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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Christie at CPAC; Targeting Assets and Visas; Kerry and Lavrov Meeting; Oscar Pistorius Trial; Congressional Black Caucus Wants Issa Sanctioned

Aired March 6, 2014 - 12:00   ET

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


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: The reason we have to start talking about what we're for and not continuing to rail against what we're against is because of one simple reason, our ideas are better than their ideas and that's what we have to stand up for. And if you need any further example of that, just look at what's going on in terms of what they're for in Washington, D.C.

What they're for in Washington, D.C., is that the leader of the Senate Democrats stand up and rail against two American entrepreneurs who have built a business, created jobs and created wealth and philanthropy in this country. Harry Reid should get back to work and stop picking on great Americans who are creating great things in our country.

And that's typical. It's typical of the contrast between what's happening with governors and what's happening in Washington. And there are lots of examples that I can tell you about and I am going to tell you about. Governors are about getting things done. Governors are about making government work and keeping government out of people's lives as much as they can. And we've got lots of examples of it.

Look at what's happened in Wisconsin with my friend Governor Scott Walker. Scott Walker stood up for collective bargain reform. And you know what's happened to the teachers union in Wisconsin? Their membership is down 60 percent because Scott Walker made it voluntary to join the union in Wisconsin. People are voting with their feet.

In Ohio, John Kasich stood up against the crazy ideas that Democrats had in Ohio that was causing economic depression in that state. And what you have now in Ohio because of John Kasich is lower taxes and more jobs and an unemployment rate that's lower than the national average. That's getting things done in a state like Ohio with John Kasich.

How about Michigan? How about Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder has made Michigan, the home of the UAW, a right to work state. And in Florida, Rick Scott has taken -- in Florida, Rick Scott has taken an unemployment rate that he inherited well over 11 percent and brought it to under the national average and because of free market conservative ideas has created over 450,000 new private sector jobs in three years in Florida.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So there you have it, a Chris Christie who last year was not even invited to CPAC, making an impassioned plea to his audience, to the base now at CPAC and a critical speaker at that, especially at a time when he's been under the microscope for the Bridgegate scandal that is still under investigation both on a federal and local level.

I want to bring in Dana Bash to comment on this appearance. What did Chris Christie need to do when he stepped up to that microphone today, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He needs to express to the people who are here, who are gathered from all over the country, conservative activists, that he is somebody who is one of them. And it's still going on behind me, as you can see and hear. But I think the most interesting thing is the way he was greeted, which was pretty enthusiastically. I was here earlier for Ted Cruz's speech, for Paul Ryan's speech. Not much difference.

In fact, maybe you could even argue that he's getting even more of a rousing response from the crowd, particularly on the idea that you heard him say, which is that Republicans can't just be against things, they have to be for things. And giving the ideas from out in the country, from governors, that they are actually doing things as opposed to here in Washington where there's just a lot of talk.

He also threw a little bit of red meat to this conservative crowd, hitting Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, for what he has been doing on the Senate floor, slamming the Coke (ph) brothers, who are billionaires out of Texas who fund super packs, to help Republicans. That is something that is going to endear him with a lot of these conservatives as well.

He's still speaking. We'll see what the result is at the end. But I can actually hear another red meat line coming as he - as I'm speaking. He's attacking the media, which given his trouble in New Jersey, that is kind of a common cause, a common enemy between Chris Christie and a lot of these conservative activists, the media. That's sort of an easy one for him to get the crowd on his side.

Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Well, love or hate the media, whatever media coverage he's been getting over the last several months in Bridgegate, there are polls out saying that 50 percent of Republicans would consider voting for Chris Christie for 2016. So maybe he hates the media, but it's not working out too badly for him it would appear.

I know you have your work cut out for you to listen to the rest of the speech. Dana Bash, thank you for that.

I've also got a lot of breaking news that I want to get to as well. And that is this, the crisis in Ukraine. You want to mess with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine? President Obama's ready to freeze your assets and stop you from entering America. That seems to be the resounding message because with no end in sight to the Russian occupation of military bases in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, the White House today rolled out its strongest response so far. We'll have much more on that in just a moment. But in other developments, the Crimean parliament today set a March 16th referendum for leaving Ukraine officially and rejoining Russia. But the Ukrainian leaders in Kiev say, well, that's just illegal and this is just engineered by Moscow. The new Ukrainian prime minister is meeting with 28 of his European counterparts today at an EU summit that could produce more sanctions.

Now, separately, John Kerry, while all of that was going on, was meeting for a second straight day with his Russian counterpart, the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Again, no breakthrough, although the body language, you can't argue, not bad. This was the photo op anyway.

And, finally, a picture that would seem to say it all. Take a look at that. An aged warship deliberately scuttled by Russian forces at the mouth of a Crimea inlet blocking a fleet of Ukrainian ships inside.

I want to start our coverage at this hour on the Russian and Ukrainian crisis at the American White House. Michelle Kosinski, CNN's correspondent, on the North Lawn.

So, Michelle, this latest diplomatic and economic warning shot from the White House, take me there, set the stage and tell me, you know, how significant this is.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: : Yes, and this is really a first step. And you may say it's the first step in sanctions, but we've seen small steps over the past several days beginning with, remember, the U.S. saying, well, we're not going to participate in meetings leading up to the G-8. Then it went a step further saying, we're not going to participate in trade talks or energy talks with Russia.

These things are important to Russia, although many analysts will say, what is this really going to do in changing the behavior and the course that Russia has been on? Possibly nothing at all. I mean you showed a picture of that warship. Some might call that a provocative move. I mean deliberately blocking the naval assets of Ukraine.

So how should the international community respond? Today's a big day for diplomacy. You mentioned the U.N. Security Council. All 28 European heads of state meeting and with a view of imposing sanctions today. But the U.S. has been at the front of the pack diplomatically and now at the front leading sanctions. So President Obama signed this executive order this morning on doing what the administration has said it was going to do over the past couple of days. You know, the U.S. has been warning about this and this morning it happened.

First of all, freezing assets of individuals seem to be undermining democracy in Ukraine or contributing to instability. Also they mention people who may have misappropriated state funds. Or, in an interesting phrase, asserted authority there without authorization from the Kiev government. And banning entry and revoking visas of people who fall under those same categories, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Michelle Kosinski live for us at the White House. Thank you for that. And in Rome today, the top U.S. and Russian diplomats were all smiles and handshakes. The cameras were rolling. But sadly, not a whole lot got resolved. And behind the scenes, officials were saying what they really thought about all of this. The State Department put out what it calls the top 10 Russian lies about Ukraine, which Moscow promptly dismissed as low-grade propaganda.

CNN's Elise Labott is traveling with the secretary of state. She joins me now live.

So, Elise, I got the feeling that while there were no live press conferences to announce what they'd achieved and what looked like, at least through the body language a good meeting, there was actually some achievement. They did get some important discussions on the table.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Ashleigh, this is the fourth meeting in the last 24 hours between Secretary of State Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. They met yesterday in Paris in various groupings, alone and with other foreign ministers. And today, again, all trying to get this diplomatic pathway forward. They want to get some kind of coordination group, which will bring the Russians and the Ukrainians to the table.

The Russian foreign minister left the meeting today saying no agreement yet but agreed to continue talking. And Secretary Kerry has said he understands that foreign minister will have to go back to Moscow, consult with President Putin and perhaps in the coming days or week or so they could get something going, Ashleigh.

So I don't think it's a total wash. There's a lot of diplomatic maneuverings going around. The Germans are very involved. The French. Together they have a plan on the table that would have some elements that are attractive to Russia. So Secretary Kerry's thinking that it's important to keep meeting, even if the ultimate goal of getting those two sides together hasn't been accomplished yet.

BANFIELD: And yet, you know, troops or, what do you want to call them, defense forces, they remain on the ground back in the Crimean peninsula.

Elise Labott live for us in Rome. Thank you for that.

Some gripping testimony in the murder trial of Olympian Oscar Pistorius. You'll remember that he shot his girlfriend to death last Valentine's Day, a year ago. And today what was said in court about it made him break down in tears. We'll have the details for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: With all of the breaking news in Ukraine, we've not had an opportunity on this program to give you the gripping murder trial details that have been playing out this week. And also a trial that's been getting a lot of attention from all over the world. This is the trial of Oscar Pistorius, an international Olympic hero, fallen from grace as he defends himself against charges that he murdered his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in South Africa on Valentine's Day of last year.

One by one, neighbors who didn't see but say they heard bloodcurdling screams and then heard gunshots follow have been testifying. And one by one, they've all been grilled by the defense. Today perhaps the most emotional day so far in this case.

One of those neighbors, who also happens to be a doctor, told the court that he was the first to find Reeva Steenkamp (INAUDIBLE) bleeding and the testimony was so graphic that Oscar Pistorius held his head down, covered his ears. All of this as a doctor, Johan Stipp, talked about that night and about the deal that Pistorius made with God.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JOHAN STIPP, OSCAR PISTORIUS' NEIGHBOR: While I was trying to ascertain if she is survivable, Oscar was crying all the time. He prayed to God to please let her live. She must not die. He will - he stated on stage (ph) while he was praying that he will dedicate his life and her life to God if she would just only live and not die that night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Robin Curnow joins me live now from Pretoria, South Africa.

Robin, the reporting sounded really pretty remarkable in that the defendant, Oscar Pistorius, almost was sick to his stomach during this testimony. Can you give us some color that we didn't see in that courtroom?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you said earlier it was really emotional, quite traumatic.

Remember this is the 12th anniversary of Oscar Pistorius' mother's death, so to hear the gruesome quite graphic details, the doctor was describing what he saw.

And as he walked into the house, Reeva Steenkamp, he said, was lying on her back. Oscar had one hand over a wound in her thigh, his other hand, two fingers in her mouth trying to clear her airways, but she had clenched down on him. He was obviously sobbing, crying.

During all of this quite graphic detail descriptions of the head wound, about how brain tissue and blood has intermingled with her hair, Oscar Pistorius literally started gagging, dry-wrenching essentially, so much so that the court sketch artist told us afterwards that he was so worried Oscar Pistorius was going to vomit that he actually cleared all the pencils out of his bag and handed his satchel, his bag, to Pistorius to actually vomit into.

So, this was the kind of deep, visceral emotion that Pistorius experienced. And I think for anybody watching it on television, any of us inside the court, it was sad. It was powerful. It was just gut- wrenching, wasn't it? BANFIELD: So, Robyn, what about what was said on the stand? Apart from the drama that was playing out, you know, from defendant's table, what about the actual testimony? What was said from this witness that was so critical to this case?

CURNOW: Well, I think this witness, as well as four others who lived at varying distances as neighbors around Pistorius' house, this doctor was the closest. And I think to broadly sum it up it's about what they heard and when.

All of them over the course of the past few days have acknowledged that they heard sounds, screams, sounds.

And what the defense is trying to prove and have tried to do over and over again, quite successfully so, I think our legal analysts have said, is that they try to say those first sounds that people perhaps woke up to were gunshots.

Those were the sounds, the gunshots that killed Reeva Steenkamp, the head wound so severe that she couldn't have screamed afterwards.

The screams that people might have heard even though they sounded like a woman at times were, in fact, Oscar Pistorius' hysterical calling for help and that the second set of sounds were the cricket bat he used to try and bash down that door to try and get Reeva when he realized it wasn't an intruder and her.

That's the defense's line of argument and cross-examination, and they have been, I must say and according to our legal analysts, quite successful not in disproving or discrediting these witnesses at what they think they heard, but at least sewing doubt perhaps in the judge's mind and the court's mind that as we sit there this identification of what these sounds were was so similar.

And I think that's what's going to be key as we go through these next few days, next few weeks is, does the sound of gunshots sound the same as a cricket bat whacking a heavy door at night? This is where we're going, very nuanced, very powerful and very technical at the same time.

BANFIELD: Robyn Curnow live for us in South Africa

Robyn will have a lot more in this week's "CNN SPOTLIGHT -- The Oscar Pistorius Trial." It's going to run tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Developments today on Capitol Hill, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are pretty angry, and they're demanding that a fellow member of the House be stripped of his leadership role, all of this because of this moment that played out live in a committee hearing. I want you to just direct your attention towards the man standing. That is the committee chairman, Darrell Issa, making his "cut-off-the- mike" gesture, and switching off the microphone while Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, down below to his left right there, is trying to speak.

Congressman Issa just up and walked out of the room and instructed a whole bunch of other people to leave, as well, saying this thing's adjourned. He wants to keep talking, but this thing's over.

Joe Johns, our senior Washington correspondent, is live with me now on this. I -- you're the perfect person to answer this question.

I don't know exactly what went on there and all of the arcane details of procedure in a House hearing, but was there a point of order raised, or did Issa have the right to do what he did despite the fact that it looked really yucky?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's the chairman of the committee, and the way Congress works, as you know, Ashleigh, the bottom line is brute force rules.

Republicans have control in terms of votes in the House of Representatives, and it's usually the votes that decide.

But the Democrats say they're allowed five minutes to speak, and the ranking member there, Elijah Cummings, wasn't given the right to speak.

So, today there are more developments on this, Ashleigh, resulting from that confrontation in the House oversight committee, and Cummings, as a matter of fact, actually came out and talked at a news conference just a little while ago about Issa and all that happened.

So listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: ... undermined the integrity of our committee and they prevent us from doing responsible and effective oversight.

The irony of what Chairman Issa did is that the question I wanted to ask was an attempt to help the committee's investigation. My question was about an offer from Ms. Lerner's attorney to provide a proper to the committee.

I want that proffer. I wanted to hear what her attorney would have said, and I want that information I think the entire committee is entitled to that information. As a matter of fact, I think the Congress is.

It doesn't give her immunity, and it does not bind the committee. But it could have given us some of the information the chairman was asking about on yesterday. As a matter of fact --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So that gives you some sense of what Mr. Cummings was talking about in that news conference today.

It's also important to say that the speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, spoke before Mr. Cummings came out and was asked whether he supports what Issa did. He said he does support him. He also said that in his view the chairman of the committee, Darrell Issa, acted appropriately.

So, bottom line here is the Congressional Black Caucus supported by many Democrats has offered a privilege resolution calling on sanctions against the chairman, Congressman Issa.

Not likely to go anywhere, as I can see it, simply because Republicans control the House and Issa's a Republican, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Well, and the headlines, if the Republicans wanted the headlines to be about the IRS, the headlines today are about the drama and not about the substance of the hearing.

So, Joe Johns, thank you for that. Do appreciate your reporting on it.

We have another big special that's coming, guns, gangs and the problem of what to do about them, all an ongoing battle in Chicago. And CNN is taking you inside that battle with a brand new series.

We've got a sneak peek and a talk with the Chicago police superintendent just ahead.

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