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Ousted Ukrainian Leader Remains Defiant; Key Orders Crimean Airspace Closed; U.S. Responds to Crisis in Ukraine; Confidential Clinton Papers Released; Clinton Document Release; Do Nothing Congress; California Floods and Mudslides; New Jersey 911 Tapes

Aired February 28, 2014 - 13:00   ET

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


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, rapid and dramatic developments in Ukraine. The ousted president is standing tough, saying he's not done yet.

Plus, there are now reports of Russian troops and helicopters in Crimea, while lawmakers in Moscow laying the ground work for a possible land grab. We're going live to Kiev.

Also, going online right now, more than 4,000 pages of confidential documents from the Clinton presidency. CNN is beginning to pore through them. We're going to tell you what we find.

And right now, heavy rains are slamming California and residents are bracing for the worst. The worst being flooding, mudslides and disaster. We'll take you there, live.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We start with Ukraine, a country on edge right now as tensions with Russia escalate. Its ousted leader speaking from the Russian border town of Ruston-on-Don. Former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, vowing to fight to restore order in the capital of Kiev and blaming the unrest on, quote, "a group of bandits, fascists and radicals." He called the new interim government illegitimate and insisted. He wants to return home, but only, only if his security can be guaranteed. But Yanukovych says there is a limit to what he'll do to regain power. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (via translator): Russia must use all its possibilities in order to overcome this chaos, this terror, which today is taking place in Ukraine. But I would like to say, once again, and to add that I categorically am against any intervention, any interference in the sovereign integrity of Ukraine as a state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And while Yanukovych was speaking, tensions were growing in the region of Crimea. Russia appears to be flexing its military muscles there on the ground and in the skies. Ian Lee is joining us now from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. What is the latest, Ian? What's going on?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, things seem to be changing by the hour, very fluid here. Earlier in the morning, professional pro- Russia militias went to two air fields to have their presence there. As the day progressed, we are now hearing that, Simferopol, the capital of the Crimea, there is now a no fly zone, essentially no airplanes are flying there right now. We're hearing that from the director of the airport there as well as here in Kiev that there aren't any planes being allowed.

Also, we're hearing that helicopters, Russian helicopters, are going to Baalbek in the Crimea, local media reporting that at least 11 helicopters there. Also, we are -- also hearing other reports that armored personnel carriers are also near Simpropul. So, a lot of developments here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But are you suggesting -- are they suggesting authorities there, Ukrainian officials or Russian troops, albeit in small numbers, are actually now in Ukraine, in sovereign Ukrainian territory?

LEE: Well, the interior minister said that this is an armed incursion into Ukraine and that it is an occupation. Now, we haven't been able to see this personally -- CNN hasn't been able to verify this personally, but this is what we're getting from many local media reports as well as some government officials. The situation is definitely changing by the hour here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the Ukrainian parliament saying about all of this?

LEE: Well, the Ukrainian parliament has gone to the United Nations to ask for a meeting with the U.N. Security Council about the situation here. They're also requesting that the European Union send observers here. One of the big things has been that minorities, ethnic Russians are being discriminated against, they're being oppressed here with this new government, and they -- the parliament in Kiev has asked for the E.U. to send observers to show that they are, in fact, not being oppressed. And so, that, as well, is happening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ian Lee in Kiev. Stand by, we'll get back to you. Dramatic developments unfolding right now.

Meanwhile, Europe and the U.S., they're both keeping a close eye on the developments in Ukraine, understandably so. Especially Russian's involvement in the crisis. Today, the secretary of state, John Kerry, made it clear, the U.S. would adamantly oppose any Russian military intervention. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe national security adviser Rice has made it very clear and I have made it clear that intervention would, in our judgment, be a very grave mistake. It would be completely contrary to Russian policies, as stated now with respect to Libya, Syria, other places. The question is whether or not what is happening now might be crossing a line in any way, and we're going to be very careful in making our judgments about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is here watching all of this. It's fast-moving right now. And a lot of us didn't think it was going to get this bad. But there is potential for a whole lot worse.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. And that's been the consistent warning from U.S. officials, don't -- to the Russians, don't do any actions that can be misinterpreted. Right? And now, on the ground there, you are having actions that can be easily misinterpreted. Are those forces that you're seeing there supported by the Russians, directed by the Russians? We don't know for sure.

BLITZER: Are they Russians?

SCIUTTO: Or are they Russians? Exactly. We don't know for sure but that's exactly the kind of thing that can be misinterpreted and can further inflame the situation on the ground.

BLITZER: The outgoing -- now the former U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Mike McFaul, he spoke out on CNN's "NEW DAY" today, it's been 48 hours since he left Moscow. He's back at Stanford University. But I want you to listen to what he said because it's ominous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MCFAUL, OUTGOING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: It's a very dangerous situation, extremely tense. You have soldiers with guns, very well-armed, in Crimea, a part of Ukraine, saying they want to be -- are now loyal to Russia. Very, very dire situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A very dire situation. Now, that's from someone who spent the last few years serving as the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, privy of the most sensitive intelligence.

SCIUTTO: No question. And you mentioned how quickly things are moving. The people I talked to are more nervous today than they were yesterday. Yesterday, they were more nervous than the day before. Because things are moving quickly and they're not moving in a good direction. And, you know, a lot of folks have speculated, will they do a Georgia-style invasion? Our assessment -- the assessment of U.S. officials continues to be no.

But it doesn't have to be a Georgia-style invasion. There are a lot of options, black ops, special forces on the ground, troops without insignia, kind of like what we're seeing right now, around the Crimea airport. So, you don't have to repeat 2008 for it still to be a serious situation that can escalate very quickly.

BLITZER: Now, no one would anticipate that if the Russians do move significant numbers of troops into Ukraine, there would be a military response from NATO or from the United States. But there could be financial sanctions. There could be serious economic ramifications to squeeze the Russians.

SCIUTTO: No question. And General Breedlove, the Supreme NATO Commander, an American, made that clear yesterday in public comments, saying that NATO is not preparing a military response if the Russians do go in on the ground. But you are seeing, as you say, financial responses already. Switzerland, today, announcing they are freezing the assets of president Yanukovych and 19 of his closest advisers. You know, that's a weapon that's been used before. They used it with Gadhafi in Libya. Of course, you had billions -- 10s of billions of dollars from oil money. We're not clear how much money Yanukovych has but it's a very powerful tool.

BLITZER: What is clear is that the folks, the people in Ukraine right now, they are suffering as a result of all of this uncertainty.

SCIUTTO: And a key part of the solution going forward, you hear this from U.S. officials, is economic aid to Ukraine to increase stability going forward. And that's what's beginning to be talked about right now. IMF involvement, E.U. involvement, U.S. involvement.

BLITZER: Yes, there won't be much involvement if the Russians move in though.

SCIUTTO: Well, that would make a financial rescue very difficult.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: that doesn't happen.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BLITZER: All Right, Jim. Thanks very much.

Up next, confidential documents shedding new light on the Bill Clinton's presidency and Hillary Clinton's role as first lady of the United States. Thousands of papers are now being released. We'll talk about that and more with Gloria Gorger, the potential political impact.

And later, releasing 911 emergency calls from Chris Christie's so- called bridge scandal. We're going to tell you what we're hearing.

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BLITZER: Thousands of documents being released right now that potentially could shed new light on the Clinton presidency and the role of the former first lady. The prospect that Hillary Clinton may run for president in 2016 certainly has heightened a lot of interest in these papers. The Clinton library and the national archives, they are making about 4,000 pages of documents public right now. Our political team is just starting to go through the papers. We'll, of course, update you on what we're learning.

In the meantime, let's bring in our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. The release of these papers, under normal circumstances, historians, scholars, they would go take a look, to see if there is any --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: -- new information. But because of the heightened interest in a potential Hillary Clinton run for the White House, everyone is now going to look for these documents.

BORGER: And, Wolf, these are -- these are what are classified as kind of sensitive documents. You know, every president gives his documents over to his library, whatever it is. These are documents that were deemed sensitive because they may involve sort of presidential appointments, communications, whatever, that every president has a right to withhold for about a dozen years. They could have been released a year ago, but for whatever reason, we don't know. They are only being released now. So, we have to sort of wait and see what's in it.

We're told that today's documents are not going to talk about White Water, Monica Lewinski, very controversial parts of the Clinton presidency. But it could contain documents from the office of the first lady. Again, Hillary Clinton now potentially running for president, again. Also, health care, speech writer documents, things like that. So we have to really sift through them and see if they're interesting or revealing in any way.

And, of course, presidential documents, Wolf, are always interesting because you get to lift the veil and see how White Houses operate.

BLITZER: Yes, and we're told that, as you point out, the initial documents will include her role in the Hillary health care plan that failed --

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: -- during the first year or two of the Clinton presidency. So, there may be some interesting nuggets there.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul, who himself is seriously thinking of running --

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: -- for the Republican presidential nomination, responds to questioning. His wife earlier had suggested in an interview, I think in "Vogue" magazine, that bill Clinton, you know, he -- you know, he should be part of all of this, because what he did with Monica Lewinski is certainly a source of renewed concern if his wife is running for president of the United States. And I suspect they're going to continue to hammer away on that issue.

BORGER: I think they are. I think, look, it's an issue that works for them with parts of the Republican political base. I don't think it's a great general election issue. I think if Hillary Clinton ran for president and wanted to raise money off of that, she probably could.

I mean, I think the last thing that a Republican presidential candidate wants to do is make the woman he's opposing seem like a victim in any way, shape or form, because I don't think that's the way Hillary Clinton sees herself. But in terms of Republican base presidential politics, primary politics, you know, Rand Paul is appealing to the people who are actually -- some of them feeling the same way and will be voting in Republican primaries.

BLITZER: Yes, with each day, it looks like he's more and more seriously thinking about --

BORGER: Yes. He's an interesting candidate.

BLITZER: Very -- indeed he is.

Let's talk a little bit about an excellent article you just posted on cnn.com.

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Congress takes the year off. That's the headline. Let me read a couple sentences. "Maybe Congress should just close up shop and leave town because nothing is going to happen for the next nine months. Both parties are making the same political calculation for the same reason: they can't afford to have any internal debate lest they seem less than united against the enemy."

So I think a lot of these members would probably like to take your advice, go on vacation for nine months.

BORGER: Yes, I think they would. Well, they are. I mean we're basically paying them to do -- to do nothing, because that's what they're going to do. Republicans don't want to take on immigration reform because it exposes the divisions within their own party. The president didn't want to take on any kind of entitlement reform of Social Security because the left wing of his party would have been upset about it. And what you want to do when you head into a midterm is you want to give the people who are the most activist voters in your party a reason to go out and vote.

Midterm elections, Wolf, tend to appeal to the base of the parties, as opposed to the sort of presidential election in which more people come out and vote. So you don't want to give them any reason to stay home. You want to get them out there, you want to motivate them. And one way to motivate them is to not get them mad at you.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a -

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: You want to energize that base, the respective Democratic base -

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Republican base, if you're going to get some turnout, which is always a problem in a midterm election.

BORGER: So we're in for a sort of a sleepy bunch of months, I think, in Congress.

BLITZER: Well, you know we'll be working hard.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Gloria, with that.

BORGER: In Congress, yes.

BLITZER: A bill to expand benefits for veterans is the latest casualty on the partisan gridlock in Congress. The bill didn't get the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate. Republicans criticized Democrats for blocking them from amending the bill, while Democrats blasted Republicans for trying to attach increased Iran sanctions to the legislation. Vermont's Independent Senator Bernie Sanders pleaded for passage of the bill, much of which he wrote. We spoke with him earlier this week about his anger over linking veterans' benefits to Iran sanctions and he's deeply outraged by what has happened.

Evacuations are now underway in parts of California as torrential rain slams the state. And the threat of flooding and mudslides growing by the hour. This as California copes with its worst drought in a century. CNN's Kyung Lah is joining us from Glendora (ph), where recent wildfires dried out a lot of the land, Kyung, making the flooding, the mudslide threat a lot more dangerous. What's it like now?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are about a thousand people who are under that evacuation order. It's a mandatory evacuation order. And let me give you a look as to why. You see this roadway here, Wolf? This was just a short time ago, completely covered in debris and mud. And now they're bulldozing the mud out of this area. You can see that there's water flowing down into the streets. And this is one of the major neighborhood roads. And that's over there a major thoroughfare through this neighborhood. You can see it's completely blocked by sludge and mud.

OK, so where is all of this coming from? Well, I'm going to actually swing you back over this way. It's coming all the way from up there. That's where the Colby (ph) wildfire was just a couple of months ago. The landslide so charred right now, it can't handle all of this rain that's coming town, just a couple of inches. And if you look down at the debris that's coming down, Wolf, look at it, it's wood and various charred rubble. You can see that it's all completely burned from the wildfire.

And it's not just in this neighborhood. It's across Los Angeles. Even though this is much-needed rain, we're seeing things like rescues. These two people and their dog, they had to get rescued via boat because some of the roads are flooded. And, Wolf, you know from traveling here in Los Angeles, it's also meant a lot of car accidents. Generally a headache for a lot of people. But as far as this historic drought, all of this eventually hopefully will be better news for the state of California.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's the only silver lining. They need some rain over there because of that drought. Kyung Lah, thanks very much.

Up next, those massive traffic jams in Ft. Lee, New Jersey. Remember them? They triggered outrage and frustration. That raw emotion from desperate motorists stuck in the gridlock has now been revealed on newly released 911 recordings. And you're going to hear them.

And later, a personal side of President Obama. His candid remarks and his new program "My Brother's Keeper."

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BLITZER: For the first time we're hearing the 911 calls from those horrific traffic jams over the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey last November. Our investigative correspondent, Chris Frates, has been listening to the tapes.

And you're going through them. We knew there were problems, but now we're getting sort of the personal, dramatic side of people outraged by what was going on.

CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, that's right, Wolf. We're poring through 26 hours of these tapes. And we're getting a sense of what was happening to the residents of Ft. Lee.

Now, remember, Ft. Lee sits right at the foot of the bridge, and two of the three lanes on the George Washington Bridge were closed down. And that led the EMS coordinator there to complain publicly that it was taking three times longer for responders to get to these 911 calls. We have some of these tapes. Let's take a listen right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) notified (INAUDIBLE) over now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE), they have a new pattern. They're testing a new pattern, traffic, from north (ph) of Washington. It's down to one lane now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 2-11 (ph) (INAUDIBLE) traffic is a nightmare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 10-4 (ph), we're getting calls from irate motorists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are aware the town is a total gridlock, right? (INAUDIBLE). (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So why are these tapes - I mean it's dramatic and there were more. I know you're going through more of these tapes, people who were trying to get to the hospital, whether pregnant women or others for emergency services, and they were screaming and crying. But why is it important right now, substantively, as far as the investigation is concerned?

FRATES: Well, I think it shows the real impact to real people. So many people have heard about bridge-gate and it doesn't really register, I think, with folks until you start to hear these tapes and get a sense of what was happening on the ground. And, you know, certainly that's something that the investigators are going to be interested in because they want to figure out, why did this happen and how did it affect people. This gives a very clear window into that.

BLITZER: And it shows, for political retribution, if in fact that was the cause of shutting down those lanes, it had a real human impact.

FRATES: That's right. And I think, you know, the impact for Governor Christie himself is that you could almost guarantee that one of the best bites that we ended up finding in these 26 hours of tape will end up in a political ad somewhere if, in fact, the investigation finds that his aides did order this, then it's going to open up all kinds of questions about, you know, what kind of people is he surrounding himself with, how does he govern, is he a bully and is this what he does to the people that he's been elected to govern. You certainly, I think, will see that, one of these bites play out politically as we move forward, no matter kind of what the investigation finds.

BLITZER: Yes, sound bites.

FRATES: Sound bites.

BLITZER: Yes, want to make sure our viewers know what you're talking about.

All right, thanks very much for that, Chris Frates, reporting.

FRATES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, President Obama gets personal about his own past to help young men of color. An African-American congressman standing by live. He'll weigh in on the president's candid remarks. Congressman Elijah Cummings will talk about the president's new initiative.

And later, crime-fighting from the sky. We're going to show you a new surveillance system that can keep an eye on an entire city.

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