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Hillary Clinton Lashes Out at Putin, Russia; U.S. Plans New Ukraine Response; Heated Argument After Lerner Testifies; Asteroid to Have Close Call with Earth.

Aired March 5, 2014 - 11:30   ET


PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: But on the other hand, when President Putin sends troops in to Crimea, it is not because he doesn't like President Obama. He feels there are national interests at stake there for him. Crimea, Ukraine in general, very important to Russia, has been historically. We have to be careful about over personalizing this. Might have done the same thing if another president had been there. In fact, he did do that with Georgia even when George W. Bush was president.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The fact there are troops on the ground is more important than any body language or slouching either might be doing.

Peter Baker, great to have you on @ THIS HOUR. Please come back. Really appreciate it.

BAKER: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, Hillary Clinton lashes out at Vladimir Putin and the Russians. Comparisons to Hitler and Nazis. How this crisis could play into her hopes for 2016. Stay with us.


BERMAN: Really strong words from Hillary Clinton about the crisis in Ukraine. She compared Russia's actions to that of Hillary Clinton. She was speaking in Long Beach, California. The paper quoted her as saying, "If this sounds familiar, it is what Hitler did back in the 1930s."

Our Brianna Keilar joins us now from Washington.

Are you hearing anything from the Clinton camp on this?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Nothing from the Clinton camp at this point, John. I should tell you that Hillary Clinton will be speaking here in a few hours at UCLA. She is giving a lecture. There is about 1800 students that have tickets. She will be talking to a very large group there. These were made at an off-camera fund-raiser. It was supposed to be closed to the press, off the record. Certainly, John, you and I have learned in the last couple of years that there is really no such thing as off the record when it comes to a fundraiser. She was talking about Putin extending passports. She went on to say, "The Germans, by ancestry, who are in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they're not being treated right, I have to go and protect my people, and that's what's gotten everybody so nervous."

I will tell you, another person, who was an editor of a small group of newspapers, who happened to be at this event, said she was very quickly to say -- followed that up by saying that there is obviously an attempt by the Obama administration for a peaceful resolution. She tried to clean up her remarks at the end.

You invoke Hitler and Nazi Germany, you know, John, it is sort of the third rail of rhetoric. You are going to get a ton of attention for it.

BERMAN: They are almost nuclear wars. The point was Hitler used protecting Germans speakers as a pretext to invade Czechoslovakia and the occupation there. People say the comparison, in this day and age, is almost never appropriate.

It does get to a bigger issue for Hillary Clinton. This is how she performed as secretary of state, in particular, in regards to Russia. The headline says, does Hillary have a Ukraine problem. Hillary Clinton did the famous reset button with Russia her first year as secretary of state. How does what's going on right now in Ukraine, in Crimea, how might this impact her if she decides to run for president in 2016?

KEILAR: That's really part of the question. If you see the U.S./Russian relationship deteriorating so much under the watch of President Obama, Hillary Clinton's critics were going to say, this was something she made a priority. It didn't work out. From the perspective of the Obama administration, from the perspective of those close to Hillary Clinton, this has much to do about Putin's leadership as they see it and not necessarily hers or President Obama's.

But I think another interesting point, John, is that when you look at the comments here that she made yesterday, and again we are waiting to see if they clarify any of this when she speaks here at UCLA in a few hours. They sort of create a lot of daylight between her and President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. She comes off as appearing certainly more hawkish, certainly more harsh on this. But I've talked to a lot of Democrats and Republicans and the consensus seems to be that even if that is kind of creating someday light in there between foreign policy and President Obama and her, the consensus seems to be it wasn't particularly a sophisticated way to do it. You start invoking these terms and really people don't hear the nuance and they are not really listening to anything else you say.

BERMAN: I want to give you something that may make the Clinton noncampaign campaign noncampaign a little happier. Almost 70 percent of Americans do approve of the job she did as secretary of state. 51 percent want her to run in 2016. This examined her like ability overall. Most found she is not hard to like. 51 percent said they thought she was likeable. This might be trite for other politicians. For Hillary Clinton, this is a big, big deal and a big change from where things were back in 2008. KEILAR: That's exactly right. You are looking at more than double- digit increases in likability. It has been an issue for her. Here, it shows that a lot more Americans like her than they did six, seven years ago. That's good news for her. The other thing is leaning on her experience as secretary of state, this is key. This is what we see her doing. A lot of people do approve of the job she did. That's why you see some of her critics trying to take shots at her foreign policy and experience.

BERMAN: Brianna Keilar, great to have you on @ THIS HOUR. Good to see you today.

KEILAR: Good to see you.

BERMAN: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, the U.S. plans a new military strategy in response to the crisis in Ukraine. We'll tell you what the U.S. is doing coming up next.


BERMAN: Developments AT THIS HOUR in the crisis in Ukraine, western powers are increasing pressure on president Vladimir Putin to pull his troops out. The Kremlin warns that if sanctions are imposed, Moscow could seize U.S. and European assets in Russia. It appears the war of sanctions is set to begin on the international front.

On the military front, defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, has just told the Senate Armed Service Committee moments ago that he suspended all military exercises with Russia. Two trilateral exercises were planned. But this is new. The Defense Department is stepping up joint training in Poland, and the U.S. will add additional patrol aircraft to NATO's air policing mission in the Baltics right now.

Anthony Cordesman is the former director of intelligence assessment at the office of the secretary of defense. He's currently at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Anthony, explain to me these new moves, joint training he canner sizes in Poland, policing flights over the Baltics. The U.S. military has made clear the military option, as it were, are off the table. What's going on with these steps?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES & FORMER DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENT, OFFICE OF SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: These are largely a deterrent. You want to make sure that Russia knows that we are going to do something, that we will reinforce our allies, that our members of NATO, the most exposed allies are Poland and the Baltic States. Obviously, the Baltic States, small forces on the very edge of Russia, are areas where you want to make it clear to Russia that there are really trip wires, that it can't go too far. What you can't do is credibly move naval forces into the black sea area that would really make a difference there. There is risk of any kind of presence in the Ukraine would be so great. We aren't going to take those chances.

BERMAN: It sounds like not much more than flexing but flexing in places that are important. Tell me about what the Russians are thinking. The White House is coming to the thoughts that there might be just a freeze where Russian troops just stay. What would that mean for the Russians? Can they occupy the Crimean peninsula indefinitely?

CORDESMAN: They certainly can. They already do. There is a larger Ukrainian force in Crimea than the Russian force but it has very little real military capability. There is no real air capability. They are two ships. This is facing the entire Russian Black Sea fleet. You have low-grade army units and they are facing now some of the best trained forces in Russia. And Russia has bases throughout the Crimea and it controls the main ferry port, which means that it can easily move things in by sea, but it can block any land maneuvers or build-up that would come from the Ukraine. There are two major routes to the north of the Crimean peninsula. So is this something that Russia can sustain indefinitely? Yes, it certainly has the capability of being there just as long as it wants.

BERMAN: Anthony Cordesman, great to have you here AT THIS HOUR. Thanks for being here.

CORDESMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, a hearing on Capitol Hill turned into a shouting match today. We will tell you who said what in a moment.

Also, an asteroid making a close encounter with earth in just a few hours. We'll show you just how close ahead.


BERMAN: All right. Political worlds colliding minutes ago. This is about whether the IRS targeted conservative groups seeking tax exempt status. Republicans claim it was politically motivated. Tea party and other conservative words, "They were targeted."

Lois Lerner refused to testify today, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights, as she did last year during the hearings. Listen to this.


LOIS LERNER, FORMER IRS: My counsel has advised me that I have not waived my constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment. And on his advice, I will decline to answer any question on the subject matter of this hearing.


BERMAN: That is her right to do that.

The testimony broke down into a heated argument, though, between the committee's ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings and Darrell Issa. Listen to this.


REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R), CALIFORNIA: Ladies and gentlemen, seeking the truth is the obligation of this committee. I can see no point in going further. I have no expectation that Ms. Learner will cooperate with this committee and, therefore, we stand adjourn.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D), GEORGIA: Mr. Chairman, I have a statement. I have a procedural question, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I have a procedural question.

Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this. This is -- we're better than that as a country. We're better than that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask a procedural -- and I want to ask a question! What are we hiding? What's the big deal? May I ask my question? May I state my statement?

ISSA: You're all free to leave. We have adjourned. But the gentleman may ask his question. Thank you very much.

CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural question, and it goes to get the information you have asked.

ISSA: What is your question?

CUMMINGS: Let me say what I have to say. I have listened to you four for the last 15 or 20 minutes. Let me say what I have to say.


ISSA: Ms. Learner, you're released. You may --


CUMMINGS: But first, I would like to use my time to make some brief points. For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation --


ISSA: We're adjourned. Close it down.


BERMAN: You heard right there, Chairman Issa finally adjourned the hearings. That really got the Democrats quite angry. You do not usually see that type of heated exchange between a committee chairman and the ranking member. Not something that happens very often on Capitol Hill.

Speaking of worlds colliding, @ THIS HOUR, a giant asteroid hurling towards earth. It will be a close call. How close will it come to making impact? At its closest, closer to us on earth than the moon is, 3:30 eastern time. NASA says there is no reason it to panic. Should we believe them?

Chad Myers is here, hopefully, to alleviate our fears.

Chad, how far away are we talking here? How big is this space rock? Make me calm about this whole thing.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: 217,000 miles away. That's a long jog. Nine-tenths of the way between the moon and the earth will D.X.- 110B. How big is it, you ask? It is a rock sitting on a baseball field the size of the infield, about 30 meters across, 90 feet up and down, big rock like this. So it's decent enough to do some damage if it would hit the earth. But we're not going to see that whatsoever. It's going to stay plenty far away. You ask what are the odds. The odds are somewhere around one in 10 million of we getting this wrong. Scientists saying, look, this is going to whiz by at 3:30, we're going to be fine. It's the 110th asteroid, though, they have found in 2014. So there are many more out there that will be whizzing by that we may find out one or two days in advance -- John?

BERMAN: So a one in 10 million chance it hits the earth. There is a chance, one in 10 million.

MYERS: Actually, better than winning the Powerball. I just want to put this into perspective, just for a second. I know we believe that the earth is the center of the universe and the sun revolves around the earth. What if you're standing on the asteroid right now and you're saying, look at this thing coming. I mean, there's an earth in the way. There is a big blue marble about to fly right by the asteroid. So it's a much bigger problem for the asteroid than it is for earth.

BERMAN: I understand what you're saying. I'm less concerned for the asteroid, though, Chad, no matter what you say, than I am for us.

For the amateur astronomers out there, will they be able to see this thing with a telescope at 3:30 this afternoon?

MYERS: No, it's too small. And it will be blinded by the sun because where it is at 3:30 where the sun will be overhead. If it would be on the other side of the earth, you might be able to see it, but it is so small.

You can look at it online. There will be an earth observatory telescope looking at it. Just Google the search for the asteroid and you'll be able to see that camera.

BERMAN: Chad Myers, thank you so much. We're much more calm about this thing right now, not likely to be hit by this asteroid at 3:30 p.m.

Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: Thank you.

BERMAN: A few more stories we want to tell about @ THIS HOUR. The times have seriously changed. For the first time, there are marijuana ads on television. This ad is airing on Comcast stations in New Jersey. It's for The group says it aims to connect patients with doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal. Then there is this out of Los Angeles, a list of places cracking down on electronic cigarettes. The city council voted to treat them like regular smokes. That means no one inhaling nicotine in parks. Supporters don't want the chance of secondhand vapor being found harmful down the road. New York, Chicago and D.C. have passed similar e-cigarette laws.

Thank you so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right after this.