick on people who embarrass the government and the administration to which they are loyal like Edward Snowden. It's not about the rule of law.

TAPPER: Ruth?

MARCUS: Well, first of all, actually, I don't think -- I think James Clapper lied to Congress and I don't think that he should be in office, and I wrote a column saying exactly that.

But let's get back to...

(CROSSTALK)

GREENWALD: Should he be prosecuted? Should he be prosecuted?

(CROSSTALK)

GREENWALD: Just answer that. Should James Clapper be prosecuted? You just said the rule of law...

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: You know what? I let you make your point. Why don't you let me make my point, OK?

(CROSSTALK)

GREENWALD: Just answer that question. Answer that question.

MARCUS: No, I don't actually need to answer that question because then we're going to get involved in a whole conversation about what the exact elements of perjury are.

(CROSSTALK)

GREENWALD: It's a total double standard. That's a total double standard.

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: Let's talk about Edward Snowden, instead of calling people names and making accusations.

The fact is that look at the Ellsberg example. Yes, he wrote a very interesting column my newspaper, "The Washington Post," saying that he agreed with Snowden that Snowden should have fled.

But what did Ellsberg do? He came forward. He said he thought it was his responsibility as an American citizen, after actually he tried to get his information to the Senate and have the Senate reveal the information.

When that whistle-blowing didn't work, he took it to reporters. And so that's one big difference. And the second big difference is, he stuck around, came forward, said, fine, go ahead and prosecute me. The prosecution failed because his rights had been violated, but the system worked for him. Edward Snowden didn't give the system a chance to work for him.

TAPPER: Glenn, go ahead.

GREENWALD: First of all, why won't Ruth Marcus answer the question, should the top officials in the Obama administration, to which she's a loyalist, why shouldn't they after they got caught lying by the documents that Mr. Snowden came forward to publish -- remember, when I met him in Hong Kong, the first thing he said to me is, "I have documents proving that the top national security officials and the US Congress have been misleading the public, and lying to Congress," which is a crime. And he gave us the documents that showed the James Clapper lied when he denied that the US government was collecting data on millions of Americans.

Why won't she answer the question, should he be prosecuted for him having broken the law, just like she says Edward Snowden should be? And I will tell you the answer: because people in Washington who are well-connected to the government like she is, do not believe that the law applies to them. They only believe that the law should be used to punish people and imprison people who don't have power in Washington or who expose the wrongdoing of American political officials.

And as far as Daniel Ellsberg is concerned, just go read what he wrote. He said the world is completely different now. The U.S. government does not allow whistle-blowers like they allowed him to stay out of jail, to make their case to the public. If Edward Snowden came back to Washington before he was convicted of anything, he would be disappearing in prison and not be allowed to speak. I want to know the answer to that question, Ruth, should --

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: Why didn't Edward Snowden behave like Daniel Ellsberg and try to work through the system in order to try to get his information public? Daniel Ellsberg tried to work through the system --

GREENWALD: He did.

MARCUS: No, he didn't. He went and complained a little bit to some of his co-workers at the NSA, he says. That's all that he did.

But let me give you an answer to the Clapper question because you seem to be focused on it, so fine, if you want to spend time doing that, we can do that. The answer to the Clapper question is -- absolutely, if federal prosecutors believe that they could make a case under the perjury statute which I know that you know as well as I do, Glenn, is a very difficult case to make that shows a knowing and material misrepresentation, then fine, go right ahead.

I don't happen to think that the criminal law is going to get you where you should go on the Clapper front, but I take a back seat to nobody in saying that I thought Clapper's testimony was false and that he should be ashamed of it and it's totally intolerable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Secretary of State John Kerry is on a peace mission in the Middle East right now. He landed in Israel today, ready to propose a framework for a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, joins us now live from Jerusalem.

Nic, what can you tell us?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this is five months into what is supposed to be a nine-month process. Secretary Kerry is really here to kind of ramp that process up.

He had a two-hour meeting earlier today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before that a few comments to the press from both of them. The Israeli prime minister not really seeming in a particularly conciliatory mood, saying the Israeli people have lost faith in the Palestinians, don't think they're really trying to seek peace right now, indeed, made some very pointed comments about the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, criticizing the way he had handled the release by Israeli authorities of Palestinian prisoners. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: A few days ago in Ramallah, President Abbas embraced terrorists as heroes. To glorify the murderers of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage. How can President Abbas says -- how can he says that he stands against terrorism when he embraces the perpetrators of terrorism and glorifies them as heroes?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: John Kerry is due to meet with the Palestinian president later on Friday, but he has said that both leaders here have really got some very tough decisions to make right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The time is soon arriving where leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions. We are close to that time, if not at it. And I think we understand the circumstances within which we are working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: So the mechanism that Secretary of State Kerry has brought with him to help these leaders make the compromises, he calls it a framework agreement, that it should lead to a permanent status agreement, that this should show the leaders where they are at right now, where they are going in terms of the final result.

It will address all the core issues here, but expectations are really frankly be played down at the moment, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Nic, what can you tell us about the health of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma for years?

ROBERTSON: Yes, eight years now.

Doctors have said over previous years they have seen his health go up and down. He's been in a vegetative state, been in hospital all this time, of course, but over the past 36 hours, they say that some of his organs are beginning to fail, renal failure. They say they're not intervening, they're not trying to give him dialysis. They're indicating perhaps he only has a few days left to live.

They say his family is with him at his bedside and really they're saying the family are not intending to leave the former prime minister, which really does signal to the nation here that this is perhaps the last few days of Ariel Sharon. So the indication is very critical and the nation, of course, watching right now, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nic Robertson in Jerusalem, thank you so much.

Ahead, a day after marijuana went on sale legally, is the demand any less? We will have the latest from Colorado.

And what could be worse than texting behind the wheel? Well, some surprises in a new study of cell phones and driving.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Colorado's about 34 hours into a historic experiment, selling marijuana legally for the first time ever in the United States.

CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us live from Denver.

Miguel, how are sales going?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's incredibly well for the pot growers out here. These are young plants. These things will be budding out soon. They will have to -- this place, Evergreen Apothecary wants 12 times the number of plants that it has right now. It wants up to 24,000 plants by the end of the year. There's still a line outside their shop here at Denver. At Medicine Man, which is another big dispensary, there's a huge line outside that shop.

It's beyond all of their wildest dreams, the number of people coming in from all over the country to buy pot in Denver. It's pretty amazing -- Jake.

TAPPER: Have there been any problems so far? I thought I heard something about a 2-year-old ingesting marijuana?

MARQUEZ: Well, there's not been a problem with the rollout of retail sales of marijuana, recreational pot, but there are growing concerns about the effects of pot on kids.

Look, the pot community has put out this sort of flashy flyer. In Longmont, Colorado, just today, a 2-year little -- a 2-year-old girl picked up a cookie her mom says that she found outside, ate it, and then tested positive for THC, had to be rushed to the emergency room. Now the whole family is being tested.

The concern is, the mother said she didn't smoke pot, she doesn't use it. Police searched the house, and they said it wasn't there. But it's a big concern for health officials, for doctors here that they're seeing increasing use of pot by younger and younger kids. Sometimes, they just get into it in their parents' cupboards.

Along with this whole recreationally pot thing is the number of edibles that are out there. So the access to marijuana, especially for young people, is on the rise. It is raising some big concerns here -- Jake.

TAPPER: Miguel, can I just -- I don't mean to make light of it. You're standing in a field of marijuana. Is there any effect on you at all? Is there any contact high? Or is it only if you ingest it or smoke it?

MARQUEZ: No, no, it just -- no, you smell it. And in the next room there, you have the buds. You would see giant buds on these things. This does not affect you. It's only once you ingest it somehow that it actually affects you.

We were at a pot party yesterday where there was a lot of secondhand smoke. That was probably a bit of an effect, but this, it is not.

TAPPER: OK. Well, I just thought your stand-ups were remarkably cogent, given the field you're standing in, but apparently no reaction.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Thank you so much, Miguel Marquez in Colorado. MARQUEZ: You got it.

TAPPER: Running a city the size of New York is no easy task, especially when you have got a long list of lofty campaign promises to keep.

That's the situation facing the Big Apple's new mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Here's CNN national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Day one on the job, and already storm clouds are gathering.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I went to sleep with visions of snow in my head.

CANDIOTTI: New York's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, appears on the verge of his first report card, how he will deal with predictions of up to 10 inches of snow in the city.

An avalanche of criticism fell on now former Mayor Bloomberg in 2010, when up to two feet of snow went unplowed for days.

DE BLASIO: We have to get it right. There's no question about it.

CANDIOTTI: De Blasio is also defending himself from critics following stinging attacks on Bloomberg by some speakers at his swearing-in.

REV. FRED LUCAS, BROOKLYN COMMUNITY CHURCH: Let the plantation called New York City be the city of God.

HARRY BELAFONTE, ENTERTAINER: Changing the stop-and-frisk law is as important as it is. The change of the law is only the tip of the iceberg in fixing our deeply Dickensian justice system.

DE BLASIO: I respect each and every one of them and their right to say that which they feel is appropriate.

CANDIOTTI: Some political consultants felt the criticism was way out of bounds.

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It was shocking the way Mike Bloomberg was treated yesterday. Frankly, his legacy is extraordinary.

CANDIOTTI: De Blasio's legacy has yet to be written, but his progressive platform has the left excited. I asked him about it.

DE BLASIO: People in this, I have got one simple constituency, 8.4 million New Yorkers. And if they see us moving forward, if they're feeling the effects of this change, that's what it's all about. If others elsewhere take some good lessons from us, that's gratifying.

CANDIOTTI: It wasn't by chance that the Clintons so publicly support their friend, given Hillary's possible presidential run in 2016.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It there would be a primary challenge against Hillary Clinton, it would likely come from the left, so there's some hope on the part of the Clinton faithful that association with de Blasio would inoculate them from a left-wing primary challenge come the 2016 race.

CANDIOTTI: Susan Candiotti, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And finally tonight, we all know that texting and driving is a dangerous conversation, but dialing while driving, well, that might be even worse.

Researchers at Virginia Tech put cameras, sensors and GPS devices on cars belonging to more than 40 new drivers and more than 100 experienced ones. Dialing a cell phone, reaching for it or any other object, even eating while behind the wheel greatly increases the chance of an accident, but according to the study, the act of talking on a phone while pushing the pedal is actually OK.

That's it for me.