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State of the Union
Interview With Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX); Interview With Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL); Interview With Ukrainian Ambassador To The United States Oksana Markarova; Interview With Sen. Mitt Romney (R- UT); Interview With U.S. Ambassador To The United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired February 27, 2022 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Under siege.
Russia's forces press ahead, but meet fierce resistance from brave Ukrainians.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth.
BASH: How much more will the world do to help?
I will speak to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova.
And number one foe? Russia's unprovoked war threatens the world order. Ten years ago, he warned of its influence.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): But Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe.
BASH: Republican Senator Mitt Romney joins me exclusively on his early warning and what the U.S. should do now.
Plus: a historic first. President Biden nominates the first black woman to the Supreme Court.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Judge Jackson deserves to be confirmed.
BASH: Will she get bipartisan support?
I will speak to Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin ahead.
BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington.
Welcome to a special live hour of STATE OF THE UNION. And we are following breaking news. Ukraine has agreed to talk with
Russia, as Russia presses forward with an unprovoked invasion. The talks are set to take place without preconditions on the Belarusian border, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's office. They are scheduled for Monday morning, local time.
But Russia is cranking up the pressure. President Vladimir Putin ordered his country's deterrence forces, which include nuclear arms, to be placed on high alert, a potentially destabilizing move in an already volatile situation, this after a night of attacks on Ukraine's two largest cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv.
In Ukraine's largest city, the capital, the mayor of Kyiv said this morning that there were no Russian troops in the city, after Ukrainian forces destroyed a column of Russian personnel carriers and other vehicles on the Kyiv outskirts.
And CNN is reporting that, according to two senior U.S. officials, Russians are encountering -- quote -- "stiffer-than-expected resistance" from Ukrainians.
Late Saturday, the U.S. and Europe announced new financial punishments against Russia, removing several Russian banks from the global financial system known as SWIFT and sanctioning the central Russian bank. That would be a big move without precedent for an economy of Russia' size.
I want to get straight for the latest to CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward in Ukraine.
So, Clarissa, you're in Kyiv. It is evening, as we can see, extremely dark. What is the latest there?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, the evening started like pretty much every evening does here, with those air raid sirens that we have become so accustomed to hearing.
And you mentioned how dark it is. And that's because people have really been told to keep their lights down. We have been told to take our live shot position off the roof, also to limit the amount of lights that we use. So that's why our shot might look a little more dim than usual.
And despite the announcement of those negotiations that are expected to take place tomorrow on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border near the Pripyat River, there hasn't really been any letup in those sort of booms and blasts that we hear every evening here.
I should underscore that it's difficult to know what's incoming and what's outgoing. But there's certainly been a fair amount of activity continuing.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said about those negotiations to take place tomorrow morning that he doesn't necessarily expect that they will bear any fruit, but he wants to be open to every opportunity to try to de-escalate this situation. Initially, he had said that he did not want to go to Belarus for these
talks, because, obviously, Belarus is not a neutral actor in this. They have been working hand in glove with President Putin. And, of course, there are many, many thousands of Russian troops in and around Belarus at the moment, so significant that they did shift their position and agree to meet at the border yet -- agreed to meet at the border.
But here, on the ground, as I mentioned, we continue to hear the sounds of war going on. And, certainly, that's been the case in the country's second city, Kharkiv, as well, Dana.
BASH: Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for that reporting and all of the reporting that you and our colleagues there on the ground are doing. It's really, really important and breathtaking.
Thank you so much.
And, today, the United Nations will vote to hold a rare emergency session Monday on the Russian invasion.
BASH: Joining me now is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Madam Ambassador, thank you so much for joining me.
Let's first start with the news from the Ukrainian President Zelensky's office that the Ukrainians and the Russians will meet without preconditions on the Belarus border. What are you hearing about that? And how optimistic are you?
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, that's a decision that the Ukrainian government has to make, and that they have made. And we will look forward to what comes out of those discussions.
As you know, Dana, we leaned in on diplomacy with the Russians throughout this process, and we hoped that Putin would find a way to the negotiating table. And he made the unfortunate decision of aggression over diplomacy.
But, again, this news is another effort by the Ukrainians to find a way forward at the negotiating table.
BASH: Effort by the Ukrainians, but, from the point of view of Russia, do you think, based on the diplomatic efforts that you were involved in up until now, that this is a good-faith effort by the Russians?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I can't get into the Russian -- into Putin's head or into Russian reasoning.
So, it remains to be seen, but let's see what comes of it. BASH: But the U.S. does support this move, this diplomatic effort?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have always indicated that we wanted to find a diplomatic solution, and Russia chose confrontation.
So, again, this diplomatic effort is one more effort to bring the Russians to the negotiating table.
BASH: OK, let's turn to new sanctions that were announced by Europe and the U.S., saying that they plan to remove -- quote -- "certain Russian banks" from the SWIFT system, the SWIFT financial system, but it wouldn't include the energy sector.
As you know, that is a big part of the Russian economy. Why won't you remove all of the Russian banks and transactions from SWIFT?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, this is -- this process continues. And we're putting together the list. And we will continue to work on that over the course of the next couple of days. Treasury can give you some details of what is going into the process.
But the purpose of the sanctions are to put as much pressure on the Russian economy as possible. And we want to do as much as we can to protect the impact on our own economy. But we're continuing to look at new and even harsher measures against the Russians.
BASH: You said the things that you're putting in place now, you want to make sure to protect U.S. -- the U.S. and, I'm sure, allied economies as well.
Are you saying that, by including the energy sector, that that would put a burden on our economies?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have not taken anything off the table.
We're continuing to look at this. We're ramping up as the Russians ramp up. So, there's more to come. And while energy is not on -- in this current announcement, it doesn't mean it's off the table.
But we also want to do everything we can to protect our own economy from the impact of this.
So, you also, as I mentioned, announced sanctioning the Russian Central Bank and its nearly $650 billion in reserves. And that's a move intended to crater the ruble. How quickly will that happen? And are you worried that Russians will retaliate?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are -- this is happening very, very quickly.
And sanctioning the Central Bank keeps the Central Bank from providing protection to the ruble and to the Russian economy. And, again, I can't speak for how the Russians will respond to this. Vladimir Putin is very unpredictable. So it remains to be seen how he responds.
But he should know, when he responds, we will be prepared to respond as well.
BASH: We have seen some remarkable resilience from the Ukrainian people, but they're also pleading for more weapons to fight back.
The secretary of state, Blinken, announced up to another $350 million to that end. Is there anything more that the U.S. can do, like more military support, air support intelligence, imposing a no-fly zone in Ukraine?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have provided not just this $350 million, close to a billion dollars over the past couple of days and billions since this situation started.
And we're continuing to work with the Ukrainians on the requests that they have, delivering support to them on the ground, and also bolstering our NATO allies on the NATO -- on the border with Ukraine, so that they are prepared to respond to Russian aggression.
BASH: And what about the no-fly zone? Is that something that's on the table?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, the president has made clear that we're not going to put boots on the ground. We're not going to put American troops in danger. So that means we're not going to put American troops in the air as well.
But we will work with the Ukrainians to give them the ability to defend themselves.
BASH: So, Madam Ambassador, we're hearing from people on the ground in Ukraine reports of civilian deaths, seeing the damage to civilian buildings.
President Zelensky just this morning said that Vladimir Putin is committing genocide, and he should be tried as a war criminal.
Do you think that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal? And should he be tried as such?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We're holding the Russians accountable at every level.
And I have to say that we were appalled by the Russian use of the word genocide to describe what the Russians are doing. They are the aggressors. And they have to be held accountable, whether it's in the United Nations or elsewhere. And all of that continues to be discussed and is on the table.
As you know, we will be having a discussion in Geneva at the U.N. Human Rights Council, bringing Russia before the Human Rights Council as well. And there's another resolution that we're bringing before the General Assembly in a special emergency meeting that we're requesting tonight.
So we're keeping the pressure up on the Russians.
BASH: You didn't mention a war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Is that also on the table?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think everything is on the table as we move forward. But as we're dealing with the situation today, we're continuing to address all of those issues.
BASH: During the very moment that you were giving your speech at the U.N. Security Council meeting urging Russia not to invade Ukraine, Vladimir Putin was launching his invasion.
What was that moment like, when you realized that was happening?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It showed the complete and utter disrespect that the Russians have for U.N. values, for the U.N. Charter. There was a buzz across the room in the Security Council, as we all began to get information that this was happening on the ground as we were speaking.
So, again, we're not surprised. The U.S. warned about this for weeks in advance that this was going to happen any day. So, we weren't surprised that they did it. But, again, it just showed to the world how this -- how much the Russians disrespect the U.N. system and that, again, they are the aggressors here.
BASH: You will attend a meeting of the U.N. Security Council later today to vote on holding an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly.
President Zelensky said that he talked with the U.N. secretary-general about stripping Russia of its vote on the U.N. Security Council.
Would you support that?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, Russia is a member of the Security Council. That's in the U.N. Charter, but we are going to hold Russia accountable for disrespecting the U.N. Charter. And they have been isolated in many different ways.
So, just to indicate, 80 countries joined us in co-sponsoring the resolution. More than 50 countries joined us at the podium to call out Russia's aggression. So, the fact of their sitting on the Security Council does not mean they're protected from criticism and protected from isolation and protected from condemnation.
BASH: Before we go, nearly 2,700 Russians have been detained in anti- war protests in Russia since Thursday.
I wonder, what is your message to those Russian protesters?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I -- we have noted this information.
And what it says is that Vladimir Putin can't hide what he's doing in Ukraine. And those Russians who are protesting are extraordinarily brave to be protesting in their country. But, again, it indicates that he does not have 100 percent support in his own country for what he's doing.
And we encourage those people to continue to make sure their voices are heard.
BASH: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you very much.
BASH: And now I want to bring in the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova.
Thank you so much, Madam Ambassador, for joining me.
So, Ukraine and Russia agreed to meet for talks at the Belarus border on Monday. Is President Zelensky himself going to be part of that delegation?
OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, definitely not.
President Zelensky made a decision to defend the country. So he's in Kyiv with the armed forces, with people of Ukraine, defending the country.
But, of course, we -- as we said numerous times, we are always ready for peace talks. We would like the war to stop. We would like Mr. Putin to stop the war. So, yes, we will -- we send people in response to this suggestion to talk, to listen. But, again, we are ready for peace talks, but we are not ready to surrender.
And we will defend our country, and we will win.
BASH: Do you think that this is a genuine Russian olive branch, or is this a ploy?
MARKAROVA: It's very difficult to respond to that question, when, for the fourth day, Russian armed forces are killing people in Ukraine.
It's a full-fledged war. They are shelling at the private houses. They're shelling at the hospitals, emergency cars. There are groups of Russians everywhere in the country. You see all these horrific images. All of those are true. So, there is an ongoing full-fledged war, with war crimes conducted by Russians in Ukraine on a daily basis.
So, how genuine is this proposal? We don't know. We are ready for peace talks. But we are defending the country at the moment. And we call on all of our friends and partners who are together with us to continue working with us and to continue supporting us in this fight, because, again, we, of course, would like peace talks, and we would like Russian troops to get out from our country and leave us alone.
But we are not prepared to surrender.
BASH: There are no preconditions on either side for these talks. How far is Ukraine willing to go in order to end the war? Are you willing to consider letting Vladimir Putin keep Crimea, maybe the Donbass region?
MARKAROVA: Well, I don't think anyone should even ask Ukraine how far we are ready to go.
I think the question should be how fast Russian Federation is willing to stop the war, actually remove the troops from us, and be accountable and responsible for all the devastating destructions they already inflicted on Ukraine during the past four days.
BASH: Vladimir Putin is ordering his country's deterrence forces, which includes nuclear weapons, on high alert.
Do you see this as a legitimate nuclear threat, or is it a bluff aimed at putting pressure on you, on Ukraine, ahead of these talks?
MARKAROVA: Well, after the full-fledged invasion, and after four days living in basements, and all of our people, not only military forces, but our start-uppers, and farmers, and bread growers, and business analysts, putting on vests and taking arms to defend their country, their homes, essentially, because -- from this attack, it's difficult to analyze the enemy.
But I just want to remind that Putin attacked us in 2014. This is not the first time. In 2014, he attacked Ukraine. He illegally annexed Crimea. He illegally annexed parts of Donetsk and Luhansk territories. The puppet governments that are there, they have nothing to do with Donetsk or Luhansk or with the people of Donetsk and Luhansk, who, almost two million people relocated to Ukraine.
BASH: But what...
MARKAROVA: So, we have IDPs throughout Ukraine.
So, right now, we are fighting. It's a people's war, as my minister -- our foreign minister said today. We are defending our country.
BASH: What about that -- the nuclear threat, the fact that Vladimir Putin put the nation on high alert, including the nuclear arsenal?
MARKAROVA: I think this is yet one more example of a terrorist behavior of Russia.
I mean, they are -- attacked our country. They're scaring everyone, starting from the article that Mr. Putin published in 2021, and his speech before he actually ordered his troops to start the war against Ukraine. Everything there was about, A, the desire to destruct free -- to destroy free and democratic Ukraine, but, B, also the idea that whole Europe should be rearranged according to somehow this absolutely ungrounded and un-understandable idea.
[12:20:17] So, as we said before, it's, of course, about Ukraine, but it's not only about Ukraine. It's about democracies. It's about how we can -- whether the international law and international rule of law still exists, and whether any country can still defend itself.
BASH: And I know how loudly you and the president of Ukraine have been asking for help from European allies and the U.S.
The U.S. and European allies are taking steps to cripple Russia's economy. Last night, it started to remove certain banks from the SWIFT global financial system. They took a big step of sanctioning Russia's Central Bank. And the E.U. just announced that it's closing its airspace to all Russian planes, including private aircraft.
So, knowing that that is the backdrop just of the past 12 hours, what further steps do you and the Ukrainian government want the West to take to punish Vladimir Putin?
MARKAROVA: Well, let me tell you first that we're very grateful to all of our friends and partners, and especially to the United States, for decisive actions, for leadership, for standing with Ukraine, not only with statements and support, verbal support, but with concrete and specific acts, with helping us, with equipping us and helping us with defensive weapons, but also with these decisive sanctions.
Because it's important to punish Russia, Russian Federation, for what they have done to us, for what they have done to us since 2014, but also for what they have done for the past four days.
I mean, the war in Europe was not something anyone could imagine and the pictures and images that you see on the TV, but something that Ukrainian men and women live in and Ukrainian children is 1941. We are reliving the images from the past...
MARKAROVA: ... when the Nazis attacked Kyiv.
BASH: So, before I let you...
MARKAROVA: So, what we need more...
BASH: Go ahead. I'm sorry.
MARKAROVA: ... we need more weapons. Yes.
We need more weapons, and we need more sanctions. The sanctions should be elevated to all the possible levels. And Russia should be isolated until it changes the behavior.
BASH: Really quickly, before I let you go, President Zelensky said the 13 Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island were killed. And the world saw it because they heard the people on that island tell the Russian ship to go F. itself and refused to surrender.
But Ukrainian officials are now saying that those soldiers might be alive and actually maybe surrendered. Can you explain the discrepancy and what their status is?
MARKAROVA: I don't have any other information than the fact that they were all killed after the end.
MARKAROVA: ... this is not one example. There are so many examples now of bravery in Ukraine.
So -- but who is surrendering are the Russian troops. We already have more than 200 Russian soldiers who surrendered. And unlike Russians, we will treat them according to all the international laws, feed them, and take their also witness statements, because we already filed, as you know, the application with The Hague.
MARKAROVA: And we asked also for the emergency expedited review.
And we intend to hold everyone who took this decision accountable.
MARKAROVA: And I really hope that Russian people will do everything possible to stop their leadership, so they are not accomplices to these murders.
BASH: Madam Ambassador Oksana Markova -- Markarova -- forgive me -- ambassador from Ukraine to the United States, thank you so much.
We appreciate your time.
MARKAROVA: Thank you very much.
BASH: During the 2012 presidential campaign, our Wolf Blitzer asked the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, about America's enemies. This was his response:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: He was widely mocked for that answer.
But with Russian tanks rolling towards Ukrainian cities and the crisis consuming the Biden presidency and threatening the world order, things look a little different now.
BASH: Joining me now exclusively is Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah.
Senator, thank you so much for joining me.
I want to start with the news this morning just minutes ago, which is that the Ukrainian president announced that Ukrainians and Russians will meet at the Belarus border. Do you see that as a good sign?
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Well, let me just pause for a moment before I answer that and just note the extraordinary courage of the Ukrainian people.
They have galvanized the spirit of the entire world. And a lot of that has to do with real leadership. You have seen both physical and moral leadership by Zelensky and the people around him. And it's the contrast between that kind of leadership and the puny nature of Vladimir Putin's tyranny that has really helped people understand the difference between good and evil.
We're seeing that played out right now.
As for the prospects of discussions at the border, look, I hope and I believe that Putin may well finally recognize that he made a huge error, that he was -- badly miscalculated how hard the people of Ukraine would fight and the nature of the world's response.
In this modern world, with war being conducted, and people filming it and passing it around the world, there's been a response I don't think Putin had anticipated. I hope that's what he's doing. I fear he may be trying to take Zelensky off the streets of Kyiv and, by doing so, making the Ukrainian people less willing to fight.
But I hope that he's wising up to the stupidity of what he's doing.
BASH: You're saying you think this could be a ruse?
ROMNEY: Well, I think -- all things can be -- I mean, you listen to Putin in the days leading up to the invasion, he kept saying: We're not planning on invading.
Obviously, he was lying. And so you can't trust a word that comes out of his mouth. But, at the same time, I think he may be recognizing, he should be recognizing that this is not going well for him. NATO has come together. Germany is now saying they're going to be investing far more in their military capacity. They're providing more weapons.
The world is behind the people of Ukraine. Look at those brave people in Ireland stopping the Russian ambassador. We should be doing that all over the world, by the way. The Russia government is a pariah. And the entire world should be protesting and letting Russia know how badly they're seen on the world stage.
BASH: The U.S. and its allies just announced new sanctions on the Russian Central Bank and plans to remove some banks from the international SWIFT banking system. Was that the right move? And what more -- you mentioned some things,
but what additional steps should the U.S. be taking?
ROMNEY: Well, keep cranking that up. As Mitch McConnell said, you can't get the sanctions too high.
At the same time, recognize that, for the sanctions to be most effective, you want them to be shared with our allies around the world. We want to all be together on this. So we can only go as fast as everybody wants to move together. So that's critical.
But those sanctions will have an impact. I also noted in that release from the White House that we and our allies are going to be going after the oligarchs, going after their mansions, going after their yachts. This is very good news, and the kind of thing we ought to be doing.
And I also think consideration of a humanitarian zone, a no-fly zone to allow people to escape from Kyiv, if that's necessary, may be something that we need to consider as well. But let's keep on cranking up the sanctions against what is an evil regime.
BASH: I don't know if you just heard my interview with the ambassador, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. She seemed to not think that a no-fly zone is a good idea, if it means that there would be U.S. troops involved in enforcing that fly zone.
Where do you stand on that?
ROMNEY: Well, I think it's something that you consider. And you may want to negotiate it with the Russians and with our allies. You may decide that this is something that would be done by the U.N. or by us.
But, clearly, the humanitarian demand may be such that we will look for a way to allow the mothers and children that are currently being huddled in subway stations to be able to find refuge.
And look at the people of Poland. How heroic they are, providing the clothing and the housing and the food for these refugees that are -- that are pouring into their country, and also in Romania.
Look, this is one of the greatest demonstrations of good vs. evil that we have seen during our lifetime, and the demonstration of courage. I mean, look at Vladimir Putin -- Vladimir Putin.
Here he, is in this -- this -- behind this huge table in this big white room. I mean, it looks like a mausoleum where honesty and honor have gone to die.
And contrast that with Zelensky, with his courage, with his passion, with his true leadership. This is remarkable. And it's having an impact. And I hope it makes us a better people and it makes us more committed to the principles of freedom.
[12:30:02] Look, you recognize that, in the history of the world, authoritarianism has been the default setting. And to have freedom, it requires people to stand up and protect it. And you're seeing the terrible miscalculation by Vladimir Putin, causing the kind of commitment to freedom that we'd hoped we'd see.
BASH: Just want to go back in time a little bit, Senator.
Do you think it was a mistake for President Biden to rule out U.S. troops on the ground, instead of trying to use what's known as strategic ambiguity to deter Vladimir Putin from invading in the first place?
ROMNEY: Well, there really wouldn't have been an ambiguity. We don't have the kind of troop strength and material of war in the region to be -- to be a serious threat at that point.
Look, the Biden administration has done some things very well and some things not so well. The not-so-well side is, they continued the policy of prior administrations not to provide the defensive weapons Ukraine needed. That was the mistake.
The positive thing was sharing our intelligence with our allies and combining our efforts with our allies. Look, we used to be 40 percent of the world economy. Today, we're about half of that. And so for us to have the kind of economic clout we used to have back in the '50s and '60s and '70s, we really do need to combine with our allies.
And that's something President Biden has done extraordinarily well.
BASH: I want to play an exchange that you had in a presidential debate with then-President Obama. You were running to defeat him. That was 10 years ago in 2012.
I want you to listen to that. And we will talk on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you were asked, what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al Qaeda. You said Russia.
And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War has been over for 20 years.
ROMNEY: I have clear eyes on this. I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: I don't need to tell you that you were mocked for saying that.
ROMNEY: Well, first of all, politics is an extraordinarily interesting game. As you know, President Obama didn't quote what I actually said. What I said was, Russia was a geopolitical foe. I didn't say they were a threat. And a geopolitical foe, they obviously were and continue to be, because Russia continues to fight us in every venue they have. They support the world's worst actors, whether Assad in Syria, Maduro in Venezuela, Kim Jong-un in North Korea. This is what they do. They basically poke us in the eye everywhere they can.
China's the greatest threat to us long term, economically, militarily. And Russia, in a lot of respects, is circling the drain, given their shrinking population, their weak economy. John McCain used to joke that Russia is a gas station parading as a nation. So -- but they are a geopolitical adversary poking us where they can, as I have said.
And I don't look back so much and worry about what says -- is said during a political campaign.
What does concern me is that we have had president after president, not just President Obama, President Trump, President Bush, who were resetting relations with Russia, hoping, as they looked in the eyes of Vladimir Putin, they could see a responsible person.
And John McCain was right. He said he looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and saw the KGB. And that's what we're seeing, a small, evil, feral-eyed man who is trying to shape the world in the image where once again Russia would be an empire.
And that's not going to happen. And the people of the world see him and see Russia for what it is. And they're saying, no, we will fight for freedom. And what we're seeing is inspiring. It is powerful. And it will help change the world in a positive way.
BASH: Well, given the way you just described Vladimir Putin, how worried are you that he is going to try to invade other non-NATO countries in the region, Finland, for example, or even NATO allies like Poland?
ROMNEY: Well, every tyrant will judge what next step they take based upon the response to the last step.
Now, of course, in the past, he invaded Georgia. He invaded Ukraine by going into Crimea. He has obviously gone into our elections and attacked our cyber systems. And each of these things, our response was tepid.
And, as a result, he feels emboldened to go into Ukraine. We finally are saying no. And in part because of people with phones and courage from the people of Ukraine, the world recognizes the difference between good and evil here. And this, I think, is going to reset his calculation of what he would do.
But let there be no confusion. Were he to attack a nation where we have an agreement to protect that nation under Article 5 in the NATO articles, where, in fact, an attack on one is an attack on all, we will respond with full force.
[12:35:05] We have a responsibility. We are people of honor and integrity. And we will fulfill our commitments.
BASH: In President Trump's first impeachment trial, you were the lone Republican to vote to convict him. And you said then he -- quote -- "delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders."
That ally, of course, was Ukraine. And that infamous 2019 phone call, in it, President Zelensky said -- quote -- "We are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes."
And then Trump responded: "I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot. And Ukraine knows a lot about it."
Again, reflect on that now through the eyes of what's happening on the ground.
ROMNEY: Well, I'm sure there are many people who would like to ignore that. Obviously, that was a very sad and an awful exchange on the part of our president.
This was Zelensky, now a world hero, asking for weapons. And it was an American president slow-walking the provision of those weapons in order to have Zelensky carry out a political investigation on his foe. It was wrong. It was a violation of a president's responsibility to defend our nation and defend the cause of freedom, and resulted in his being impeached.
Now, I think we at this stage look and say, all right, what are we going to do going forward? And I'm pleased to see that President Trump, as President Biden and others, have come together and say -- and said, look, we're -- we stand with the Ukrainian people.
But, without question, President Trump slow-walking the provision of weapons to Ukraine was an enormous error. And so was the error, I think, of our nation over some decades not giving the kind of military defensive capability that Ukraine needed to make the calculation that went through Vladimir Putin's mind a more clear calculation that taking on Ukraine was not an easy thing to do.
And, by the way, given the energy and the passion and the leadership we're seeing from Ukraine, I wouldn't count them out in being able to reject Russia's aggression.
BASH: You talked several times during this interview about the world seeing the difference between good and evil.
I want to bring that closer to home and talk about something that Congresswoman Liz Cheney tweeted yesterday about sitting Republican House members appearing at a white nationalist gathering.
She said -- quote -- "As Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar speak at this white supremacist, anti-Semitic, pro-Putin event, silence by Republican Party leaders is deafening and enabling. All Americans should renounce this garbage and reject the Putin wing of the GOP now."
Do you agree?
ROMNEY: Absolutely. Liz Cheney was right with that statement. And she's been right for a long time.
And I also saw that Ronna McDaniel came out with a statement as well talking about how repugnant these white nationalists are.
Look, there's no place in either political party for this white nationalism or racism. It's simply wrong. It's -- it's -- as you have indicated, speaking of evil, it's evil as well.
And Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, I don't know them, but I'm reminded of that old line from the "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" movie, where one character says: "Morons. I have got morons on my team."
And I have to think anybody that would sit down with white nationalists and speak at their conference was certainly missing a few I.Q. points.
BASH: And, just more broadly, the pro-Putin sentiment that you are seeing from some corners of your party?
ROMNEY: Well, a lot of those people are changing their stripes as they're seeing the response of the world and the political response here in the U.S.
But how anybody, how anybody in this country, which loves freedom, can side with Vladimir Putin, which is an oppressor, a dictator -- he kills people. He imprisons his political opponents. He has been an adversary of America at every chance he's had.
It's unthinkable to me. It's almost treasonous. And it just makes me ill to see some of these people do that. But, of course, they do it because they think it's shock value, and it's going to get them more eyeballs, and maybe make a little more money for them or their network. It's disgusting.
And I'm hopeful that you're seeing some of those people recognize just how wrong they were.
BASH: Treasonous is a big word, so I just have to quickly follow up. Would that include the former president?
ROMNEY: Well, I said it's nearly treasonous.
There's -- standing up for freedom is the right thing to do in America. And anything less than that, in my opinion, is unworthy of American support.
BASH: Meanwhile, I know that you're well aware that something big is coming your way to the United States Senate. And that is a Supreme Court nominee.
Judge Ketanji Brown is somebody who you have called an experienced jurist, but you did not vote last year to put her on the Court of Appeals. Are you open to voting yes this time?
ROMNEY: Yes, I'm going to take a very deep dive and had the occasion to speak with her about some of the concerns when she was before the Senate to go on to the circuit court.
Look, her nomination and her confirmation would or will be historic. And like anyone nominated by the president of the United States, she deserves a very careful look, a very deep dive. And I will provide fresh eyes to that evaluation, and hope that I will be able to support her in the final analysis.
BASH: Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, I really appreciate your time this morning, sir.
ROMNEY: Thanks, Dana. Good to be with you.
BASH: Much more on the breaking news out of Ukraine and the stakes for President Biden as he faces what could be the most important speech of his presidency.
Our panel is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENSKY (through translator): The world has seen that Ukrainians are powerful, Ukrainians are courageous. They're on their native land, and they're never going to give up to anyone.
They will never betray it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Welcome back.
And I'm here with a panel that knows a lot about what is going on, on the ground and the U.S. response.
I want to start with you, Colonel Vindman.
What are you -- I know you have been in touch with people of your home country, Ukraine, and talking to officials here.
What are you hearing?
LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Yes.
Just I have to say, my home country is the U.S. I came here when I was not quite...
BASH: The country you were born in.
VINDMAN: I know it's -- I know.
BASH: Thank you for -- thank you for correcting me.
VINDMAN: But there's some narrative out there that might suggest otherwise.
BASH: Yes. Fair point.
VINDMAN: But I actually did speak to a very, very senior former official at the top of the hierarchy for the military.
And they -- they're doing well. They're holding their ground. But they're -- they need some support. They need some equipment. They have managed to establish territorial defense forces, large, vast numbers of territorial defense forces. But they don't have the helmets and the body armor to equip them.
So, those stockpiles exist in the United States, and they need to get there today. So that's an important thing.
VINDMAN: Air defense, anti-armor, radios are critical. They're operating in small distributed groups, destroying logistics trains for the Russians. Those radios are critically important.
And then, of course, all the stuff that our allies have from their Warsaw Pact from that Soviet era. There are planes that could backfill Ukrainian losses.
VINDMAN: There are artillery that can backfill Ukrainian losses. And even the stuff that we were providing to Afghanistan is now sitting in storehouses, needs to get there, and it needs to get there right away.
BASH: And, Congressman, you are coming back to session this week.
How much will the United States Congress do to provide some of what we just heard from Colonel Vindman?
REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): Yes.
Well, I think we're going to have unanimity around supporting Ukraine, basically, in this moment. We have all, I think, been inspired by their resistance. We understand that we need to provide them with the tools to defend themselves and also to punish Russia. And so wherever we were in terms of the Congress a few weeks ago, that
has completely changed now. I think that you're going to see a bipartisan response to this. And so now we need to do the things that Colonel Vindman is talking about, providing the Ukrainians with the tools that they need.
Some of it should have been done earlier. And I think we know that, but now we need to get it in.
BASH: Susan Glasser, as somebody who spent a lot of time in Russia, when you hear that President Putin is putting defense forces on high alert, including the nuclear arsenal, what does that tell you?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, this is an incredibly dangerous moment.
It's an enormous crisis inside Russia now as well for Vladimir Putin and the stability of his regime, which has lasted for more than 20 years. This is something -- he put everything on the table with this extraordinarily risky move, and there is a great potential for it to blow up in his face.
And I think, when you see this incredible image of the leader of Russia with his two military commanders, the defense secretary and the head of the general staff, sitting 15 feet away from him, it's got a late-stage dictator feel to it, when he says, raise the alert of the nuclear forces.
Dana, we need to be very concerned about this. It suggests that things are not going according to plan for Vladimir Putin. And it suggests -- remember, he said in his speech when he announced this unprovoked aggression Ukraine, he suggested, and don't you screw with me, you in the West, because we have very powerful forces beyond what you have ever seen.
But it's one thing to deploy nuclear rhetoric. I think he's really trying to reestablish a kind of red line with NATO and the United States that his own actions have kind of...
VINDMAN: I think -- I'm sorry.
VINDMAN: I just want to comment on the nuclear stuff, because it's really important.
He's trying to accomplish through nuclear coercion now what he couldn't establish through facts on the ground through the performance of his military. We should remember there's -- there was a long history of a Soviet Union with nuclear saber-rattling. And we should not be intimidated by it.
The rules of -- there's a well-established playbook and a well- established way to operate between U.S. and Soviet forces that Vladimir Putin knows -- he's a KGB officer -- that we have forgotten. We need to relearn those. And this nuclear signaling is a critical component of it.
GLASSER: Well, Alex, what I would say, though, is that we are right now at a more dangerous juncture point than we were even at many periods in the Cold War.
We have fewer agreements between the United States and Russia governing strategic encounters than we did at that time. We have contacts that have frayed.
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think what's important is, actually, Putin's aggressive, reckless actions have united the Europeans and they have united the U.S.
FARAH GRIFFIN: This is the most unified the U.S. has been around Ukraine in decades.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, in 2019. I was at DOD when Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was raising the alarm about getting military aid and security aid to the Ukrainians. Most Americans didn't understand why that mattered then. They're seeing these fighting forces. They're seeing this animating hero that is President Zelensky.
And they're realizing, these are pro-democracy people standing up for their borders. And I will say the best thing in this moment is just the united front that the West is showing against Russia.
VINDMAN: It's really important to discuss this nuclear question, because this is what he's relying on.
Does the West, does the U.S. have the nerve to maintain its resolve? Now, we're actually not the ones that are going to decide this issue. It's the Ukrainians that are fighting. They have seized the initiative. He's trying to threaten us on other things like economic support.
Those are the things that he's concerned about. But we have to remember that this is part of the playbook, that Putin is not a madman. He's not suicidal. He has no interest in waging nuclear war, because that's mutually assured destruction.
But he's using it as a tool to intimidate us.
BASH: You were in the region a month ago or so.
BASH: Do you agree that he's not a madman? ALLRED: You know, I think that we have to be concerned, but not be intimidated...
VINDMAN: Of course. Right.
ALLRED: ... because Vladimir Putin is riding the tiger right now. And the problem with that is, you can't get off, or the tiger eats too.
And so I agree with Susan that this is maybe, in many ways, a more dangerous moment than we were in even in the Cold War. There is no politburo. And he's the modern czar now. He's the one making every single decision.
And I do think that, as these economic sanctions bite -- and they are going to bite, and they are biting -- as this becomes existential for his reign, that the threat level will go up. And so we have to be prepared for that.
GLASSER: Yes, I just -- Dana, final point on that, like, Vladimir Putin has -- is escalating because, again and again, his bullying and escalation has worked.
GLASSER: And he has used violent force before.
Remember, this is someone who's invaded his own territory in Chechnya with a brutal war. He has invaded other countries. He has killed his opponents. He has assassinated them. He has eliminated legally and in other extralegal ways all opposition inside Russia.
So, escalation has worked for him again and again over 20 years.
VINDMAN: But it's lessons of impunity that he's carrying forward.
GLASSER: That's right. That's right.
VINDMAN: It's the lessons of not being accountable that he's carrying forward.
So we're in a more dangerous situation now than we have been in a long time because we didn't have the nerve to push back. Now we're at this crisis point, and we have to maintain our nerve, because there's nowhere else to go. These are now vital national security interests.
But once we get past this point, we will re-baseline the relationship in a much, much more healthy manner, where we're staking out our ground, we're protecting our interests, and he's not going to be able to get away with intimidation.
It is dangerous, but we need to hold our ground.
FARAH GRIFFIN: Well, and he -- absolutely correct. And he vastly underestimated the collective will of the Ukrainians and
their fighting capabilities. We're all familiar with the concept of asymmetric warfare. But what we're seeing is asymmetric will, where you have the Ukrainians. They're defending their homeland, where they live, their life, their democracy, their freedom.
They're outmanned, outnumbered, out-aerial supported, but they're winning. And they -- listen, things are still very tenuous. We don't know where this will end. But I think the world is united around this powerful force. And I hope that the aid is going to come from everywhere it should, supplemental in Congress, as well as our European allies.
ALLRED: And I will just say, when I was there, I met a young woman named Alicia, who told me that she was going to get her white wine and her Kalashnikov and defend her country.
And, at the time, I believed her. Looking her in the eye, I believed her. And we're actually seeing that now. And it really is remarkable. It really is.
And I think it's -- they're fighting for democracy around the world. And they're on the front line of it. But that's why they were invaded.
BASH: Real quick.
President Biden is giving a State of the Union address in front of Congress, obviously, this coming week. What are the stakes?
GLASSER: This is an incredibly significant moment for the Biden presidency.
His approval ratings have continued -- really, they're in the dumps, where only Donald Trump is the only other president who've been this low one year into the presidency. It's not clear -- Americans are rallying around Zelensky, but you continue to see a real partisan divide even inside.
GLASSER: On the question of Ukraine and Russia, you see many Republicans criticizing Biden for that, while at the same time praising Zelensky.
So, it's a reset moment, Dana, but I don't know that anything can change Americans' opinions right now about President Biden.
BASH: Thank you all so much. Appreciate it. Fantastic discussion.
Be sure to tune in to what we were just talking about. Tuesday night will be the president's State of the Union address. And CNN will have prime-time coverage that begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Now I want to turn to another really big story this week, which is that President Biden made his pick for the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a 51-year-old appeals court judge, former public defender, who would be the first black woman to sit on the High Court.
And here with me to talk about that and what could happen is the Senate Judiciary chairman, Dick Durbin.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for joining me.
You have said that you're going to move forward on Judge Jackson's nomination immediately. When will you hold a Judiciary Committee hearing? And when do you expect to have a confirmation vote?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Thanks, Dana.
The process is under way. With the president making the announcement of the nominee, we have prepared the traditional Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire forwarded to the White House and waiting for their reply, which we think will be done very shortly.
We will then give an opportunity to members of the committee and other senators to meet with the nominee and schedule a hearing in practical time as soon as possible. This is -- we have an advantage in this case, because this judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson, has been before the committee as recently as last year, where she was considered for the D.C. Circuit Court.
And that was, in fact, her third appearance before the Judiciary Committee. And, each time, she received bipartisan support.
So, we know her record as of last year. We have a few -- have to update that. And we're ready to go.
BASH: Well, you mentioned that she was just before not just your committee, but before the Senate, when it voted for her job that she currently has on the circuit court. Then, three Republicans, Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins, supported her for her current role.
Senator Graham is already suggesting that he's a no. Senators Murkowski and Collins haven't said either way.
In the end, do you think this is going to be a bipartisan vote?
DURBIN: I want it to be.
I have reached out to many Republicans you have not mentioned, asking them to keep an open mind and to meet with her, ask the hard questions, ask for materials. We will provide them. We're going to go through the regular process here.
But it is in the best interests, not only of the Supreme Court, but of the United States Senate, for this to be bipartisan. If we can have that kind of support emerge, I think it will be a positive thing for our country.
BASH: And I have to ask. Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have bucked the party on your agenda on other nominees. Are you confident that you will have all 50 members of your Democratic Caucus on board?
DURBIN: Dana, I don't know as I sit here, but I'm going to work hard to achieve that.
I have started reaching out to make sure that our caucus is united and strong. I think we start in a very positive position. But I won't assume a thing about any colleague until they have told me.
BASH: Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, called Judge Jackson -- quote -- "the favored choice of the far left and dark money groups."
Is it true -- excuse me. It is true, I should say, that progressive groups like Demand Justice did suggest that President Biden should nominate her. But what is your response to that overall line of attack?
DURBIN: We have seen this dark money approach used as to the Supreme Court vacancies over the last decade or more.
The Federalist Society sent an approved list to president-elect Trump of people that they would ask him to nominate to the court, and did that the second time as well. So, their sources of funds are not known, their dark money sources.
And Judicial Action, one of their groups, actually started advertising against the nominee of Biden before he announced it. I mean, so the other side has used dark money and used it to a fare-thee-well. I think it's kind of tough for them to sell the case that we're the ones who are kind of darkening the process.
BASH: I want to turn to what is happening in Ukraine, sir, continuing to -- the Ukrainians are continuing to fend off a Russian invasion. And we're learning about upcoming talks between the two sides in Belarus, or at least on the border.
The Ukrainians are pleading for more support from the West. The Senate comes back this week. What are you going to do?
DURBIN: I'm going to support not only military aid to the Ukrainians, who are fighting a valiant battle, against the odds.
And, to this moment -- fingers crossed -- they are doing so well. I want to make sure we not only encourage them, but do it with the things that they need to defend their country and to stop this invasion by Vladimir Putin.
And I also want to say that I will support humanitarian aid to those countries surrounding Ukraine who are going out of their way to help. Poland comes to mind immediately. I don't know the latest estimate. It's tens of thousands, if not more, of refugees coming across the border, and more, to likely arrive. Looking at the Baltic states, Lithuania and Latvia and Estonia, all of
these states are doing their best to help out. We need to stand united through NATO and with these countries, give them humanitarian aid, and Ukraine the military assistance it needs to succeed.
BASH: President Zelensky just said that he doesn't expect much from the talks that I mentioned that are going to happen on the Belarus border on Monday.
What about you? Do you think that anything can come out of it?
BASH: Are you optimistic at all?
DURBIN: I wish for the best, of course. And I always prefer diplomacy over war.
But Zelensky, an extraordinarily courageous leader in that country, if he thinks it's in the best interests of Ukraine to make this effort, I stand behind him. But I would hope that it accompanied with a cease- fire on the ground in Ukraine while these talks are under way. Innocent people are dying because of the indiscriminate shelling and bombing by Vladimir Putin.
President Trump called him a savvy genius. I call him a savage war criminal. And I don't think we ought to make any excuses for him.
But if Zelensky thinks this holds out any glimmer of hope to negotiate a peaceful end to this, I will support every effort he makes.
BASH: We have about 20 seconds left.
When you hear Vladimir Putin talking about raising the defense levels, including the nuclear arsenal, how concerned are you?
DURBIN: Of course, we take it seriously.
These are dreadful and dangerous weapons that could change the face of the world in a moment's notice. But it is nuclear saber-rattling, as one of your guests said before.
I want to tell you -- and I'm going to get in trouble -- but your interview with Mitt Romney, I thought, when it was over, there...
DURBIN: What do I disagree with? And the answer was nothing from start to finish.
And I think there's a bipartisan support...
BASH: Mr. Chairman, we're out of time. Thank you so much.
I'm so sorry to interrupt you. Thank you very much for watching. And the news continues -- for being on.
The news continues next.