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Interview with Former Independent Senator Joe Lieberman; Putin Vows to Target U.S. if Deploys Missiles in Europe; New Details on Threatening Letter Smollett Says He Received as Attack Questioned; Massive Storm Packing Heavy Snow, Rain Grips Parts of U.S. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 20, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The campaign says that came from 225,000 donors with an average donation of $27. What does this major haul say about the Democratic primary and the 2020 race at large?

Joining me right now is a former Independent Senator from Connecticut, former Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman.

It's great to see you, Senator.

JOE LIEBERMAN (I), FORMER SENATOR & FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You, too, Kate. It's great to be here.

BOLDUAN: So $5.9 million in 24 hours. That's a big haul for Bernie Sanders. What does it say to you?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it's impressive. Also the fact that it's not only a good number, it comes from average small givers. It says that notwithstanding the fact that Bernie has a lot more competition in this race than he did when he ran head on against Hillary Clinton last time and he's got competition on the left, he's still got an army to support him. Don't reach any conclusions that Bernie --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: What do you think it says about the Sanders campaign this time around? As you point out, it's a different time.

LIEBERMAN: Right.

BOLDUAN: You've got more competition. He's not the only liberal. He's not the only one going for the young voters.

LIEBERMAN: Right.

BOLDUAN: What do you think this says about Sanders in 2020?

LIEBERMAN: I think it says to his points and anybody else watching the democratic race, which we all should be, that don't count Bernie out just because he has much more competition and he's got some that looks directly in his ideological turf, Elizabeth Warren, et cetera, et cetera. Bernie held the banner high last time and there are a certain number of people who still feel he's the real deal, the genuine article. It's going to be a fascinating race. Totally undecided.

BOLDUAN: One thing we're seeing right now is, do you see this race as Capitalism versus Socialism? That's how Donald Trump would like to frame it. I've also heard some Democrats framing it that way as well. Do you see it that way?

LIEBERMAN: That's one of the issues that's going to be decided here. I mean, presidential nominating campaigns are really the major way in which American political parties say what they believe by who they nominate. Each party has a platform. But in America the platforms honestly don't mean very much. One of the big issues again being raised, which has come out through our history, is in a way, Capitalism/Socialism. It's also how much power do we give to the government. Our government was founded by people a long time ago who were breaking away from the king of England. They were suspicious of too strong a national government and that's been our way since.

BOLDUAN: Big things are coming for the primary, Medicare-for-All, a Green New Deal on climate change, free college tuition and free child care in early childhood. Do you think the eventual Democratic nominee will need to embrace those themes to win the primary?

LIEBERMAN: I think if the eventual Democratic nominee embraces all those specific programs, he or she is not going to have much of a chance to get elected because they're too much -- look, I believe we ought to have a new, greener platform plan to run on. One of my big disappoints of my 24 years in the Senate is I didn't get to achieve more on climate change.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You think it could sink in the general?

LIEBERMAN: I think it could sink them not because they want to do something about climate change or extending health care, et cetera, free tuition, but you can't do it all. And you can't do it all because ultimately the taxpayers have to pay for it. And the rich people can't pay for it all because, even though they're rich, most of the money in America is still in the middle class. You don't want to overtax them because that hurts their opportunity to live a better life.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Let me ask, will you be endorsing anyone? You said the field is wide open right now.

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Will you be endorsing anyone in the Democratic Party?

LIEBERMAN: I don't know. Eventually, probably. I'm also interested that Howard Schultz is running as an Independent.

BOLDUAN: You're interested in him as well?

LIEBERMAN: Yes. Last time I got elected, I got elected to the Senate as an Independent.

BOLDUAN: That's true.

LIEBERMAN: The two-party system in America needs to be shaken up.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You don't think that by him getting in, he gets Donald Trump elected?

LIEBERMAN: Not necessarily. It depends where we are when we get into next year and the election is closer. Schultz said he wouldn't get into in a way that reelected the president. We'll see.

This is all very healthy. I hope, most of all, it moves our country toward a kind of unity in our politics where we're not just separating people into groups but we're talking about the whole America.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: It's a wonderful thought. I don't know if we're there yet.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about the current administration.

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

[11:35:03] BOLDUAN: Because when the U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley left her post, you were talked about as a possible -- to be on the short list. That position is now available once again. Would you like the job?

LIEBERMAN: I'm not seeking the job. I certainly don't expect to be asked to do it. I have a rule --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: I don't know why you say that because you were interviewed about the FBI post at one point.

LIEBERMAN: I was interviewed about the FBI post and I was quite serious. I never was asked about the U.N. job before. I don't expect it. Probably the odds of me being nominated to be the U.N. ambassador is about as high as me going to the Yankees spring training camp in Tampa.

BOLDUAN: So you're saying there's still a chance to --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: If the president offered it --

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

BOLDUAN: -- would you accept?

LIEBERMAN: I'd certainly think about it seriously but I don't think it's a realistic possibility. Look, public service --

BOLDUAN: I mean, you're a long-time public servant but --

(CROSSTALK)

LIEBERMAN: Public service is in my blood, so --

BOLDUAN: But serving, but serving under Donald Trump, being a cabinet level position has not an easy --

LIEBERMAN: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- thing for many under Donald Trump.

LIEBERMAN: This is well stated. I'm either fearless or foolish. I think as a citizen, if the president of the United States asks you to consider serving, you've got to think about it seriously. But I want to repeat, I'm not seeking it, I don't expect, and I've already heard talk about some other good candidates.

BOLDUAN: So it's fascinating to have you on.

LIEBERMAN: You, too, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

LIEBERMAN: Good to be with you. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Much more to come, next time you're in.

Coming up, a brazen new threat coming from Vladimir Putin against the U.S., deploy missiles to Europe and Russia will act. How President Trump responds?

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:41:20] BOLDUAN: Chilling echoes of the Cold War this morning as Russia's president delivers a serious warning to the United States. Vladimir Putin saying in an address to the nation that if the U.S. positions missiles in Europe, Moscow will not only target those countries, but the United States as well.

Let's go to Moscow right now. CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is there.

Fred, what is Putin saying, what is he threatening?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you're absolutely right. This is some of the strongest language we've heard from Vladimir Putin about a possible new nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia and a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. Vladimir Putin ripped into the U.S. for pulling out of the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty and said that if the U.S. positions intermediate-range nukes in Europe, that the Russians would not only target those sites, but would target, they're calling it a decision-making capital.

Let's listen to exactly what Vladimir Putin said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): Russia will be forced to create and develop weapons, which can be used not only toward those territories from which direct threats may be directed at us, but also toward those territories where centers of decision making and rocket systems that are threatening to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: A confrontation like that. He said the weapons are purely defensive in nature, but at the same time, he also pointed to a new Russian hypersonic missile which he said the development of which was firmly on track that apparently can go --

BOLDUAN: Sounds like we just lost Fred at the end of his live shot.

Fred Pleitgen, in Moscow, thank you so much.

But he was talking those missiles. We're going to talk about that a little bit.

Joining me now is Cedric Leighton. He's a retired Air Force colonel and CNN military analyst.

Colonel, thank you for coming in.

Before we talk about these missiles, I want to ask how seriously you think the U.S. should take this threat that Putin just levelled in this address.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Kate, I think we should take it extremely seriously. As you pointed out at the beginning of the segment, this is shades of the Cold War all over again. And we need to really listen carefully to not only what Vladimir Putin is saying but also what the Russians are doing. Thanks, I think, what we're dealing with here. We're dealing with something very serious that's really upping the ante when it comes to not only a possible arms race but also the future of U.S./Russian relations.

BOLDUAN: So as Fred was laying out, Putin is also saying that they're working on new weapons, a slew of them. And you've seen the list. For the uninitiated, it's confusing and sounds like a lot of big words. But in layman's terms, a hypersonic missile, an intercontinental ballistic missile, a type of one, an unlimited range cruise missile with nuclear propulsion is another one. What Putin has announced they're working on and testing, he says, on schedule and making progress, do you think Russia has these capabilities? And if so, what does this mean?

LEIGHTON: It's very clear that the Russians are researching this area very extensively. And they have certainly tested some of their missiles. One of the ones Fred was talking about was the Zircon (ph) missile. That's the one that's supposed to go nine times the speed of sound. There's another missile called the Avant-Garde that's supposed to go 27 times the speed of sound.

If you put your mind to what that really means, it's incredibly fast. What it means for us is it becomes almost impossible to defend against missiles of that type. So that's really the biggest risk here is they are developing missiles or potentially developing missiles that could overwhelm the missile defenses that we have right now.

[11:45:16] BOLDUAN: As you mentioned, it sure sounds like shades of the Cold War. If the Cold War is heating up, what is the appropriate response, do you think, from the Trump administration right now?

LEIGHTON: Well, the Trump administration has some real difficulties here because of the Russia investigation, for one thing. And the reason that, on the one side, you have President Trump seemingly favoring Vladimir Putin from a personal standpoint, but the other side of the coin is this" If we don't stand up to the Russians for whatever reason, they're going to feel free to not only violate treaties but they're also going to feel free to deploy weapons systems of this type that we're talking about, the hypersonic ones as well as weapons systems that are going to be a little bit different from what we have seen before.

I think the other thing that we need to think about is that the Russians are going to also approach the cyber realm in ways that we probably aren't anticipating right now. So we're not just talking cyberattacks. The Russian president alluded to asymmetric warfare. I think we're looking at the possibility that the Russians are going to go after us from that standpoint. So we can anticipate cyberattacks, physical attacks and we can anticipate them at least developing missiles in this regard. To respond to that, we need to have a real strategy and we don't have that right now.

BOLDUAN: Colonel, thank you so much. In this long, tense relationship with Russia, this seems to be a moment to really take note.

I really appreciate your help on this. Thank you so much.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Coming up, new details about actor, Jussie Smollett, and the threatening letter he says he received before the alleged attack as new questions are raised about what really happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:51:30] BOLDUAN: New details this morning in the Jussie Smollett investigation. CNN has now gained access to a threatening letter that was sent to the actor on the set of his show "Empire." The letter contained a message cut from magazine clippings, as you see there, and a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree. The word MAGA was written also on the outside.

CNN Correspondent, Ryan Young, is following and has been following all of these developments. He joins me now from Chicago.

Ryan, you have this letter, but you also have the question of Smollett, and if he's going to go back in, if he is, to speak to Chicago police. Is he any closer to that?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is the big question right now. I can tell you this is playing out like a Lifetime movie with so many questions and so many moving parts.

Let's start with the letter first. What we do know about the letter is it arrived at the set of "Empire" maybe about a week before this. When they opened it, they noticed a white powder. They called a hazmat team to figure out what it was. They figured out it was crushed aspirin. And that story didn't blow up for a few days. In fact, we're just seeing the images of this.

But talking about Jussie Smollett and whether or not he'll talk to investigators, we've been told -- and we've been having hourly conversations with our sources to try to figure out what's next. That when Friday, when the two brothers who were brought in for questioning were released, that sort of started the clock.

Detectives asked Jussie Smollett to come in and have a conversation with them, but since then, it's really been pretty quiet. And the lawyers have been talking sort of behind the scenes. But there's this date that may fall off here, a Thursday or Friday, that if he doesn't come in, he will be compelled to come in. Basically, he may face charges because the two brothers, Abel and Ola Osundiaro, have been giving information to detectives about this case and turned over the cell phones. These body builders have had their story and they've been meeting together for about a week now. And detectives are trying to figure out what's going on.

Add in to this, now we're learning about a 2007 case in which Jussie Smollett was pulled over for DUI and he lied to officers then about his I.D. And he actually pled -- he got two years' probation for that for giving a false name in that DUI.

So when you tie all of this together, it is such a twisted story. And we are even told that more movement could happen this afternoon in this case because police believe they'll get his financial records and his text messages from the phone company. So there's a lot going on here.

BOLDUAN: There sure is.

OK, Ryan. Hard to follow -- not because of you, but because there are so many twists and turns.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Ryan. We really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, snow, sleet and freezing rain. More than 100 million people are in the path of another winter storm sweeping the U.S. Next, the latest forecast and who could be hardest hit.

[11:54:13] We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: More than 160 people -- 160 million people, rather, are under some sort of winter weather warning, advisory or flood watch this morning. A massive storm carrying heavy snow, sleet, and freezing rain is pounding parts of the Midwest all the way to here in the northeast.

Meteorologist Chad Myers is tracking all of this now from the CNN Weather Center.

I care about 160 people, but 160 million people should get our attention more.

(CROSSTALK)

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's a different story.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

What are you watching right now in terms of this monster storm?

MYERS: I am still watching snow in D.C. that was supposed to stop about an hour ago and it's not. It's still snowing in Minneapolis and in Chicago. Let me show a picture of D.C. There you go. You can see big flakes coming down in D.C. right now.

And here we go for the rest of the day and we will still see snow across the U.P. of Michigan and Minneapolis as well. There's the snow in Baltimore, Philadelphia. It's winding down. We saw maybe about one to two inches of snow to go for D.C. and then it finally stops. The snow moves into New York for a messy commute tonight and a little bit of snow for Boston, but other than that, the snow is winding down. Every day gets warmer and every snowstorm gets smaller, we hope.

BOLDUAN: That is the happiest thing I've heard you say in quite some time, Chad. Every day it's a little less bad.