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Obama and Putin Talk Briefly About Ukraine; D-Day Invasion 70 Years Ago Today; Rice Explains Urgency to Free Bergdahl; Rice on Bergdahl's Honorable Service; Innocent Until Proven Guilty; Hillary Clinton's Brand New Memoir; Jobs Report;

Aired June 6, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, President Obama's been meeting eye to eye with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, for the first time since the crisis in Ukraine broke out. President Obama made clear exactly what the U.S. wants Russia to do to reduce tensions.

Also right now, the White House comes out swinging again, defending its decision to trade prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl and reiterating that Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty. CNN's exclusive interview with National Security Advisor Susan Rice coming up.

And right now, more new revelations from Hillary Clinton's memoir, including details of a 2008 meeting with President Obama that she compares to a, quote, "awkward first date."

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. In France today, where it's the 70th anniversary of D-Day, we're learning more about a brief and informal chat between President Obama and Russian President Putin. Both men were attending a VIP luncheon to mark the anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Relations between the two leaders have been frosty because of Russia's annexation of Crimea and it wasn't clear of they would even meet.

Our White House Correspondent Michelle Kosinski, she's traveling with the president. She's joining us from France right now. Michelle, we're told that the two presidents spoke, what, for about 15 minutes in this informal conversation? What do we know happened?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, it didn't even look like this was going to happen. It seems like just hours ago, we were saying, well, this brief leaders lunch at a commemorative ceremony isn't exactly the best time or place for a meaningful conversation to happen between two leaders that are at odds.

And earlier in the day, it looked like they were actively ignoring each other as they were doing the meet and greet. Yesterday, they even took time out to meet with other world leaders but not with each other.

But now, the White House says that, yes, this meeting actually did take place on the sidelines between President Obama and Putin. It was about 10 to 15 minutes long. And, at this point, we only know the White House's take on it, their summary or readout of the conversation. But the message conveyed is what President Obama said yesterday that he would convey and the consistent message that he says he has been sending through the months of this crisis, that Russia basically needs to do something, to deescalate the situation, to recognize the new government in Ukraine, to start working with them, to stop supporting the armed militias, to stop arming those militias.

And if Russia did take those steps, then President Obama said there would be an opportunity to move forward. Now, to many, it might seem like Russia has long since exhausted all of its opportunities for a diplomatic solution, since the violence day to day on the ground in Ukraine continues, but world leaders are saying that that opportunity to work and move forward still exists.

I think what might be more interesting is this meeting that also happened today, again, brief, between Putin and Ukraine's president- elect Poroshenko, that the French government is saying that the two of them were talking about a cease-fire in the near future. So, we're still very much waiting to see what comes out of these meetings, especially considering that they were 10 to 15 minutes long at a lunch that was meant for something else -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens with the Russian readout, as you call it, of what that -- what occurred at the meeting. We'll see if either the official Russian media or the White House releases any photographs of that little chat that the president had with Putin. We'll see what's going on. Michelle Kosinski's got much more coming up throughout the day. She's traveling with the president. Thanks, Michelle, very much.

The ceremonies at Normandy were both somber and celebratory. About 1,000 aging veterans of World War II were present, among the dignitaries, Queen Elizabeth. She's the only head of state who also had a job during the war, working as a military truck driver. In his address this morning, President Obama recalled the heroic efforts of thousands of American, British, Canadian troops as they storm the beaches, took heavy losses, but, ultimately, turned the tide of the war.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And paratroopers fought through the countryside to find one another. Rangers pulled themselves over those cliffs to silence Nazi guns. To the west, Americans took Utah Beach with relative ease, to the east, the British tore through the coast fueled by the fiery of five years of bombs over London and a solemn vow to fight them on the beaches. The Canadians, whose shores have not been touched by war, drove far into France. And here at Omaha, troops who finally made it to the seawall used it as shelter, where General Bart, if you're rangers, lead the way.


BLITZER: Most of the surviving veterans of D-Day, they're now in their late 80s or 90s. This is probably going to be one of the last times we'll see so many of them together.

Meantime, the White House is standing by comments that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl served the country with, quote, "honor and distinction." In an exclusive interview with our Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, the national security adviser to the president, Susan Rice, defended her remarks about Bergdahl and the deal that freed him. She says, taking the time to notify Congress could have put Bergdahl's life in jeopardy.


SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We were very concerned about the well-being of Bowe Bergdahl who had been in captivity for five years. We had indications that his health may be fragile. And so, there was a real sense of urgency to obtaining his freedom. The president had the opportunity to do so. And it was an opportunity that could well have been fleeting and he choose to take it. And he feels very strongly that that was the right decision. All of us on the National Security team were unanimous in supporting and recommending that we take this opportunity.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But was that the reason why you didn't notify Congress, because there was this threat on his life if word had leaked out?

RICE: We had reason to be concerned about his life but we also had reason to be concerned that the 30-day period that would normally be honored was too long. That had he waited that long, we may have well missed what General Dempsey has called the last best opportunity to bring him back. We don't leave anybody on the battlefield, regardless of the conditions of their capture. And as a prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl deserved, and we had the obligation and the commander in chief had the obligation to do what was necessary to bring him home.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our Chief National Correspondent Jim Sciutto and our Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, the Anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." Jim, what do you make of her explanation?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that she might admit, in private, that she went a little far on Sunday to use that phrase, honor and distinction. To be fair, there's been hyperbole on both sides, right? You've had some wild accusations about what Bowe Bergdahl was, what kind of soldier he was, what kind of behavior he was up to on the negative side. So, you know, I think that what I hear constantly from U.S. officials in the Pentagon is we're going to do a full and through investigation. Give us the time to do that. Right now, the focus is on his health. And before you can answer these things definitively, you have to get through that investigation.

BLITZER: Candy, you interviewed her Sunday -- last Sunday morning, that's the morning after the president was in the Rose Garden --

CANDY CROWLEY, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. BLITZER: -- with the parents making this dramatic announcement. Do you think the White House has been caught off guard or by surprise as a result, all the commotion that developed?

CROWLEY: What surprised them is not the pushback on dealing with terrorists, negotiating with terrorists. They expected that to happen. Three or four years ago, Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state, said, you know, the public's not going to take that kindly talking to people we've been at war with. So, that they expected. Somehow what they didn't see coming was the amount of vitriol toward Bergdahl himself. They did not expect that part. And they clearly were not ready for it because there's a pretty simple answer and that is, we -- exactly what she said the second time around. Because everything was kind of the same, well, we didn't consult Congress because we were afraid he was -- you know, his life was in danger. And, you know, but you say, yes, but he walked out. Well, but we thought his life was in danger. Whatever. That keeps changing as to why they didn't tell Congress. But the other half of this is, does it matter, should it matter what Bergdahl did or did not do. And the fact of the matter is we don't know. Maybe somebody somewhere knows but no one that's talking about this knows, at this point. And she clearly should have said that to begin with.

SCIUTTO: And the one thing you'll hear, you know, military officials, even, you know, former ones that have been speaking like General Stanley and Crystal, they agree with the administration's position that you don't leave -- you don't leave guys on the battlefield.

CROWLEY: Right, go get them.

SCIUTTO: You know, investigate later but we bring them back regardless.

BLITZER: Let me play another clip. This is Jim Acosta's interview -- the exclusive interview today with Susan Rice. Here's another excerpt.


ACOSTA: Let me ask you about some comments you made last Sunday on one of the Sunday talk shows. You said that Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and distinction. It's come out since then that some of his fellow soldiers say he was a deserter, he may have wandered off the post there in Afghanistan. Did you misspeak? Did you get that wrong?

RICE: Jim, I realize there's been a lot of discussion and controversy around this. But what I was referring to is the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That is, itself, a very honorable thing. And --

ACOSTA: But honor and distinction?

RICE: Jim, really, I mean, this is a young man who circumstances we are still going to learn about. He is, as all Americans, innocent until proven guilty.


BLITZER: All right, so what do you think?

SCIUTTO: Well, I think that that's a point that the president was making as well. One, innocent until proven guilty. But as he was explaining his decision a couple days ago, he said, listen, I'm responsible for these guys. You know, I use the expression --

BLITZER: Send them off to war.

SCIUTTO: I send them off to war. It's my responsibility to bring them back. And just by that fact of going to war, they're volunteering to serve in foreign lands, that we, as a country, have an obligation to them.

BLITZER: She made the point, Candy, that he volunteered to serve in the United States Army as a young man from Idaho, that was a very honorable thing to do.

CROWLEY: Well, that act certainly is. Now, so what was the totality of his service? They're going to have to find out. I agree with Jim. I think probably she would take that back could she take it back at this point. And one wonders what she knew about, you know, the facts about his disappearance. But, in truth, nobody knows, because the only one that actually knows what he did after he disappeared from the base to now is him and whoever had him.

SCIUTTO: And we already have conflicting, you know, accounts, right?


SCIUTTO: Because some of his fellow soldiers said, oh, he went out there, he was somehow seeking out the Taliban. CNN has now talked to an Afghan official who was part of the response team and he says, no, the Taliban came and forcibly got him, and he resisted, and they -- you know, beat him up, that kind of thing. So, that's already a conflict there. One of the many things they're going to be looking into in their investigation.

BLITZER: I know Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION, you're going to have a lot more coming up on what's going on on this whole Bergdahl uproar.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. We're going to talk with some former top military brass, kind of get their feel for this whole discussion that's been going on this week about his service and about the dealing with terrorists.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much. Candy, Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Jim, don't go too far away. We've got more to discuss.

Signs of life for the economy. The Labor Department says the jobs picture is better than expected. We're going to break it down for you.

Plus, Hillary Clinton opens up in a brand-new memoir detailing some fascinating behind-the-scenes moments in her 2008 presidential campaign. And some several disagreements she had with President Obama when she was secretary of state.


BLITZER: New Labor Department figures show today that the economy has gained back all the jobs lost during the recession that began back in 2008. And 217,000 jobs were added in May. This as the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.3 percent.

Let's bring in our global economic analyst Rana Foroohar. She's joining us from New York.

So, the markets, it looks like the Dow Jones right now going up a bit. Maybe we'll show our viewer what's happening right now. It's up, what, about 73 points. So this is encouraging. Another 200,000-plus new jobs created last month.

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean this is now four months of really strong jobs reports. What's good about this one is that the job gains were really broad-based. They were across all sectors -- manufacturing, retail, trade, tourism, health care, everything. You know, the two areas of concern, though, it must be said, are that the major growth is still in lower wage jobs and wage growth overall is only about 2 percent. That's about half of what it was in the pre-crisis era. So that still has economists concerned.

BLITZER: The fact that we -- another 200,000-plus jobs created, but the unemployment rate stayed study at 6.3 percent. How many jobs do you have to create in a month in order to see that 6.3 number go down?

FOROOHAR: Well, it's an interesting question. You need job growth of over 200,000 definitely from here on out to start seeing a real dip. But that workforce participation number that we sometimes talk about is really crucial here. So the workforce participation rate is the amount of Americans that are actually participating in the labor market. Unfortunately, and that's now below 63 percent, which is as low as it's been since 1979, which is when women started coming into the workforce en masse. So that number affects the overall employment figure. We need to get workforce participation up. Sometimes when it rises, unemployment can actually rise too, but it doesn't mean that it's a bad rise. It's something statisticians talk a lot about. The bottom line is we need more people in the labor market. We also need wages to tick up to have a real robust recovery.

BLITZER: We have a new poll, a CNN poll, that finds a lot of people are getting a little bit more confidence about the economy but many still think a full economic recovery is years away. Look at this here, the opinion of the economy, only 3 percent believe it's completely recovered, 40 percent say the recovery has started, 31 percent say conditions have stabilized, 27 percent believe the economy is still in a downturn. So a lot of people aren't yet convinced, Rana, that things are so much better than they were a few years ago.

FOROOHAR: Well, there's two things going on there. For starters, this has been the longest recovery in post-war history. It's taken 40 months for us to get back to those pre-crisis levels of employment. So that's a long time. The other thing is, it depends on where you are in the economic food chain. So people that have college degrees never really suffered as much as those without them. Somebody that has just a high school degree still isn't really feeling that recovery. Those kinds of jobs have only just started ticking up. And overall, wages as a whole, as I say, have been flat since the crisis and recovery began. So we're going to need more money in our pockets before we really feel that things are getting better.

BLITZER: Rana Foroohar is "Time" magazine's assistant managing editor, also CNN's global economic analyst. Rana, always good to have you here explaining these complicated economic situations.

FOROOHAR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton puts distance between herself and President Obama, revealing in a new memoir some disagreements the two had on major foreign policy issues when she was secretary of state. Her revelations and the implications for 2016. That's next.

And later, we have new detail about Bowe Bergdahl's condition and his time in captivity. What we're learning about his attempts to escape.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton's new book "Hard Choices" isn't out until Tuesday, but excerpts obtained early by news organizations reveal some fascinating details about her tenure as America's top diplomat, her relationship with President Obama, and a critical vote she cast as a U.S. senator that she now calls a mistake. Our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar has more.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In her much anticipated memoir, first obtained by CBS News, Hillary Clinton details her role in negotiations to secure Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That's not how war works.

KEILAR: The controversy surrounding his release in exchange for five top Taliban leaders likely does not surprise her. She writes, "I acknowledged, as I had many times before, that opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war."

Clinton's starkest difference of opinion with President Obama is on Syria's civil war. She says she pushed him to arm moderate rebels but he disagreed. "No one likes to lose a debate, including me," she says, "but this was the president's call and I respected his deliberations and decision."

Clinton offers her strongest mea culpa yet for voting in 2002 to authorize of use of force in Iraq. A vote that cost her liberal support in 2008. "I wasn't alone in getting it wrong, but I still got it wrong, plain and simple," she writes. She speaks warmly of her relationship with Obama, which grew out of a bitter primary battle. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're likable enough,



KEILAR: She describes their first meeting after she dropped out of the race. "We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date," she says, "taking a few sips of chardonnay. Both Barack and I and our staffs had long lists of grievances. It was time to clear the air."

But she didn't go to bat for Obama right away.

MCCAIN: Governor Sarah Palin --

KEILAR: Describing a request from his campaign to knock Sarah Palin when Republican Candidate John McCain picked her as his running mate. "I was not going to attack Palin just for being a woman, appealing for support from other women. I didn't think it made political sense and it didn't feel right, so I said no." Perhaps an appeal to women voters who will be extremely important to Clinton, should she run for president.


BLITZER: And Brianna is joining us now, along with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

It was clear in some of these excerpts that AP, the Associated Press, now has an excerpt as well, on Cuba, where there was another disagreement apparently on easing U.S. relations with Cuba. The expert obtained by AP, Hillary Clinton writes, "the embargo," the U.S. lead embargo that's been in place for decades, quote, "wasn't achieving its goals and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America. I thought we should shift the onus on to the Castros to explain why they remained undemocratic and abusive." So, Brianna, there's another example here of slight difference between the president and the then secretary of state.

KEILAR: Sure. And on Syria, I mean these are stark differences, right? These are -- she's appearing more hawkish and I think generally she is when it comes to foreign policy and that's really the role that she served in the president's candidate. But he's not particularly popular, right, and if she's trying to appeal to voters somewhere in the middle, this is one way that she can kind of do it. But I also think it's sort of difficult. The difficulty for her also is that she doesn't want to look like she's slamming someone who brought her on and also that sort of mending fences with President Obama, and they do have a genuine relationship, that's also something that benefits her.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know this just seems to me, and again, from all the experts we've read, because I've not read the entire book, I do not have it, it says, this seems to be safe. It's a safe place for her to be. It also reads - all of these excerpts, yes, I disagreed with him on Syria, yes, I disagreed with him on Cuba, but all about policy, nothing personal. Yes, we had these huge grievances. Yes, we stared at each other, we cleared the air. Well, what happened? When you read Bob Gates' memoir --

BLITZER: The former secretary of defense.

BORGER: The former secretary of defense, he kind of got into it. He got into the personalities. He got into the real fights. Help got into the kind of -- how he felt about Joe Biden and what he felt about Joe Biden's policies and the White House staff. And, you know, the Hillary Clinton staff and Barack Obama staff, you know, were going at each other. But she pushes that aside because I think it's, you know, she clearly has miles to go here. She's -- to me, it reads like somebody who's not yet done with her political career.

BLITZER: Well, she's obviously not done with her political career. She's at least seriously thinking of expanding that political career -

BORGER: Right, exactly. Exactly. Safe (ph).

BLITZER: Making an effort for the White House once again.

And there's always a dilemma in writing these kinds of books, especially if you're looking ahead to a political career -


BLITZER: On the one hand, you know, you -- she spent four years as the secretary of state. This is a memoir of her experiences. She wants to tell all of us what happened, when she agreed with the president, disagreed, when she won, when she lost, stuff like that. But if she does too much like that, Brianna, it seems to be she's distancing herself at least from this president who, as you point out, is going through a rough patch right now.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly. And the truth is, she's going to need to do that if she runs. She's going to need some of that distance. So - but, at the same time, she served in his cabinet.

What I think is kind of fascinating is, look at President Obama. He wrote, "Dreams for My Father" long before I would say his presidential aspirations were really, truly at the forefront. And in a way that was very unique. We got a sense of him as a person that he might not have revealed. And certainly when he wrote "The Audacity of Hope" leading up to his run, he was much more careful. And we just sort of see that with these books.

BLITZER: There's another first lady that's been in the news I guess --

BORGER: Who would that be?

BLITZER: That would be the current first lady of the United States. And now there's a little, you know, buzz out there, well, maybe she would follow in Hillary Clinton's example after leaving the White House, run for a Senate seat. Maybe from Illinois. What do you think about --

BORGER: OK. Michelle Obama is stepping out a little bit. She's getting more into the political arena. She's disagreeing with Congress. They want to push back on her food guidelines. And she's getting a little bit involved in foreign policy. She's kind of moving out there.

I personally believe it has more to do with being second term than it does to do with Michelle Obama saying, you know, maybe I could have a political career because by all accounts she doesn't like politics. She likes policy. I don't think the president likes politics much either, by the way. But I certainly can't see her sort of actively seeking out a senator job unless it were kind of handed to her. I don't think she likes that very much.


KEILAR: Yes, I -

BLITZER: Go ahead.

KEILAR: I think that's exactly right. I don't see her following in the footsteps of that model that Hillary Clinton set up as first lady.

BLITZER: Yes. She met -- Michelle Obama met her husband at Harvard Law School, right?

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And where did Hillary Clinton meet her husband?

KEILAR: Yale Law School.

BORGER: Yale. Yale Law School.

BLITZER: At Yale Law School. So they've got -- maybe, who knows what's going to happen.

KEILAR: Some things in common.

BLITZER: That's right. All right, guys, thanks very much. We'll look forward to getting the actual book.

BORGER: Was that a quiz? That was a good quiz because we passed, right?


KEILAR: We did all right.

BLITZER: Which law school's better, Harvard or Yale?

BORGER: I don't know.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

Up next, free after five years of captivity, but still far from home. We'll have the latest on Bowe Bergdahl's condition and when he might return to the United States.

Later, our own Jake Tapper sits down with the comedian, Stephen Colbert, but when the talk turns to D-Day, Stephen Colbert becomes very, very serious. You'll want to hear what he has to say.