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Olympic Toothpaste Terror Warning; Is Obama Making U.S. Safer?

Aired February 5, 2014 - 18:28   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SALLY KOHN, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Sally Kohn on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. There's breaking news tonight. CNN has learned airlines are being warned to be on the lookout for possible bomb ingredients in toothpaste tubes that travelers are taking to the Olympics.

Moments ago Peter King, a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, gave this disturbing account of Russia's failure to fully cooperate with the United States.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: They are not sharing enough intelligence or virtually any intelligence with us as to what's happening within Russia. They're afraid that somehow we would use that to our advantage.

We are getting some information about what's happening outside of Russia, some external threats, that type thing, or potential threats. I don't want to overstate that. But we have very close relationship with our allies other than the Russians, but the Russians, for instance, are cooperating nowhere nearly as much as the British did, the Chinese did, the Greeks did.


CUPP: Let's bring in CNN's Wolf Blitzer for new details. Wolf, what's the latest?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: S.E. and Sally, a government source tells CNN the threat is real, adding -- and I'm quoting now -- "We have very good information from a credible source."

The threat involves either a toothpaste-tube-type bomb or some other types of concealed explosives in cosmetic tubes. Officials also assume the explosives would be on a plane coming into Russia from Europe, shall we say, rather than from the United States, but that's an assumption.

The source saying the U.S. is taking this threat seriously. So are other countries. So there's a lot going on right now, certainly only hours before the start of these Winter Olympic Games. S.E. and Sally, back to you.

CUPP: Indeed, thanks, Wolf. So my question is why are we having the Olympics in Sochi anyway? It's already a target for terrorists, and host country Russia is an untrustworthy, bad actor with a history of human rights abuses. We're sending them our Olympic athletes while al Qaeda might be sending terrorists with bombs in toothpaste tubes, and Vladimir Putin sits with his leopard, harboring Edward Snowden and mocking us.

KOHN: Except for maybe the Snowden part, I kind of fairly agree with you there. I mean, it's not like Russia was rolling out the red carpet for us gays.

CUPP: That's right.

KOHN: And now all of these mounting threats, you know, it just is deeply unsettling, why we're even supporting these Olympics.

CUPP: I agree. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Lawrence Korb, who supports President Obama's foreign policy, and conservative radio host Michael Reagan, who's a critic.

Larry, let me start with you. Today we heard Congressman Peter King say he would not go to the Olympics. We heard Mitt Romney say that he would go. John Kerry said go if you want to go. Let me ask you, would you go? Would you take your family?

LAWRENCE KORB, SUPPORTS OBAMA'S FOREIGN POLICY: Yes, I would. You can't buy perfect security. And I think every time you get on a plane, you're taking a risk. I think what was important today, what was our Department of Homeland Security, who probably got the information from some intelligence sources who warned American airlines and European airlines watch out for this.

You go back and you take a look. Underwear bomber, shoe bombers. They figure out what they can do to get around the existing system. The problem with the Boston Marathon, they like big events like this. So if it's not the Olympics, they'll pick something else; the World Cup in Brazil, for example.

CUPP: Do we know that it was U.S. intelligence that uncovered this?

KORB: Well, that's classified. We don't know. But we know the warning came from DHS.


KORB: That we do know.

KOHN: Larry made a great point about we can never be 100 percent protected. And you know, it's interesting to me in this post-9/11 environment that we try to comfort ourselves that we can be. We take off our shoes. We dump out our water. But the reality is, there's only so much we can do, and there's certainly only so much the United States government can do to protect Americans and others in Sochi, in Russia. But be honest, Michael...

MICHAEL REAGAN, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: What, I'm not going to be honest?

KOHN: God forbid, if something happens in Sochi, how are Republicans going to blame this on Obama?

REAGAN: I don't think you can blame it on Obama.

KOHN: That's refreshing.

REAGAN: This thing is all set up for Vladimir Putin to take credit for everything in Russia. I mean, he's pulling the strings so much today in the world that we live in, whether it's Syria...

CUPP: Iran.

REAGAN: Whether it's the Olympics, Iran. He is really -- I call him the puppet master. And we're all on the different strings of this puppet master. And he's going to make sure once you arrive in Sochi, nothing's going to happen. It's going to be the safest place on the planet, because he's been given the authority to kill, if necessary, to make sure it's going to be safe.

KOHN: I hope you're right about the safety. I'm glad at least there's some good news today, coming from Michael Reagan, that Republicans will not blame problems in Russia on President Obama.

CUPP: Well, I think -- I think where you're right is it seems as though the United States has empowered Russia to be a bigger player on the international stage than maybe they deserve credit for.

Let me just show you some numbers, Larry. Russia is ranked among the worst countries when it comes to all kinds of international horrors. They're in the worst tier for human trafficking. Freedom House ranks it as not free, also its worst ranking for human rights. And when it comes to corruption, they rank 127th out of 175 countries.

Have we enabled Russia? Have we empowered them to have an outsized place of significance on the world stage?

KORB: No, we haven't. I mean, for example, one of the things we've done under the Bush administration, and Clinton continued it, was to enlarge NATO. We move right up to the borders. They were not happy -- you know, not happy about that.

Basically, what we've also done is we've got them to put sanctions on Iran. You know, the sanctions against Iran, they were part of it, and they're part of the negotiating thing now, so we've got that.

Look, nations don't have permanent friends or enemies. They have permanent interests. And we work with the Russians where it helps us. And, you know, our Congress would not -- even Republicans wouldn't support Syria, so we had to get the Russians to help us to get the...

CUPP: We all feel great about what the Russians are doing, but can we trust Putin to keep our athletes safe? That's what I want to know.

KORB: Yes, they will. Because I think Michael's right. If it doesn't work well, it's bad for him. He wants it to be secure.

REAGAN: But here's what's interesting. When you think about the fact that our president, our leadership has said to Putin, "We'll let you be in charge. You pull the strings. We'll come along with whatever direction you, in fact, want to take us," whether it's Syria or wherever it might be, in fact, in the world today.

Remember, it was President Obama that sat down with the president of Russia who said, "Listen, wait till after the election. After the election, you tell Putin I can work with him a lot differently than I can today." And I think he's proven that out, whether it be Syria, Iran or any place else. The fact that all of a sudden we trust them now to be negotiating on the world's behalf. Russia only negotiates on Russia's behalf.

KOHN: Well, we'll come back to that in a second.

KORB: That was a different president.

REAGAN: That was Ronald Reagan.

KORB: Medvedev, who was there. Putin was not the president when Obama said that. And...

REAGAN: Right. But it was the puppet of Putin who was the president.

KORB: Yes, but the fact of the matter is, it goes back to the administration I think you know a lot about and I do. When your father was negotiating with Gorbachev, he was no day at the beach either. You've got to do what's in your interests.

And one of the things Obama did with the Russians was cut down the nuclear -- number of nuclear weapons, something that your dad started working -- working there with them. Not because we like them, but because we both have them and it's in both of our interests to cut them down.

REAGAN: Yes. My father also said trust but verify.

KORB: We are verifying. We are verifying just like we are in Iran.

REAGAN: We verify the fact that Syria is already a day late and a dollar short.

KORB: I agree. And you heard what Kerry said. If you don't keep it, then everything is back on the table.

REAGAN: We'll find out.

KOHN: Well, Michael, you just criticized even the fact that he had the conversations. We'll come back to a in a second. I have to say, and this is where I know I'm going to get...

REAGAN: You like me, don't you?

KOHN: I'm going to get the hate tweets out of this one.

CUPP: Uh-oh.

KOHN: But the whole notion of the Olympics, I mean, come on. Look, we know they don't stimulate the economies of the cities that host them. In fact countries pour billions into them.

REAGAN: You are going to get hate mail.

KOHN: It goes down the drain. Now we've got -- Russia already has these horrible anti-gay laws. Now we have the security concern. Shouldn't we just pull out?

REAGAN: Why don't we get rid of the Super Bowl? Why don't we get rid of the Super Bowl, because you know, human sex trafficking is rampant in New York during the Super Bowl. Let's find reasons not to have any anything where there's any competition amongst anybody.

KOHN: I'm not talking about the Super Bowl. I'm talking about in Russia. Russia.

REAGAN: Let's talk about your competition. I think forget about the money it brings in. Look at the relationships that it builds. I think Lawrence will agree with this. The relationships that are built for the future. You don't know who you're going to meet at the Olympics who ultimately may be a leader in their own country in the future that you will become a leader and you will have built a relationship that happened at the Olympics.

KOHN: And you'll support us talking to them then?

CUPP: You're a fan of self-diplomacy. Don't you see the Olympics as some kind of form of self-diplomacy?

KOHN: But it's -- in theory, and in general, but in this case, for instance, the United States, among other countries in Europe and elsewhere, said that they're going to politically boycott the Olympics. They're not going to send those high-level delegates.

KORB: We made money on the '84 and '96 Olympics.

REAGAN: Good leadership.

KORB: And in the United States. It used to lose a lot, and they're going to lose money, but they're not a capitalist society. They don't -- they don't care. But we made money in the '84 and '96 Olympics because of the way that it was run.

CUPP: I'm sure their books will still read profits.

KOHN: Diplomacy -- diplomacy through curling, I can't wait to see it.

REAGAN: I've got the broom handle. KOHN: Republicans reflexively criticize everything President Obama does, but next I'll explain why the president is actually just George Bush 2.0 and why it's progressives who should be upset.


CUPP: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight Lawrence Korb and Michael Reagan. We're following tonight's breaking news. CNN has learned airlines are being warned about possible bomb ingredients in toothpaste or cosmetics tubes travelers are taking to the Olympics.

Let's go to Sochi, Russia, with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh for the latest.

Nick, we've heard so much about the ring of steel, a security blanket around the site of the games there. Do you know if the Russians are recalculating their security plan now in light of the toothpaste tube threat?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They certainly say they've done everything they possibly could already to make this games the safest. Thirty-seven-thousand security officials coming here. We've seen helicopters yesterday rotating around the sky, three at a time. Three surveillance balloons up in the air, as well. An Internet dragnet as well as the literal one on the ground here. So they will surely say that this is the most security that they can provide in first place.

Should point out, though, there's a whiff perhaps that they may have known about this threat highlighted today by U.S. officials. Liquids have been banned on the flight that I took from Moscow to Sochi. And there are other flights it seems, too, where these have been banned.

There's been a history of explosives on Russian aircraft. In 2004 two suicide bombers blew two aircraft out of the sky simultaneously and many thought they brought the explosives on in their face cream tubs there.

So concerns, obviously, for the Russians already, but it seems they've done as much as they can at this point, although I'm sure these new warnings may cause some concerns here -- S.E.

CUPP: OK. Thanks, Nick.

KOHN: S.E., we know about this toothpaste threat because of intelligence gathering, which might suggest we should emphasize gathering more intelligence internationally, rather than on blowing people to bits with unmanned drones.

Of course, the irony is that, while progressives like me don't like drones, Republicans actually love them. As well as the general thrust of the president's foreign policy. In fact, their only specific complaint seems to be that President Obama isn't a Republican.

CUPP: I've got a long list of complaints. The fact that he isn't a Republican isn't one of them.

And I think at least my position on drones is a little bit more nuanced than that. But let's get our guests to weigh in.

KORB: Well, I think drones are an act of war. You need to understand that.

So, before you use them, you should say would I be willing to send in troops or use artillery? I think they're very effective because they play to our strengths. We're technologically ahead of like with the smart bombs we used in the first gulf war and it enables us to accomplish our objectives of killing a lot of these terrorist leaders without sending -- putting Americans at risk.

CUPP: Yes, but, Larry, let me just push back a little bit because I'm confused about something the president said in the book "Double Down." He apparently told his aides that drones make him really good at killing people.

Since he took office, U.S. drone strikes have killed thousands including hundreds of civilians and children. Shouldn't he return his Nobel Peace Prize?

KORB: Well, I think he has modified his policy. I think when he came in --

CUPP: We saw so many unanswered questions about the drone policy. What are signature strikes? Who gets targeted? What about targeting American civilians? None of that has been answered since refining the program.

KORB: Well, again, I agree. What we need to do is repeal the AUMF, the Authorization to Use Military Force, because both President Bush and President Obama have used that to justify -- I mean, we just killed an al Qaeda leader in Somalia two weeks ago. That's much better than sending American kids in there.

KOHN: Yes, but we're killing Somali kids.

REAGAN: I think it's the out that the president of the United States has been given by the Bush administration to some what flex his muscles to the right, to the conservatives, say, see, I can kill people, too. And playing the -- you know, the military doesn't respect me, well, look what I'm doing. I am using military --

KORB: Let me say something. In his campaign, he said, if I have information there are al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Musharraf won't do anything, I will take action. President Bush criticized him, Senator McCain, which is using the drones, which he has done.

So, he was very honest about it.

REAGAN: The point I'm making is I think because of the drone program that's there, it's given him that place to be able to use those drones to prove to his detractor, hey, I can pull the trigger when I want to pull the trigger.

KORB: No, it's something that to protect Americans without doing what Bob Gates, Bush and Obama secretary of defense said, you're not going to -- anybody recommend sending large numbers of American kids into third world countries ought to --


KOHN: There's two -- there's two other -- there's other issues. We're killing Americans overseas, we're killing untold numbers of innocent people including other people's children in those attacks and not being honest about how many we're killing. But also, Michael, don't you think we're actually creating more terrorists with these drones than we're killing?

REAGAN: No, you can make that argument with everything and anything. These terrorists are being created -- they're being raised from childhood in fact to be terrorists. They're learning how to wear bombs from their first birthday on.

I mean, this is the reality of that area of the world. People like to believe that everybody is like America, everybody grows up like us, we're free, we go to McDonald's, we go have a Slurpee, we have a wonderful time. That's not how it is in the rest of the world. It's completely different in the rest of the world.

And you may not want to believe it, but in the rest of the world, the leadership there don't give a doggone about life and what cares. They put children and women in the front lines. They want them dead so they can come out and say, the people like, look, Americans are killing women and they're killing children, so you'll talk about it on CNN CROSSFIRE.

KORB: I think we're missing an important point here.


KORB: We have -- the problem we had was the CIA was running this. We're trying to bring it back to the military. The military has much stricter criteria for using it.

And you may remember, about a month ago, we had Special Forces in Somalia when they came across this leader and there were women and children there, they left.

CUPP: Right.


REAGAN: But, Lawrence, am I not right -- am I not right when I say leaders from other parts of the world, Iraq, and what-have-you, will hide behind women and children and use them --

CUPP: Sure, but we're better than that. And I like drones. I like drone technology. I really do. And I want to be able to use it effectively.

But the point I think we are both trying to make is that codifying our drone program, which we just recently admitting to having, by the way, codifying that to make us an example for the rest of the world gives us a lot more credibility when bad actors use the same technology. KOHN: That's true. But also, I would go a step further, I think, which was to say, we're over-relying on it. And, Michael, I want to go something that your --

REAGAN: I'm waiting for my AK-47 delivered by Amazon.

KOHN: I hope, something that actually your father said. It was your father who spoke about quite diplomacy and the value of quite diplomacy. That was in part his legacy.

And yet, Republicans have been praising this over reliance on sort of easy, you know, but horribly destructive unmanned drones and actually condemning President Obama for trying diplomacy in Iran, in Syria, in Russia as you just did in the last segment.

Why is it that Republicans are turning their back on your father's legacy?

REAGAN: I don't think they're really turning their back on my father's legacy. The reality is my father didn't get us into a war. He got us out of the Cold War and won the Cold War without firing shots. It would be nice to have a whole lot of other people have learned that all the way back to the Bush administration and what happened after 9/11. And I've talked about that for a long period of time.

But we are in a war, and we have been in one. I think one of the frustrations that we all have is the fact that the exit strategies, when do we know we've won a war? I mean, I'm looking at the ads like everybody else -- $19 a month, help a wounded warrior.

I play golf tournaments with these people and I'm with them all the time. Spanky, by the way, a shout-out to you. He's a great guy.

And what happens -- and I look at these kids and I sit there and say to myself, when's this going to end? When's the end game? When is it that we've won?


KOHN: But isn't that what President Obama is trying to do with diplomacy?

REAGAN: My theory is we walk away from Iraq and away Afghanistan, and we haven't won anything.

KORB: Before you go in you need to do a cost-benefit analysis which they didn't do in either place. I'll tell you what your dad did, I was there. When it did not turn out well in Lebanon, he left because he didn't just keep surging and doubling down --

REAGAN: I will tell you this, my father -- I would tell you this, my father lived with those marines dying in Lebanon.

KORB: Right.


REAGAN: There was no Benghazi-type investigation. We had an Admiral Long did a study and then we passed a new bill called Goldwater- Nichols.

KORB: But don't put Benghazi and Lebanon --

REAGAN: Well, but look what I'm saying how that you're -- the Republican --


CUPP: You don't think it's worth finding out why Benghazi happened?

KORB: Yes, but we did --

KOHN: They have.

REAGAN: Yes, Benghazi and Lebanon are not on the same page.

CUPP: All right. I want to take us to --

KORB: It's worse in Lebanon --


CUPP: Larry. Real quick. In 2016, if Assad is still in power, al Qaeda has taken over Iraq, Iran has nuclear weapons, all of that is plausible, will you still say Obama's foreign policy works?>

KORB: It won't happen.

CUPP: I like to make a bet with you. OK. Stay here, next.

More outrages of the day, including someone who ignored the final wishes of a future saint.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Under President Obama's policies, is America a safer or more dangerous place? Reply with safer or dangerous using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


KOHN: We're back with Lawrence Korb and Michael Reagan.

Now, it's time for our outrages of the day.

Today, we learned George Zimmerman wants to compete in a celebrity boxing match for profit. Yes, this is the same George Zimmerman who beat a murder charge by claiming he feared for his life due to an unarmed 17-year-old kid. And even more outrageous, Zimmerman's celebrity boxing escapade was announced today, which would have been Trayvon Martin's 19th birthday if he hadn't been shot and killed by the poor defenseless boxer.

Michael, don't you think this is just disgusting?

REAGAN: You know, it makes the side that supported Zimmerman look stupid.

CUPP: Right, just go away.

KOHN: Well said.

CUPP: Look, you got off. Just go away. He keeps getting into trouble.

OK. My outrage today, more resembles discomfort. Wills are supposed to be sacred documents. If in my last will and testament, I request to be buried in my Tony Stuart fire suit, I expect that request to be honored.

Well, Pope John Paul II had a will, too. And in it, he asked his long-time secretary cardinal, Stanislaw Dziwisz, to burn his personal notes, and instead, the cardinal has turned them into a book.

While it's outrageous that someone ignored the will of the pope, I've got to admit I'm also kind of interested to see what the notes say. He is one of the most beloved popes of the modern era, but I know I'll feel a little dirty reading those notes.

Would you read that book?

KORB: I would, because he had an awful lot to do with ending the Cold War.

CUPP: That's right.

KORB: I think he's -- and without him and President Reagan, I don't think we would have ended --

REAGAN: I am going to be at the canonization of Pope John Paul --

CUPP: How wonderful.

REAGAN: -- a week after Easter this year. And I'm looking forward to --

CUPP: And you've got to read up.

REAGAN: You know what I told somebody? I said, when I got the call to go do it, I said the outrage would be to not go and die and just go right to hell.

CUPP: I think you're OK.

REAGAN: I'm thinking that --

KOHN: That would be worse than publishing the pope's letter.

REAGAN: But you know my outrage is?

CUPP: What?

REAGAN: Shaun White is only going to go for one gold medal in the half pipe.

CUPP: He is entitled.

OK. Well, thanks to Lawrence Korb and Michael Reagan.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in our "Fireback" question. Under President Obama's policies, is America a safer or more dangerous place? Right now, 62 percent of you say safer, 38 percent say more dangerous.

The debate continues online at as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

KOHN: From the left, I'm Sally Kohn.

CUPP: And thanks for joining us tonight.

From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.