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Warning Shots Fired In Ukraine; Witness Breaks Down During Testimony; Putin Threatens More Military Action

Aired March 4, 2014 - 07:30   ET


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Looks like this case, one of their wives. They want to know where the situation lies. What is going on? Is there going to be a force takeover by Russian forces of this base or not. It's important to keep in mind that this is a military base, but families live here as well. So it's not simply a military confrontation.

For these men, they're worried about their families. Their families in a very tense situation caught in a place where until now, the shots have only been fired in the air. But it only takes one small incident to change things very dramatically.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That is a frightening possibility, Ben, but it is an accurate one. Thank you for giving us the latest on the ground and for giving a window into the confusion. Vladimir Putin says it's not an invasion, that there is no military action, that the troops are being called back on the ground.

Though you're witnessing a negotiation between Russians and Ukrainian about abandoning their own base. So it's a confusing situation. Thank you for the latest. We'll check back in with you later -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Chris. We're going to continue to monitor the situations playing out in Ukraine throughout the show of course.

But also coming up next on NEW DAY, another big story we are watching. Defense attorneys trying to poke holes in the testimony of the key witness in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. We're going to breakdown the very latest coming from the courtroom through CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.


CUOMO: Welcome back. A busy morning at the murder trial of South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius. Damning testimony from a key prosecution witness who broke down as she told the judge, quote, "something terrible was happening at that house." She testified she heard girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, screaming before she heard gunshots.

Defense attorneys made sure to try to poke holes in that. How good a job did they do? It is probably the most important testimony in this trial. Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, I'm obviously finding it remarkable that you have such huge testimony so early in a case. But please, take a step sideways and just give us the context of who this woman is and why it matters in the scope of this case.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Remember, Oscar Pistorius' defense here is that she heard an intruder, what he thought was an intruder in the bathroom of his home and shot through the bathroom door to protect himself, he thought, and his girlfriend.

Now he acknowledges, everyone acknowledges, that in fact his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was in fact in the bathroom and he killed her. His defense is that it was all an accident. Why this testimony is so important is that it suggests there was a fight between boyfriend and girlfriend before any shooting took place.

That she was upset. She was crying. She was screaming before she was shot, which of course, would damage his defense enormously.

CUOMO: All right now, on the one said you have, well, she says she heard them and she got the number of gun shots right also. So maybe she did hear what she thinks. On the other side you have she's 200 yards away, what does she really know and the defense attorneys went at her and seemed to shake her up a little bit. What was your take on how strong the testimony was?

TOOBIN: Well, again, this is still the beginning. I think it's powerful testimony and, you know, yes, it was a year ago. Yes, you can't be sure what you hear but -- with complete certainty. But I thought her testimony was very impressive. Again today, the trial was unfolding today.

There's another witness who is testifying that she heard fighting, arguing between two people over the course of the evening. Again damaging his defense that this was all just an accident. He had no ill feelings, no -- no reason to shoot his girlfriend that night.

CUOMO: Whether you see it as irony or a coincidence, the case could come down to his legs, right, because there are two competing theories. If this was premeditated, the prosecutions says, the proof is in the legs. He put his legs on and he followed after her. We're going to be able to prove that in court.

Oscar Pistorius, the defense says didn't have the legs on because it was all so sudden and it's a big reason I was scared. What do you make of the ability to prove that?

TOOBIN: Well, this is going to be one of the many interesting things as this unfolds, is how in the absence of an eyewitness because there is no one there who saw it, how they will prove where -- where his legs were. His claim that he traveled on his stumps to shoot seems, frankly, somewhat implausible to me. But that's one of the many things that needs to be explored over the course of the trial.

The other thing is that I think is going to be very important is the forensic evidence. At what angle did the shots go into the door, which may help or hurt his alibi that he was wearing stumps because -- if he was standing at full height, it suggests that he was wearing his prosthetic legs not on a stump.

CUOMO: And obviously we're early in the trial, but something that's important point out to people. Last point I'd like you to make this morning, Jeffrey, is he's a big celebrity. You think while I wonder if that will curry favor with the jury. There is no jury abolished in the late 1960s because of fears of the oppression of apartheid, just a judge and a black judge, the second one ever appointed. But how does it work in terms of who the defense has to impress in this case?

TOOBIN: Well, it's a jury of one. It's the judge and I think it will probably make his celebrity matter somewhat less because I think a judge is less likely to be impressed than a jury. I have to say, Chris, I'm not entirely clear on which way overall it cuts judge versus jury in a case like this. Frankly, I guess I'm hopeful that what matters most is the evidence and the judge will make a judgment based on that. But I just don't know which way that cuts.

CUOMO: And you know, we'll talk about it more because we're just at the beginning of the trial. And it gets more complicated because the judge is tied to factual findings made not by the judge, but by two fact assessors who are professionals, who listen to all the facts, make determinations, given to the judge and then the judge delivers her ruling and must explain why.

So it's a different system than ours. We'll explain it as it becomes more relevant. But Jeffrey, thank you for joining us this morning. Keep watching the trial. We'll be back with you. We'll be on this every day. Jeffrey, thank you -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, new statements from Russian President Vladimir Putin this morning threatening military force in Ukraine if he thinks it is need he said. But what is Putin's ultimate goal in this crisis? We're going to discuss with a Russian journalist in Moscow coming up.


BOLDUAN: Continue to follow breaking news on the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry has just arrived in Kiev to offer the U.S.' support of Ukraine's new government and it is also just been announced that the U.S. will give Ukraine a $1 billion loan to protect its economy from reduced subsidies from Russia.

Just about two hours ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin in a lengthy press conference threatened further military action in Ukraine if they see it as necessary. Putin says he sent Russian troops into Crimea -- into the Crimean Peninsula in response to a coup. He says Ukraine has no legitimate leader right now.

CUOMO: All right, Kate, let's pick up the story there. Joining us from Moscow is Russian journalist and television personality, Vladimir Pozner. Mr. Pozner, thank you for joining us. We just heard Vladimir Putin, his press conference ended. He gives a very different reckoning of circumstances than what we have come to understand here in the west.

He says it's not an invasion. It's a response to a need for humanitarian aid. That it's not about the military. He is not looking to overtake Crimea. Do you believe there is reason to trust Vladimir Putin's assessment of the situation in the face of different facts on the ground?

VLADIMIR POZNER, RUSSIAN TELEVISION PERSONALITY: First of all, I have to tell you I've been around for a long time and generally speaking, I don't trust politicians. I look at the interest. He something rather interesting. He said, first of all, that the threat of armed conflict in the Crimea no longer exists. That's a very flat, open statement and I think it's an important one.

He also said that he understands the people on the Maidan Square in Kiev. He understands why they're demanding not just a change of government, but the demand in a radical change because he says every time they get a new government, it's a government of thieves. Probably eluding also to president -- shall we say President Yanukovych.

So he's basically saying, I understand these people. This is also something that we have not heard from him before. So I think what you're getting here is a kind of saying, you know, why don't we all take a deep breath, count to ten and then talk about this without all the passions involved.

Incidentally, the billion dollars from the United States is 15 times less than the $15 billion that were offered by Russia to Ukraine. So it's not a whole lot of money and let me just make one more point, what worries people here is that in this new government, which is relatively not legitimate, but Putin has said that we will deal with that government even though we don't really consider it legitimate.

There are a lot of so-called (inaudible) what they call in Russian. That is to say very right-wing ultra-nationalists and even somewhat fascist, very anti-Semitic people. There aren't many of them, but they have a very loud voice. And that worries a lot of people.

CUOMO: Right. But you know what, Mr. Putin has plenty to deal with in terms of loud, angry voices within his own borders that he could be dealing with right now. Instead, he's made a different choice. He has decided to invade the sovereignty of Ukraine and move military into the region and describe what you're describing, which are these circumstances on the ground that no other reporting supports.

So if there is not this coup and violent revolution where people are being oppressed and he's making that up to justify the threat he has created, shouldn't he be rebuked, sanctioned and shouldn't he be forced to withdraw?

POZNER: The problem is -- you know, I haven't come on the air to argue with you. You have that viewpoint and you're welcome to it. I would suggest perhaps going to Ukraine, going not just to Kiev, but going to the Crimea, going to the second largest city in the Ukraine, going to Odessa, a famous and wonderful city, going to places where people have a completely different view of what's going on in Ukraine.

Sadly, Ukraine is a split country. There's a very large Russian language and ethnic Russian part of it, nearly 50 percent. Russians in this country feel that those people are being threatened and that's what they are reacting to. What you're saying about Putin, well, that's your viewpoint. I think you're overdoing it.

I think the whole idea of Putin bashing is something very much, how shall I put this, in the context of cold war. I think that America is reacting in that context automatically. That, if it's Russia, it's cold war and it's the enemy. I think they're overdoing it and I don't think sanctions are going to help anybody. Certainly not the United States and Russia will somehow manage.

CUOMO: Your point about sanctions is well taken. If there is resolve in Europe, it's now also interconnected to use the word that Vladimir Putin used, at least with a translator, it's not so sure that there is resolve there to take the pain that sanctions would impose on Europe as well as Russia. Point well taken.

But Mr. Pozner, you know very well that this is not about my viewpoint. This is about what we see from reporting on the ground, that we have people in all the key areas. We're not hearing about attacks of people. We're not hearing about Russians being victimized except from Vladimir Putin.

That does undermine the confidence in his statement that this is not about military. It is about Ukraine and in terms of what the U.S.' perspective is, the west's perspective, he did invade the sovereignty of Ukraine by going in. That's somewhat incontrovertible isn't it?

POZNER: No, it isn't. He did not go in. He asked the parliament to give him permission to go in. The armed forces have not been sent into Ukraine. Now there is the Black Sea fleet, which is in the Crimea, in the city of Sevastopol. There is a large Russian contingent there, military contingent and it's been there for many, many years.

This is not new. There has been no -- as far as I know, OK, I'm going to say that, you know, the proof positive is something I don't have and I don't think anyone else does. As far as I know, no contingent of Russian army has been sent into the Ukraine or for that matter into the Crimea over the past two weeks.

There's been a threat. That's absolutely true, but there's been no invasion, no incursion, this is not Afghanistan. It's a completely different story. I'd be careful about making those statements. I think --

CUOMO: Who are the men in green --

POZNER: Well, go ahead, you wanted to say something, fine.

CUOMO: -- yes. Thank you very much, Mr. Pozner. Who are the men in green pointing the weapon? The Ukrainians say that the men in green have admitted that they are members of the Russian military and these are the same men who were asking the Ukrainians to stand down and abandon their base. That sounds like hostile actions to me. Maybe it's a matter of viewpoint as you say, but it seems an objective threat.

POZNER: I would agree with you that that's hostile actions. I'd really like to know who those men are. I would like to get proof that they are members of the Russian army. But I'll tell you this, they are greeted with enthusiasm in the Crimea. That's a fact that no one can argue with.

They are greeted with enthusiasm although they haven't been there in Eastern Ukraine, but they're hoping that they'll come. What you have to understand. It is an extremely complex and difficult situation. Mind you, I'm not at all supporting President Putin in this particular area. I'm not a big fan.

But I'm asking for some kind of objectivity. I find that the attitude towards Russia is always negative no matter what. That's different from the attitude from say -- to say China where there are no human rights at, but nobody seems to talk about that.

I think that this should call for some really -- how should I put this, objective journalism. I don't see it on either side of the fence.

CUOMO: And you are not impressed by the men in green identifying themselves as military and you know, firing warning shots and asking for the abandonment of a base. That is not impressive to you as clear evidence of Russian intention?

POZNER: Well, the base has not been abandoned. So what do we really know about this? For instance, do you know about the fact that the rabbi of Kiev has addressed the Jews of Kiev to get out of the city because of the government that there right now? Has this been reported on American television?

What I'm saying is each side reports what it thinks it should report. I don't think there is objective journalism in this thing. We react to that the way you react and the way I react. It's really a pity because it's a very dangerous and complex situation.

CUOMO: Well, the good news --

POZNER: I hope now that Putin has given this interview -- yes, go ahead.

CUOMO: No, go ahead. Please finish your point, Mr. Pozner. It's just the communication link that we have. There's a delay so finish your point.

POZNER: I know that. I think the good news is today's press conference that Putin had with journalists in his residence is pretty positive in saying there will not be armed conflict. We do not have any territorial claims on Ukraine. I think that's a very important step, which should kind of bring the pressure down a little bit. CUOMO: I think that's an important point. I think that it's also good that we're having this conversation and that CNN and others have dedicated a tremendous amount of resources to be on the ground in all places that you were delineating. As things happen on the ground, what you were describing we'll be seen or not seen.

That will be also a very good thing to have because we need full information here. I hope we get to have you back on as we develop better understanding of the situation. Mr. Pozner, thank you.

POZNER: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, a crazy story out of New Jersey that we are following. An 18-year-old girl is suing her parents for college tuition. Her parents though say that they cut her off because she wasn't following the rules. Does she have a case here?


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY once again. We are following all the breaking news in Ukraine this morning that continues to develop as the hours tick by. But let's also get you up to date on the other top stories that we are tracking. John Berman is in for Michaela again.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Kate. It's really cold here. Much of the eastern half of the United States dealing with brutal potentially record shattering cold. Temperatures plunging 25 degrees to 50 degrees in just a few hours in parts of the Midwest and the east. You have to look at this picture. This is amazing. This is an aerial view of the Great Lakes. Researchers now report they're about 90 percent covered in ice. Beautiful.

Other news. BP must obey the terms of a $9.2 billion settlement it reached in 2010 with the victims of the Gulf oil spill. The oil giant stopped paying claims back in December insisting many Gulf businesses were seeking damages that were unrelated to the accident. But a federal appeals court has just ordered BP to resume making those payments ruling those businesses do not have to prove losses were directly linked to the spill.

Michigan's legal defense of the ban on same sex marriage is off to a fairly rough start. One witness was dismissed by the judge as unqualified and the author of a study acknowledged that it is too early to make wire conclusions about families raised by same sex couples. The author will be cross examined today. The suit was brought by two Detroit nurses who want to adopt each other's kids.

And a new study out this morning suggesting kids are getting better nutrition at school thanks to new federal standards. Harvard researchers recorded which cafeteria foods students chose and which items threw away. The results, students ate 23 percent more fruits and 68 percent more vegetables. That's some good news. The downside is school lunch participation has reportedly dropped by more than a million students -- guys. BOLDUAN: John, thanks so much. Let's take another break though.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, for the first time since sending troops to Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is speaking out defending the occupation of Crimea and saying military force is possible. We're going to talk about Putin's next move with chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour as well as Fareed Zakaria. Both will be joining us.