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Ukraine Sees Heaviest Fighting in a Year; Russian Activist in Coma for Second Time. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 3, 2017 - 16:30   ET


MICHAEL SCHERER, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TIME: Even the Iran sanctions are also kind of in line with the Obama administration, not being really disruptive, though the kind of sanctions you can put in place and it doesn't shake everything up.

[16:30:08] So, I think the question is whether the messaging that Trump has, you know, the tweets, the sort of incendiary things he does to drive up support domestically ends up going into the policy. And we just don't know.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Or whether it will essentially remain a side show. In Europe, and we don't know what's happening there -- I mean, obviously, there has been a wave of populism over there. We saw Theresa May elected as part of that. We saw them very cordial last week in the White House, her pushing him to say he supported NATO. But again, her coming out saying that this travel ban was divisive, we don't know who the leader of France is going to be, whether or not they're going to be a centrist with the elections of this year, whether they're going to be more populist.

So, sort of a Trump doctrine and how he relates to what is a sort of fragile liberal Western democracy with kind of Angela Merkel as the point person for that and the last remaining one as sort of the leader of the free world.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Last woman standing.


TAPPER: Thanks one and all. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, be sure to tune in to CNN next Tuesday night, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and I will moderate a town hall debate with Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz on the future of Obamacare. That all starts Tuesday, February 7th, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

Coming up next, he claimed he was poisoned for speaking out against Vladimir Putin in 2015. Now he is in a coma fighting for his life a second time. The big question, was he poisoned again?


[16:35:56] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. That's a live look at Air Force One, it just touched down in West Palm Beach, Florida. President Trump and his family are heading to his Mar-a-Lago resort for the weekend. Coming up, we'll cover that more later.

But right now our world lead, clashes between the Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists have intensified so much in the past 24 hours that Ukrainian officials say they are seeing the most intense shelling in a year. And this may regrettably be just the beginning. Both sides are preparing for more battles ahead.

Let's bring in Christopher Miller in Eastern Ukraine. He's a journalist has been covering Russia and Ukraine and he's on the ground there.

Christopher, what are you seeing and hearing where you are?

CHRISTOPHER MILLER, JOURNALIST (via telephone): Yes, it's certainly a dire situation. (INAUDIBLE) the name of the flash point town about 22,000 people where the clashes are currently taking place. They're living there, people are living there without power, heating, running water after shelling knocked out power lines and pipes. The temperature is below zero. But not much warmer in people's homes right now.

But the shelling is the worst. The town has been bombarded by artillery relentlessly every night this week. We're seeing howitzers, multiple launch rocket systems, even tanks being used.

People are sleeping in their cellars to protect themselves. But they're most vulnerable in the daytime. For instance on Tuesday when I arrived in town, there was a large salvo of rocket fire that destroyed 20 homes.

And I came across the body of a local woman who was killed in that attack. She was walking to the shop there at home. When a shell exploded beside her and killed her. I watched her daughter kneel over her mother's body and stroke her arm, and tears in the face. It was really heartbreaking.

TAPPER: It sounds awful. You tweeted images of a little Ukrainian girl. Her picture as well as other pictures of destruction we've seen there. They look eerily similar to some images we've seen from Aleppo, Syria.

MILLER: Yes. You know, that's actually something I've heard from folks on the ground here. Some of the locals have actually compared it to or at least are calling it their own version of Syria or fear that it would be some version of Syria.

Now, obviously, you know, the Ukraine conflict is not quite on that scale. There have been more than 10,000 lives lost in the conflict. Certainly people are steering a great escalation. In fact, one of the Ukrainian commanders I interviewed yesterday told me that they were gearing up for possible -- possibly full-scale war. They have brought in extra tanks, extra personnel and I watched them move to the front this morning and begin firing on their enemies on the other side of the line.

TAPPER: All right. Christopher Miller, thank you. Please stay safe.

MILLER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Also in the world lead -- for the second time in less than two years, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin is in a coma and close to death. His name, Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Today, his lawyer said that Kara-Murza is in critical condition and on a ventilator. So, what happened to him? Well, with no clear medical explanation, his lawyer believes that Kara-Murza was intentionally poisoned again.

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance joins me now.

And, Matthew, you interviewed him back in 2015 when he said somebody tried to kill him.


TAPPER: Back then, the Kremlin denied any involvement. What does the Kremlin have to say this time?

CHANCE: You know, it's incredible really because they've not condemned this, they've not criticized it. They've actually -- to the best of my knowledge, Jake, they haven't even mentioned it in the past several days since this latest issue has emerged. And since Vladimir Kara-Murza has been in a medically induced coma, which is astonishing given the amount of attention that this catastrophe from his point of view is getting overseas, internationally, particularly in the United States.

Senator Marco Rubio issuing a scathing statement earlier today when it emerged that Vladimir Kara-Murza's condition, as you just mentioned, was still critical. Here's what he said, "I urge the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Tillerson, to make Kara- Murza's cause America's cause, and ultimately hold Putin accountable if he was targeted by the regime."

[16:40:10] And so, Senator Rubio suggesting that this is an important test. Just like Ukraine is, in fact, an important test of the relationship between Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Donald Trump of the United States. Now, this mystery surrounding the cause of this illness, doctors still don't know why Vladimir Kara-Murza is -- his organs are failing so dramatically and so suddenly.

But as you mentioned, I interviewed him back in 2015 shortly after he recovered from the first bout of this illness. And he told me he was absolutely convinced that he had been intentionally poisoned for political reasons. Take a listen.


VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN ACTIVIST: Well, frankly, there is no other possible reason. I don't -- I don't have any money dealings. I didn't have any personal enemies. I didn't steal anybody's wives, nothing like that. The only possible motive in my case is political activity.


CHANCE: The political activity, particularly in a country which has, of course, Jake, such a poor record, a terrible appalling record when it comes to killing critics of the Kremlin.

TAPPER: And Kara-Murza was friends with Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov was one of Russian's most high profile opposition leaders. He was shot to death two years ago this month, right near the Kremlin. Kara-Murza was in Russia promoting a documentary about Nemtsov. Could the alleged poisoning be connected to that, I guess?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, I guess so. If not to the actual promotion of the documentary, then to the general political activities of Vladimir Kara-Murza. You're right. He's in Moscow. He normally lives in the United States, in Virginia. In fact, but he's promoting this documentary coming nearly two years after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on that bridge just outside the Kremlin walls.

But, of course, Vladimir Kara-Murza says himself he's a political activist. He's a Kremlin critic. He heads the Boris Nemtsov foundation, which is set to carry on the work of the assassinated politician.

He's also sort of the face of one of the biggest political opposition groupings in Russia as well called Open Russia. And so, there are plenty of reasons why he could have been targeted in a country like that.

TAPPER: Matthew Chance, thank you so much. Appreciate it as always.

Moving ahead and rolling back: how Republican lawmakers in Congress are dusting off a previously rarely used strategy to roll back all kinds of regulations.

Also, puppies, dancing babies, beer, horses, all the hallmarks of Super Bowl ads in years past. But this year, advertisers are getting political. That's ahead.


[16:45:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Politics again, now we're back with more. The republicans in congress have dusted off a two-decade old law that was rarely successfully used in the past. It's called the congressional review act. Congressional republicans are now turning this relatively obscure law into a powerful tool to try to undo some of the regulations issued by the Obama administration. Just weeks before the 44th president left the White House. Let's bring in CNN Government Regulation Correspondent Rene Marsh. Rene, I guess the bottom line, what is the congressional review act and how are republicans using it?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, so, here's one on one. The President can use his power to undo any of Barack Obama's executive orders. But what he cannot do on his own is repeal any law that went through a formal rule-making process. So, that's where congress comes in, and this obscure law that congress is using allows them to essentially quickly wipe out any law that was finalized in the end of the Obama Presidency. This is a tactic that is faster than creating a new rule to counter the old ones, and you only need a simple majority.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that ends today.

MARSH: Republicans are steam rolling democrats, slashing regulations left and right, and they're doing it using an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act.

SAM BATKINS, AMERICAN ACTION FORUM DIRECTOR OF REGULATORY POLICY: It has been used once in the past before, but now we're seeing it at least five times this week alone, and we've heard reports that it could reach 15 total regulations, maybe even 20 total regulations.

MARSH: This week alone republicans have repealed regulations preventing water pollution from the coal industry limiting greenhouse emissions from energy companies and requiring the Social Security Administration to share medical information with the FBI. The Congressional Review Act allows for a quick roll back on regulations passed in the last six months of the Obama Presidency with a simple majority vote.


MARSH: Once the President signs off, the agency cannot re-enact a similar rule, an unprecedented tactic to overturn multiple laws from a previous administration. House republicans voted to roll back a gun background check rule that required the Social Security Administration to disclose to the FBI information about people who are considered incapable of managing their own disability benefits due to mental illness. That move is something that even the ACLU supports.

CHRISTOPHER ANDERS, ACLU SENIOR LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL: I don't think that there is -- that there is the solution to gun control and to -- and to the problems of gun violence is to -- is to go and scapegoat another community. A community of people which -- that includes millions and millions of people with some kind of mental health issue.

MARSH: Democrats argue the move will mean more gun violence, and point out what they call the hypocrisy of republicans who have said this in the past.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: And mental illness is what we have found in these mass shootings, one of the sources of the problems.

MARSH: More than 50 regulations are vulnerable, from the healthy hunger free kids act that sets nutrition standards for school lunches to a regulation intend to increase access to treatment for opioid use. They're moves that have right leaning advocacy groups applauding. BATKINS: The stars really have aligned. We have republican congress, republican President and outgoing democratic administration.


[16:50:05] MARSH: Well in the past lawmakers have attempted to use the Congressional Review Act some 72,000 times but again, have only been successful once. So when congress uses it five times in just one week, that truly is unprecedented. Of course, Jake, there is a deadline to all this. They can only go at this in this way for the next 60 legislative days. So there's a limit.

TAPPER: All right, Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Coming up immigration and equal pay for women, not usually the kind of thing that you see focused upon on super bowl ads. But this year how advertisers are getting political with the largest political audience in the world. Stay with us.


[16:55:04] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The "SPORTS LEAD" now, after all the talk this past year about the super bowl of politics, now we actually get to talk about the super bowl of, you know, football. The big game just two days away as Tom Brady looks to get past a blazing hot Atlanta falcons team and grab the Lombardi trophy from the guy who suspended him four games for deflate gate, Commissioner Roger Goodell. More than 100 million Americans are expected to watch this Sunday. And of course, even the ads are getting political this year. Joining me now as L.A. Times reporter Meg James. Meg thanks for joining us. First I want to play a little of Budweiser's ad. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't look like you're from around here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want the brew of beer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want you here.

TAPPER: An immigrant walking into the -- into the America, we don't want you here, telling the story of Budweiser's founder making the journey from Germany to St. Louis. The Budweiser, Meg, has told an American story in the past, but the context of this ad is rather jarring.

MEG JAMES, LA TIMES REPORTER: Oh, it is. And it's a wonderful ad in some ways and then there are a couple elements that cause viewers to say, what?

TAPPER: What are the "what" elements?

JAMES: Well, there's -- as adult this Busch arrives in New Orleans in 1857. The drama ties view is that he's met with some men on the street who said, we don't want you here. And go back home. And the ad was created and envisioned over the course of the last year. And, so, I think when Budweiser was tooling the ad, they weren't really expecting Donald Trump to have signed an executive order just one week before the Super Bowl that raises all these issues with, you know, whether or not immigrants are wanted here.

TAPPER: Interesting. Then there is this 84 Lumber ad, it's their first Super Bowl ad and it depicts a Mexican mother and daughter on a journey to somewhere, presumably to leave their home country. And you found out that Fox Television actually asked 84 lumber to modify this ad. You have to go online to see the end. What was so troubling and offensive?

JAMES: Well, the original ad when Fox presented it -- excuse me, when 84 Lumber presented it to Fox, had a border wall. And Fox, you know, told the company, which is a first-time advertiser, to go back and make modifications. So, the ad that will run on Super Bowl Sunday will still have the immigrant themes, but it will not have the image of a border wall. And that was something that was in discussions with the network.

TAPPER: That's interesting, because are they saying the border wall is offensive or they're saying that the image of it is political and they don't want the Super Bowl commercials to be political? I've certainly seen some racy stuff on Super Bowl ads that is more troubling and offensive to many minds, I would think, than a border wall.

JAMES: Agreed. And that's one thing that makes it so interesting this year. And I talked to several ad creators and they describe the situation where they've suddenly felt like the world sort of tipped on them and everything that a few months ago might not have been seen as political is now being looked at through a very political lens. One of the ads that will be on the Super Bowl on Sunday advertises Mexican avocados, and in any other landscape that would seem like a very innocuous sweet ad. But all of a sudden, at the end of the ad you see, you know, made in Mexico. And it makes you think.

TAPPER: All right, Meg James from the LA Times. Thank you so much, great story in the paper today.

JAMES: Thank you.