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Interview With U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes; Boston Marathon; Interview With California Congressman Ed Royce; Massive Security Presence for Marathon; Finding Strength to Move on After Bombings

Aired April 21, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are coming to you live from Boston, where, today, this city finishes the race.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Who are those masked men? For weeks, the U.S. has accused Russia of putting forces in Eastern Ukraine without admitting it, but now Ukrainian officials say they have caught the Russians red- handed and they have the photos to prove it.

Also in world news, the Navy's robo-sub has covered more than half the search area for Flight 370, but still no sign of any wreckage. Shouldn't they have found something by this point? Is it time for a new approach?

And the national lead. We are back in Boston, as the city laces up its running shoes once again, after last year's nightmare. We will talk to a pair of brothers to learn how they found the strength to move forward after each of them lost a leg in the attacks.

Good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're coming to you live from Boston Common, the heart of this city a few blocks from the finish line for the rejuvenated Boston Marathon. We all know what happened here a year ago during this very event, the race cut short by terrorist bomb blasts, the city gripped by the ensuing manhunt.

But this is not a day for talking about those suspected of the attacks. This is a day for the people here to show that they are Boston strong, that they will not have their traditions ripped away from them. If last year's marathon was like of no other, well, then neither is this one.

All afternoon long, we have watched runners, some 36,000 of them, demonstrate the peak of human endurance and some of them returning to the course bearing the injuries inflicted upon them during the last time they ran this race. This is their day, a day for survivors.

And throughout the hour, we will bring you some of their inspiring stories of recovery and perseverance and, yes, defiance from right here in the middle of it all. But, first, we turn to two major stories concerning international security in our world lead, al Qaeda under attack. A massive and unprecedented set of ongoing strikes is under way in Yemen, according to a high-level source in the government there. The latest strike was yesterday on a training camp operated by the terror group, the source says.

In all, at least 65 militants have been killed in Yemen since Saturday in a combination of drone attacks and operations by elite Yemeni commandos. Now, not all of the bodies have been identified because of the difficultly of getting to the remote strike area deep in the southern mountains of Yemen.

Officials say the targets were among the most leading and dangerous elements of al Qaeda. This news comes after a video surfaced last week, showing what looks to be the largest gathering of al Qaeda leaders in years.

Jim Sciutto, CNN's chief national security, has the latest.

Jim, were these strikes linked at all to the meeting in that video we saw?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, the timing is certainly interesting.

U.S. intelligence officials would never establish a specific connection like that. That said, it's possible that some intelligence was gleaned from those videos about location, but still beyond that, they would need more really than that. I mean, particularly, the U.S. is under very strict rules of engagements with drone strikes in particular.

They have to prove that the targets not just are tied to al Qaeda, but that they are a direct threat to the U.S., so the U.S. would not allocate these resources, and certainly the Yemenis, the number of elite forces that they have on the ground really an unprecedented scope of an operation here, unless they had intelligence to back that up.

So it's possible that they gleaned something from that video, but likely they would be more to carry out something of this size.

TAPPER: What do we know about who was struck in these strikes and also the civilian casualties, if any?

SCIUTTO: In terms of targets, the Yemenis are saying that senior leaders were struck, but they aren't confirming who those senior leaders.

And typically with strikes like this, it takes some time to confirm. You have reports of the Yemenis landing to gather DNA evidence, so that they can confirm those identities. Civilian casualties, though, a problem. We know that the strike on Saturday killed at least three civilians and this has been an ongoing issue for, you and I, countries that we go to a lot, Afghanistan and Pakistan certainly sensitive, but also sensitive in Yemen.

This is a weak central government. The drone strikes are a real issue in terms of hostility not just to the Yemenis, but to the Americans. There was an attack in December that killed 13 civilians. The Yemenis passed a law after that trying to ban drone strikes, so a similar pattern that you have seen in other countries and the U.S., the Yemenis certainly take pains to avoid those. But you fire missiles in places, these are powerful missiles and sometimes civilians get killed.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

Also in world news, since the conflict erupted in Eastern Ukraine, the masked men holed up in the government buildings there have been called protesters. They have been called separatists. Now, according to the White House, we can call at least some of them what they really are, Russian forces.

The Ukrainian government has now provided these photographs of -- quote, unquote -- "separatists" wearing insignias and green uniforms of Russian special forces. The U.S. State Department says they're convinced. And if green men uniforms were not evidence enough, there are also photographs of one particular gunman with a "Duck Dynasty"- beard showing up not just in Eastern Ukraine, but also in an older photo of a Russian reconnaissance unit.

This all is happening as Vice President Joe Biden, as well as a delegation of American lawmakers, have arrived in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to show support for the fledgling government. Meanwhile, the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has accused Kiev of violating the cease-fire deal hashed out in Geneva last week, saying -- quote -- "Not a single step has been taken by those who have seized power in Kiev to eliminate the reasons of this deep crisis" -- unquote.

Moments ago, I asked Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications at the White House, about what this new evidence means for the West.


TAPPER: So, Ben, this appears to be photographic evidence that Putin's forces, Russian forces have crossed the border. Would you consider that to be an act of war?

BEN RHODES, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, we consider what Russia is something in Eastern and Southern Ukraine to be a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

They haven't undertaken an invasion with those forces that they have poised on the border, but what we have seen is disturbing evidence of them having contact with some of these groups that have occupied buildings in the East and the South.

That's why we have called them out on these actions. That is why we have made clear that that has to stop as a part of this de-escalation. And that's why there will be more sanctions on Russia if they don't follow through on that commitment.

TAPPER: What would constitute an act of war, though? Only those uniformed Russian soldiers crossing the border, as opposed to what appear to be Russian soldiers wearing other clothes operating in Eastern Ukraine apparently as pro-Russian forces?

RHODES: Well, again, the most dramatic act of war and escalation would be for those troops to move across the border.

What we're seeing is more asymmetrical means by Russia, reaching into Ukraine through their contacts, through their connections with these groups. Some of this photographic evidence confirms what we have been saying for weeks now, which is that we have seen Russia seeks to run this play. And we're going to continue to call them out on it, even as we try to implement the de-escalation plan that was agreed to in Geneva.

TAPPER: But what do you say to the critics who say you're calling them out on it, but you're really not doing anything? And you saw the "New York Times" story. Even forces, even individuals, officials in the State Department, in the Pentagon of the Obama administration worried that President Obama appears weak and feckless and that he has already written Crimea off and that Putin is winning the showdown with the West?

RHODES: Well, he's not. He's losing the Ukrainian people.

That's what brought about this showdown, as you call it, to begin with. And the fact is, we have imposed consequences through the sanctions that are in place. We have signaled how we can escalate our sanctions all the way up to sectors of the Russian economy. We're going to impose those costs. And in the long run, if Russia runs this play, they are going to lose a lot in terms of their economic standing and their standing in the world.

The president is trying to lead the world, bring together the allies so that when we do act, we're acting together to impose the maximum cost on the Russians. That's what he's focused on.

TAPPER: The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they are calling for lethal aid, weapons to be sent to Ukrainian forces. Why will the Obama administration not go along with that?

RHODES: Well, first of all, that's just not what is going to make a lot of difference right now.

You are not going to bring the Ukrainian military into some kind of parity with the Russian military in the coming weeks. We're focused on what we can do right now to make a difference. And that's a massive economic stabilization plan that we're pursing with the Europeans. That's imposing costs through sanctions on the Russians.

And we're seeking to help the Ukrainians meet certain needs in their military through our nonlethal assistance. But just putting arms in there to show that we're doing something, when that's not really going to bring parity to this situation, and it could escalate the situation, we don't believe is the right course of action right now.

TAPPER: Ben, I have to ask you about this military operation in Yemen. It appears that Yemeni commandos, along with U.S. forces of some sort, attacked suspected terrorists.

Can you tell us what role the U.S. played in this, who the targets were, and whether or not any civilians were killed in this operation?

RHODES: Well, first of all, we have been focused on AQAP and the threat that they pose in Yemen for some time. We have built a very strong partnership with the Yemenis to go after these targets.

The Yemenis themselves, as you said, have been out there confirming the fact that there have been a number of strikes on AQAP facilities and AQAP targets. That's a sign of the pressure that we're going to continue to impose on AQAP.

But we're doing this in cooperation with the Yemenis, as they have stepped up to the challenge of going after al Qaeda within their borders. We're going to be there with them through many different types of support. We don't detail our counterterrorism operations, but suffice to say, we're standing shoulder to shoulder with the Yemenis in these actions.

TAPPER: Ben Rhodes, thanks so much.

RHODES: Thanks, Jake.


TAPPER: For reaction, I want to bring in Congressman Ed Royce, Republican of California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's currently on the ground in Kiev.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

You know the situation on the ground. Do you think the White House is doing enough right now?

REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I do not.

I think the main point they are missing is what has put Putin in the driver's seat over here is the fact that he controls oil and gas. He has got a monopoly on it. And that would be something we can upset. We could upset it by announcing a national policy in the United States that we're going to ship a tremendous amount of gas and oil.

Yes, it would take a little while to get up to speed, but if we sent the message that we were going to help collapse Russia's hold over the region and the price of oil in the region or gas by destabilizing the markets -- remember, it's 70 percent of Russia's exports. It's 52 percent of what they need to support their military and their government.

And this -- you have got to strike Putin at a point which will really weaken him. And energy security here in the region is a big concern in Eastern Europe. We need to move decisively on that front.




TAPPER: Do you agree with Senators McConnell and Corker that we should be sending lethal aid to the Ukrainian military?

ROYCE: Frankly, in my opinion, what we should be focused on is what long term will really damage Russia's economy and give us leverage over Vladimir Putin.

We haven't used that yet. And that's, as I said, to discuss a national plan and at the same time and to get over here and give the Ukrainians the wherewithal to help develop their own gas, because frankly the real question is going to be, can we hold these elections on May 25 which will hold the country together?

Because, frankly, the new polling shows in the Eastern part of the country, they don't want to be part of Russia, right? You're going to have a 70 percent vote at least in order -- from the East -- to be part of a new system in which they can elect their own governors, where they can representatives. You have got the electoral reform coming.

But you have got to do something about energy. That's what we discussed, our delegation today, with the vice president of United States here. And we want to move forward. So far, we have been stymied by opposition on this front. We think the administration may be rethinking its position, because this, frankly, is what gives Russia the real authority in Ukraine.

TAPPER: Congressman, beyond the energy issue, what is the Ukrainian government there telling you? What do they want from the U.S.? Do they think that they can hold off an invasion from Russia if it were to come?

ROYCE: Well, the point is, the way you deter an invasion from Russia is you show the Russians what the consequences would be to their economy, right? What would economic collapse look like? They have experienced it once before.

Reagan, along with the Saudis, helped do this to the former Soviet Union, drove down the price of oil by flooding their market with very cheap oil in order to really hurt that economy. If do you that, Gazprom stock and the stock market in Russia really takes a nosedive, as does the value of the ruble.

They are running a situation over there on a pretty thin tightrope right now in Russia, because already the capital flight has been over $70 billion over the last few months. So if we send the threat of additional sanctions, which is what we're communicating, we're saying, look, you do that and, you know, you go over the border with your military, and the U.S. and Europe and the international community is going to isolate you in a way with sanctions, they are just going to implode your economy.

That's the most effective leverage we have to deploy. If we can combine energy security for the region with that, we will give the Europeans a lot more confidence to stand, you know, in unison on this front, and we will further undercut Russia's control in Ukraine.

TAPPER: Congressman Ed Royce in Kiev, Ukraine, thank you so much. Travel safe, sir.

Coming up next, two brother's lives changed in an instant by the Boston Marathon bombings. Next, I will talk to these two men about the moment the first bomb went off and their biggest fears for the future.

Plus, new transcripts detailing the horror and confusion on board that ferry full of students as it began to sink. Now more crew members have been arrested as the captain is labeled a murderer by the president.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, coming to you live from the Boston Common.

"Take back the finish line," the announcer proclaimed at the start of the Boston marathon. And if you're looking for metaphors for resilience in this city since the bombers rocked the marathon, you need look no further than the two winners of this year's race, 33- year-old Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won the women's division. She won last year, also. But that was overshadowed her victory, amid the chaos and tragedy that happened later that day. Not only did she win again today, she broke the course record for women, with the time of 2:18:57.

Now, on the men's side, an incredible fate, Meb Keflezighi, at the age of 38, he beat all comers with a time of 2:08:37, a former refugee, he immigrated to the U.S. when he was 12 and became a U.S. citizen. On this Patriots Day, he became the first American man to win this marathon since 1983.

A pair of Kenyans who traditionally owned the marathon racing, they were on his tail, but he stayed seconds ahead of them. And as a tribute on his bib, Keflezighi wrote the names of those who died in the attack of last year, 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest victim, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, she was cheering on a friend at the marathon, 23-year-old Lingzi Lu, a Boston U grad student from China, and, of course, 27-year-old Sean Collier, the MIT police officer killed in the ensuing manhunt. Their spirit is here today. We have not forgotten them.

Among the runners and a more than 1 million spectators, earlier I joined those cheering at the finish line.


TAPPER: It's a beautiful day for a marathon and the huge perhaps record-setting turnout by spectators here is a sign that this is a city that will not be cowed. That said, the increased security presence here. Everywhere you look is a reminder of what happened at this event a year ago, starting just over my shoulder.


TAPPER: This year the city doubled the number of officers on patrol to 3,500 with hundreds of officers in the crowd in plain clothes. There was an additional 100 surveillance cameras capturing the scene on the ground. No backpacks allowed on the course this year, and, of course, no containers bigger than a liter. Boston taking no chances today after the events of a year ago.

And what a long year it has been, especially for the survivors such as brothers J.P. and Paul Norden, these two former roofers from Stoneham, Massachusetts, you heard about them a year ago. Each one of them lost a leg in the bombings, but neither brother is allowing that fact to keep them from taking the next steps in life.


TAPPER (voice-over): On April 15th of last year, J.P. Norden and his brother Paul headed to the Boston marathon to cheer on a friend. A few blocks from where they were standing, an explosion ripped through the crowds.

J.P. NORDEN, INJURED IN BOSTON BOMBINGS: We were all confused and in the background everyone is cheering, some people are scared, some people started crying immediately.

PAUL NORDEN, INJURED IN BOSTON BOMBINGS: One of our friends was like, that was a bomb. And then another friend was like, oh, we need to get in the street.

TAPPER: Unfortunately, for J.P. and Paul Norden, they were standing at the site of the second bomb. Here they are, just seconds before the worst moments their life. J.P. is in the blue hat, that's Paul in the gray hat. And that's accused bomber of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. And in that knapsack is the second bomb.

Seconds later --

J.P. NORDEN: I started coming to a little bit, you know, like I tried to get up and I couldn't get up. My leg was gone. (INAUDIBLE) was gone.

PAUL NORDEN: When I came to, I saw like -- for some reason I saw my leg right away like off.

J.P. NORDEN: And then you just see bodies on the ground everywhere, people everywhere. You could smell -- you know, it must have been blood and burnt clothes and everything.

TAPPER: Paul managed to call his mother. He told her he was hurt really badly and that he couldn't find his brother.

LIZ NORDEN, J.P. AND PAUL'S MOTHER: I knew he wouldn't call me just to call me, to tell me a bomb went off. I knew something was wrong.

TAPPER: Medical staff rushed J.P. and Paul to different hospitals. When they arrived, the outlook was grim for both of them. Each was missing his right leg and would need emergency surgery. Paul was in far worst shape than his older brother.

LIZ NORDEN: Honestly, we didn't think he was going to make it.

TAPPER: J.P. started to heal but Paul remained in a coma for a week. He was the final patient from the bombing who was listed in critical condition, but the family kept that news from his big brother.

J.P. NORDEN: I kept asking every day, hey, can I talk to Paul? You know, and I guess if I was thinking a little bit straighter I would have known I was getting lied to or something. I knew we were both in rough shape.

TAPPER: Their reunion finally came in the hallways of Beth Israel Hospital.

PAUL NORDEN: It's the first time I actually got to see what happened and to see how injured he was.

J.P. NORDEN: After all of the stories you hear and how bad he was doing, he looked better than I did. It was really what was going on, are they lying to me again?

TAPPER: For the past year, J.P. and Paul had been in and out of surgery and rehab hospitals regaining their strength and learning to walk again. They've written a book about their experiences, "Twice As Strong".

LIZ NORDEN: What they have been doing and what they have come through is amazing. It's incredible.

TAPPER: The Norden brothers rarely talk about those other brothers, the ones whose bombs redirected the courses of their lives. Their mother, though, is closely watching the capital murder and terrorism trial against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

LIZ NORDEN: I'll be there every day. I want to know what happened. I want to know why someone could do this to innocent people.

PAUL NORDEN: I don't even want talk and I don't even want to give the kid (ph) any acknowledgement or anything. I want to be living as normal as possible.

TAPPER: Normal will have to mean getting back to work. The One Fund Boston awarded the brothers each just under $1.2 million, but that money will not last forever. They will need new prosthetics every three to five years at a cost of more than $100,000 per prosthetic. So, they're now on a process of trying to start their own roofing and sheet metal company.

(on camera): This is going to be enough for you financially? PAUL NORDEN: Honestly, I don't know. You know what I mean? Like, obviously, If you have to buy a leg every three to five years and if I live my life expectancy, you know what I mean, I probably don't have enough money but I've got to do what I've got to do.

J.P. NORDEN: I would like to think that we're going to be OK no matter what. I mean, we're going to work and do all of that. So whatever we can do. But I don't know.

TAPPER: I have to say, you know, as we're at the one-year anniversary, you guys seem great.


J.P. NORDEN: Thanks.

PAUL NORDEN: Compared to last year, feel 3,000 times better.

J.P. NORDEN: Our family, girlfriends and the public, they were just so good and so like -- they gave you positive thoughts and positive words all the time. Like how could you feel? I mean, I don't think that we could.


TAPPER: You can hear more of the Norden story and their book "Twice As Strong" on sale now. Our thanks to the Norden family.

Coming up, as divers frantically search for the missing, the South Korean president is calling the actions of the ferry captain akin to murder.

And as investigators scour the sea floor, a storm is brewing on the surface that could cause another setback in the hunt for Flight 370.