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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Profiling The Passengers And Crew Of Flight 370; "If Anyone Survived, It's Him"; The Kremlin Strikes Back; Interview With Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut

Aired March 17, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The politics lead now. Geopolitics, international politics, the Kremlin strikes back. Moments ago, president Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing Crimea's independence and in short order, Crimea's parliament officially applied to join the Russian federation.

Now, according to Josh Rogin from The Daily Beast, who broke the news here first on CNN, Putin is now working up its own sanctions list against the United States, meant to mirror President Obama's sanctioning of 11 Kremlinites today. The Russian list is reportedly incomplete but could include everyone from Senate majority whip Dick Durbin of Illinois to possibly Senator John McCain of Arizona along with Obama administration and members of the House, Rogin reports. The news comes just hours after President Obama and the European Union each announced economic consequences today for those behind Russia's advance into Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are imposing sanctions on specific individuals responsible for undermining the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and government of Ukraine. We're making it clear that there are consequences for their actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN analyst and Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner from Moscow with more. Thanks so much for joining us.

So, here's the big question. The consequences, the sanctions that President Obama and the European Inion announced today -- is any of that going to change what Putin and the Russians are doing in Crimea and Ukraine?

VLADIMIR POZNER, CNN ANALYST AND JOURNALIST: I hardly think that's a possibility. Quite frankly, thus far at least, these are pinpricks. So, all right, certain people are not going to be able to travel to the United States. I think they can live with that and probably won't lose a lot of sleep over it and vice versa. The mirror reaction of the Russian side, some Americans are not going to be able to travel to Russia. That's not really big in the sense of sanctions. Now, there may get worse. There may be really serious economic sanctions down the road. That would be a different story. But from the outset, Putin has said, you apply sanctions to us, we apply sanctions to you. There's nothing new there. That's the way it's going to be. And it really depends on -- to me in a way it's a tit for tat situation and a little bit of child's play. Oh, you did this to me, well, I'm going to do it right back to you. It doesn't look like statesmanship, at least in my opinion but that's the way things are working out.

TAPPER: We've seen some of the high-level Kremlinites respond as if they think it's a joke. Vladislav Surkov responding to the sanctions, saying , quote, "It's a big honor for me. I don't have account abroad. The only things that interest me are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg and Jackson Pollock. I don't need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing."

Another on the list, deputy prime minister Dmitri Rogosan (ph), "Comrade Barack Obama, what should do those who have neither accounts nor property abroad or you didn't think about it?" So this is how Russians seem to be taking the sanctions, as if these are little gnats to be swatted away.

POSNER: Well, these are very specific Russians, as you know. And that's - how else do you want them to react? Do you think they are going to throw up their hands and say, oh, please don't do this to me. We'll never do it again. We're so sorry. We understand that is not going to happen and vice versa. If Senator John McCain is on the Russian list, he's going to laugh at it, and he's going to laugh publicly. This is politics. This is the way it happens.

But frankly, the fact that you are not going to grant a visa to these people is not seen as really being serious sanctions by them and less so by the man in the street who is just going to laugh and says, and that's sanctions? Well, we can live with that.

TAPPER: The international community is not taking this referendum in Crimea very seriously. 97.7 percent of the voters supposedly supported the referendum. Turnout was 83 percent. And all along, the referendum was called a sham, written under threat of an armed militia. No option to vote for the status quo, remaining part of Ukraine. Supported by a flood of Russian media propaganda, Ukrainian media shut down. Do you think that Vladimir Putin really believes that this is being perceived as a legitimate referendum?

POZNER: Well, first of all, I don't think he cares. What to him is important is whether or not he believes it was legitimate in the sense that it really reflected what the people of Crimea wanted.

Now, when you say or anyone says that they voted under the gun barrels of the Russian army, that's absolute -- you know, that's way off base. If you saw what was happening there last night, if you saw the celebration. If you saw the tears of joy of many of these people and they are saying, finally we're going home, finally after 25 years we're going back home, you could see that this was absolutely honest. And it's not at all a sham. And in fact, I think the people who say that it is are misleading others into believing it. I think if you want to deal with something, you have to know the reality of it. You have to know, for instance, that the majority of Russians support Putin. If you say, well, they are forced to, then you're making a grave mistak.

And it's the same thing here. These people want to be part of Russia. They are going home as they say now over the past 25 years, that home has changed. And they don't know how it's changed, and perhaps when they do come home, they will find many things that to them are strange and perhaps not even what they want. But the real feelings were expressed -- certainly were expressed in that referendum, and that's what Putin wants to know. And he really doesn't care what the Western propaganda has to say about that.

TAPPER: Well, I don't doubt that there were many who voted to join the Russian Federation who were celebrating, but I think there were also many more who were cowering behind closed doors. We'll have to leave it there however.

Vladmir Pozner in Moscow, thank you so much and thanks, of course also to The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin for his reporting.

So will Putin stop with Crimea, and is there any way that the United States could stop him if he does not? Let's bring in Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the chairman of the Senate's Europe subcommittee. He just got back from Kiev in Ukraine. Senator, thanks for joining us.

You said yesterday that you think Putin marched into Crimea because he did not believe that the United States and Europe would actually take a chunk of flesh out of the Russian economy. These sanctions announced today, go far enough? Do they take that chunk of flesh out of the Russian economy?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: I think the sanctions announced today send a message to Putin that we are serious. No, these sanctions today that are directed against specific individuals in the chain of command coming down from Putin make it clear that we are serious about moving forward on sanctions, but they give him room to make a different decision before he officially annexes Crimea.

I do think that he marched into Crimea because he didn't think that we would take him seriously. I also don't think this is the end of his ambition. It's actually counterproductive and strategically difficult for him to simply stop by holding onto Crimea. I think he's got ulterior motives and different designs, which is why it was important for us to say that if he continues to move in this direction, if he goes any further than Crimean, if he does move forward with annexation, this is just the beginning of sanctions, not the end.

TAPPER; Do you think he wants to take all of Ukraine? Do you think he wants to go beyond Ukraine?

MURPHY: I think he has this vision to re-establish the Soviet Empire, and he doesn't have to do that by officially invading or conquering Ukraine. He just has to make sure that the government in Kiev is within his orbit and under his influence.

That's not the reality today. I was there with Republican and Democratic senators this last weekend, and frankly, the invasion of Crimea has hardened Kiev to move towards Europe. So whether he's going to try to move further into eastern Ukraine, whether he's going to now try to cut a deal with Kiev, clearly his motivation is to bring that whole country back into his orbit. The current way things stand, which is, he's got control of two percent or three percent of the country, and the rest of the country is moving towards Europe. That's a foreign policy disaster for Putin. And so I know this is not his end game.

TAPPER: The White House list of those being sanctioned includes three aides to Putin, the former president of Ukraine, Yanukovych, as well as the man who claims to be the prime minister of Crimea. But Putin himself is not listed there. You think that's the right play?

MURPHY: Yeah, I think ultimately we're sending the right message. We're giving Putin a clear indication that we're going to move forward on crippling sanctions. And I think he now understands the reality of how serious the United States and Europe takes this.

A lot of the questions, as you know, Jake, over the coming weeks is going to be whether Europe is going to move in lock step with us. All indications are that they will. But when you start moving together on the next round of sanctions, which is against Russian banks and Russian petro chemical companies, there will be a little hurt to the United States, but there will be real economic hurt in Europe that is nothing compared to the hurt that will come five years from now when Putin, having felt like he got away from this, marches on a NATO ally. That's what we are obviously trying to prevent.

TAPPER: That's - you and I have talked about this before. I think I'm a little bit more skeptical than you are of Europe going that far.

You've said there is no military option for pushing Putin out of Crimea. But what if he moves farther into Ukraine? What line would Putin have to cross before you would advocate, say, military aid to the Ukrainians?

MURPHY: Well, I think there are some immediate things we can do that would likely fall into the category of military aid. I'm not sure that the Ukrainian army right now even has the capability to accept major weapon components from the United States. That's the sad state of affairs right now for the Ukrainian military, having been gutted by President Yanukovych over the past several years. But things like communication assistance, MREs to help those troops that have been moved out to the eastern front just live and conduct basic surveillance activities, that can be important. They are just in no way, shape, or form ready to take major, lethal military assistance from the United States. But there are lots of ways to help them should the unthinkable happen and Putin advance beyond Crimea.

TAPPER: Senator chrism Murphy, thank you so much.

MURPHY: Right on. TAPPER: Coming up next, victims or potential suspects? Next, a former FBI criminal profiler will tell us what he would be looking for in the background of every single person on board the missing jet.

And later, waiting for his return, the partner of an American who was on Flight 370 tells us she believes he's still alive. That interview coming up ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Continuing our "World Lead," it's the cruel reality of an investigation such as this one into Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Every one of the 239 people on board the missing plane is both a possible victim and a possible suspect. So how do investigators even begin to dissect all the information about all of those lives to look for answers?

Let's bring in Bill Gavin live from Boston. He served in the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 28 years, retired as the assistant director of the FBI in New York and ran the investigation into the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Bill, good to see you as always. Where do you even begin in looking at answers in a mystery like this?

BILL GAVIN, VICE PRESIDENT, GUARDSMARK INTERNATIONAL SECURITY SERVICES: Jake, what you really have to do is start to take it apart piece by piece. You look at four different primary areas right now. The cabin, what went on in the cabin and that's just a few people. The cargo is another important place to look and then all those who serviced the plane, you really have to look there as well. If I had to do it in an area of priorities, of course, it would be in the cockpit to begin with. Because it appears to me, based on everything that's happened, that's where everything occurred on this particular flight.

TAPPER: So you say start in the cockpit, which makes sense. How shocking do you find it that we're just learning about the pilots' home flight simulator this late in the game and that the pilot and co- pilot's homes were just searched in the last few days.

GAVIN: I can't give you any answer, Jake. If this occurred someplace else, if this had been the United States where the flight originated, they would have been in the pilot's home and first officer's home the very next day or the same day. That's all important to make sure that you get -- can collect all of the evidence to either eliminate this person as a possible suspect or to bring them into the realm of being a suspect on that plane.

TAPPER: Now, you pointed out four areas where you would focus attention. The cockpit, cabin, cargo, and anyone who serviced the plane. People who had to do with the cargo and servicing the plane, that's dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of people. How do you begin to narrow things down?

GAVIN: Well, you look at the cabin to begin with. That's going to look at the manifest. And keep in mind, Jake, the important thing to remember here is the United States has absolutely no control over how that is done. It's all left to the Malaysian authorities. So I know that we have FBI agents on the ground preparing to help them, but they are going to limit what they allow you to do.

But you have to look at everybody that got on to that plane. That's important. You can start peeling the onion by eliminating the people immediately, like children and very elderly people and insurance people. You might be able to eliminate those folks. But by the same token, you really have to look through the whole category of people that are on the plane. You have to look at the cargo. Pieces of equipment that might be shipped that you have to look at how it was screened. Maybe it wasn't screened as well in another country as it is in the United States.

And then anybody that had access to that plane. Was there a possibility that somebody who serviced the plane could have programmed in that turn that we are all talking about now? I don't know, but everybody has to be looked at. But the magic here is, it has to be done at the same time. It takes a real equipment to personnel, a commitment of prioritization and it takes a commitment of all countries working harmoniously together.

I think that some of the assets that the United States has really come into play here. And that's a tricky part, too, because if orbital assets can be repositioned to find anything, then we really have to be involved in kind of a diplomatic sense as to how we bring that to fruition and let everybody know that we have or have not found.

TAPPER: An incredibly complicated case. Bill Gavin, thank you so much for your time.

When we come back, she has a change of clothes, packed and ready for him, one woman refusing to give up hope that her partner is still alive. She'll talk to CNN next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing our "World Lead" now, the disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370. For the families of the 239 people on board, grasping on to hope that this plane is somewhere, this weight is torture. One American on board, Phillip Wood, was about to move from China to Malaysia with his partner and she spoke with CNN's David McKenzie.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH BAJC, PHILLIP WOOD'S PARTNER: The entire U.S. population is reliving things like 9/11 in this experience, right? If an unthinkable thing can happen, even after we've taken all of these precautions, what could happen next? If there's anybody who can survive a situation like that, it's him. He's very level-headed and I think he is the kind of person who would help to calm a really chaotic situation.

Of course, I have to prepare for the worse because no matter what, I have to still go forward and no matter what his family still has to go forward so we need to know where the fork in the road is going to go. And we're not ready to take either branch, but we have to know what's coming because otherwise when it comes you won't be prepared and that's when you get into trouble, I think.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You need to be prepared for whatever the news is.

BAJC: My bag is back and ready to go. It has been since Saturday morning.

MCKENZIE: Ready to go where?

BAJC: Wherever he is. My son even helped me pick out what clothes to bring for him so I have an outfit for him in my backpack because he wouldn't want to wear his dirty old stuff anymore, I'm sure, and he wouldn't want to wear a hospital gown if that's the case so, yes, it's all ready.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Phillip Wood is one of three Americans on board that missing flight. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, he is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."