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MEET THE PRESS TRANSCRIPT: Feb. 23, 2014

“MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”

February 23, 2014

DAVID GREGORY:

Good Sunday morning. A live picture this morning from the Olympic compound in Sochi, Russia on the final day of these Olympic winter games that will be known not only for the drama of the athletic competition and the warm weather in Sochi, but also for the revolt in neighboring Ukraine. There is breaking news this morning as protesters continue to pack Independence Square in the capital of Kiev. The whereabouts of President Viktor Yanukovych are unknown.

The bloody crackdown has left dozens dead. Ukraine's parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from power. On Ukrainian television Saturday, Yanukovych said he would not step down. The battle for Ukraine underlines the tension between Russia and the United States of late, that some believe harkens back to the Cold War. And as the Ukraine story moves so quickly, I'm joined now by the President's National Security Advisor, Susan Rice. Good to have you. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

SUSAN RICE:

Good to be with you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Ambassador, what is the latest? Where is Yanukovych? Are you worried that this is a situation teetering towards civil war?

SUSAN RICE:

Well David, Yanukovych's whereabouts, as you said, are not known at the present. What we do know is that he picked up in a very orderly fashion and left the capital, Kiev, just after having signed an agreement that was designed to lead to a unity government. From the U.S. point of view, our interests had been clear all along. We want to see a de-escalation of violence. We want to see constitutional change. We want to see democratic elections in very short order, and the opportunity for the people of Ukraine to come together in a coalition unity government.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is United States--

SUSAN RICE:

That's happening.

DAVID GREGORY:

--on the side of the protestors?

SUSAN RICE:

The United States on the side of the Ukrainian people. And the Ukrainian people have indicated from the outset, three months ago, when this began, that President Yanukovych, at the time, his decision to turn away from Europe, was not the choice of the Ukrainian people. The Ukrainian people expressed themselves peacefully. They were met with violence. And that did not-- end well for Yanukovych.

DAVID GREGORY:

Does he have to go, in the President's mind?

SUSAN RICE:

He has gone.

DAVID GREGORY:

But does he have to relinquish power?

SUSAN RICE:

He has gone, David. I mean this is an interesting and complicated situation, as you know. He's lost, Yanukovych has lost enormous legitimacy, despite having been originally democratically elected. By turning on his people, by using violence in the streets against peaceful protestors, and by flouting the will of the Ukrainian people.

DAVID GREGORY:

But he's saying he's not stepping down.

7:33

SUSAN RICE:

But he left Kiev, packed up, and in an orderly fashion, took his stuff, his furniture, with him. This was not fleeing in a very disorderly fashion. So now he is in a place where it will reveal itself. Yesterday we know where he was, today, we're not so sure. But the fact is he's not leading at the present.

DAVID GREGORY:

In foreign affairs, as in other things, location matters, right? Location, location, location. That's why I want to show for our viewers the map, because I think it's so instructive. Ukraine's a huge country, 46 million people. But look where it is. It's on the doorstep of Russia. And that certainly matters to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who very much viewed Ukraine within his sphere of influence.

Half the country, big east/west divide there, half the country to the east, millions of them speak Russian, identify with Russia. The president spoke with President Putin. Was his message pointedly, "Back off here, let Ukraine follow its own course?"

SUSAN RICE:

The President's message was, "Look, we have a shared interest in a Ukraine that remains unified, whole, independent, and is able to exercise the will of its people freely. At that point, Putin was in agreement. They were both able to say that they wanted to see the implementation of the agreement that had been signed on Friday.

And that agreement is very consistent with our principles, and it's consistent, in fact, David, with where this situation is going. We are going to have a unity government. We are going to have near-term elections. We are going to have constitutional reform. And that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people and the interests of the United States and Europe.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Putin is viewed widely, as the economists put it, his viewed as the architect of this bloody crackdown. Do you not fear that this could take an ominous turn, that Russia, particularly after these Olympic Games, could decide, perhaps, to send forces in to restore the kind of government that Russia would like to see? After all, it was Putin who guaranteed $15 billion worth of loans to Yanukovych so that they would reject the West, reject the European Union?

SUSAN RICE:

That would be a grave mistake. It's not in the interests of Ukrainian or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see the country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence returned and the situation escalate. There is not an inherent contradiction, David, between a Ukraine that has longstanding historic and cultural ties to Russia and a modern Ukraine that wants to integrate more closely with Europe.

DAVID GREGORY:

But--

SUSAN RICE:

These need not be mutually exclusive.

DAVID GREGORY:

But isn't it interesting that I heard the president say, "Look, we don't want to look at this like the Cold War." But isn't that how Vladimir Putin views all of this? Doesn't he look at this sphere of influence very much in a Cold War context?

SUSAN RICE:

He may. But if he does, that's a pretty dated perspective that doesn't reflect where the people of Ukraine are coming from. This is not about the U.S. and Russia, this is about whether the people of Ukraine have the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations and be democratic and be part of Europe, which they choose to be.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is this a good thing? As you see this kind of ferment, three years ago, the Arab Spring in Egypt, you see this democratic ferment in Ukraine, we're seeing it in Venezuela and other places, do you-- does President Obama view this as a positive sign?

SUSAN RICE:

Oh, democracy is a good thing, David. Sometimes the making of it is very messy. There can be setbacks. It can be uneven. But we all know, through many examples in history, that democracies are more stable. They protect their people. They're more peaceful. They're more able to deliver economic opportunity to their people. So over time, this trajectory is a good one.

DAVID GREGORY:

And yet, as Americans are paying attention to this, I talk to people, they may not understand all the complications of Ukraine and the split toward, you know, the European Union versus Russia. But what they do see is they see Vladimir Putin trying to shore up a sphere of influence. They see the Russians releasing this tape of our diplomat, Victoria Nuland, talking about, you know, the opposition and the political future of Ukraine.

They see Russia talking about the U.S. meddling in its area, giving political asylum to Edward Snowden, blocking the United States when it comes to interests in Syria. Why shouldn't Americans look at Vladimir Putin and Russia today as an enemy?

SUSAN RICE:

David, first of all, we have to be very pragmatic. And President Obama has been exceedingly pragmatic about our dealings with Russia. There are areas where we can cooperate with them. There are areas where we disagree bitterly with them.

But let's look at both sides of the ledger. We have been able to reach a new and very important arms control agreement with them, The New Start Treaty. We've been able to cooperate on Afghanistan and Russia's role in enabling us to move our equipment and personnel in and out of Afghanistan. It's been very important. On Iran, we've actually been working together on the effort to use diplomacy to see if we can't obtain a nuclear agreement. They've been cooperative in that.

On the other hand, we differ bitterly over issues of human rights. We differ over Syria. We differ over their treatment of LGBT persons. And we differ over a number of issues. And the fact of the matter is we should cooperate where we can. Where we can't agree and where we don't agree, we should be very plain about that and stand up for our interests--

DAVID GREGORY:

But can't you see--

SUSAN RICE:

--which we do.

DAVID GREGORY:

Don't you understand that perspective of Americans who may not be in the foreign policy establishment who say, "When is enough enough? I mean when do you confront Putin at some point and call him on all this stuff?"

SUSAN RICE:

Well, we have confronted him, and we do call him on it. And the president is very plain and very forceful in his dealings with Putin. But it's not necessary, nor is it in our interests, to return to a Cold War construct, which is long out of date, and that doesn't reflect the realities of the 21st century.

DAVID GREGORY:

I mentioned one of the areas where the Russians have been so unhelpful, and Secretary of State John Kerry was really forceful in his criticism of Russia this past week, is about Syria. This is how President Obama described Syria just a couple of weeks ago on the situation there.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

We still have a horrendous situation on the ground in Syria. The state of Syria itself is crumbling. That is bad for Syria. It is bad for the region. It is bad for global national security.

DAVID GREGORY:

And yet, this deterioration that the president describes follow the president issuing a red line for Syria over chemical weapons, and then stepping back from that. Now you have the horrendous situation he describes. Assad is stronger, with Russia's help. Al-Qaeda and other jihadis are present in Syria in an incredibly ominous way. And 95.5% of the most dangerous chemical weapons remain in that country. Is it time for a new U.S. strategy?

SUSAN RICE:

Well David, look. Nobody is content with the situation in Syria. From a humanitarian point of view, it's horrific. From a national security point of view, it's deteriorating. There's no question. We're constantly reviewing our options. We're constantly looking at ways to accomplish our objective.

And let me be clear about what that objective is. First of all, we don't want to see terrorists and the terrorist threat emanate from Syria. We're concerned about the growing extremist presence there. We believe it's critical that Assad leave power and that there be a transitional government formed by mutual consent, and that the institutions of the Syrian state remain intact. We don't want to see the state fragment.

DAVID GREGORY:

But we know the principles--

SUSAN RICE:

Which is why-- David, it's important to understand this, and I think folks need to understand-- which is why we have tried to pursue a diplomatic resolution. Not because we're naive and we think that there isn't a real hot war on the ground. But at the end of the day, unless and until there's a political solution, this thing is not going to be resolved. It's not going to be resolved on the battlefield So we've been pursuing multiple--

DAVID GREGORY:

But you say that you met with intelligence chiefs from the region, the Saudis and others, who want more lethal aid provided to the rebels to tip the balance and actually take Assad out. Is the U.S. prepared to escalate on the ground to achieve a different result on the battlefield?

SUSAN RICE:

Well, the United States is actively supporting the moderate opposition with material support, with political support. And that support is increasing, David. And we're doing it in consultation and coordination with countries in the region. We're also the largest supplier of humanitarian assistance. And yesterday, because of U.S. leadership and that of other partners, we were able, for the first time, to get a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that binds the Syrian government to allow humanitarian assistance in.

DAVID GREGORY:

And you talk about the humanitarian assistance. The level of suffering is huge. The fact that Assad has killed-- about a million people have died, the refugee crisis adding numbers to that, by almost another million, I mean the scale of mass suffering is huge in Syria.

SUSAN RICE:

David, I think it's more like 100,000, which is--

DAVID GREGORY:

Excuse me, I messed up, I'm sorry.

SUSAN RICE:

--horrific. But--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, 100,000 killed.

SUSAN RICE:

Not a million.

DAVID GREGORY:

Excuse me, I was speaking about the refugee number. I apologize. But the scale of mass suffering is huge. Senator McCain has said that future presidents will apologize for what the U.S. has failed to do now. You've been asked in the past about mass suffering, genocide in Rwanda and President Clinton's admitted failure to intervene. And you worked on those issues.

And this is what you told The Atlantic back in September of 2001: "I swore to myself that if I ever face such a crisis again, I would come down on the sign of dramatic action, going down in flames, if that was required." How does that view influence the advice you give to the president on Syria?

SUSAN RICE:

Well first of all, David, this is not a genocide. It's a horrific civil war that has spilled over and infused the neighboring states. It's one that we have worked very hard to end, through support to the opposition, through humanitarian assistance, through active and aggressive diplomacy. And David, we have every interest in trying to bring this conflict to a conclusion.

But if the alternative here is to intervene with American boots on the ground, as some have argued, I think that the judgment the United States has made and the President of the United States has made is that is not in the United States' interests. We are very much committed to trying to work to resolve this conflict, but in a way that doesn't insert the United States back into a hot, bloody conflict in the middle of the Middle East.

DAVID GREGORY:

This is a complicated time for the world, as you know (CHUCKLE) better than anybody. If you think about democrat ferment around the globe, you think about American re-trenchment from Afghanistan and Iraq, sectarian division in Syria and Iraq. And there's been some criticism of President Obama about just what his view of the world is and his foreign policy.

He wrote this in Audacity of Hope, he wrote: "Without a well articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands, America will lack the legitimacy and, ultimately, the power it needs to make the world safer than it is today." What is that view of the world that President Obama has that he seeks legitimacy for?

SUSAN RICE:

President Obama views the United States as the leading and most important global power because of the power of our economy, the power of our values, the power of our military. We are and will remain the most important country in the world. And without our leadership, which we exercise every day actively from Africa to the Middle East to Asia, the world would not be nearly as stable and as prosperous as it is.

Now, it is complicated, as you said. There are setbacks, and there are difficult circumstances. But David, look what the United States is doing around the world. We're actively working to try to bring a negotiated resolution, finally, to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. And as difficult and fraught as that is, we're making progress. Because of United States leadership, we have the prospect of resolving the Iranian nuclear program through diplomacy. We don't know that it will succeed, but we're closer to that goal than we have ever been

DAVID GREGORY:

You don't worry about a potential for stalemate, as you already heard the Iranians say that the idea of removing missiles is off the table?

SUSAN RICE:

David, there's always a potential that this doesn't succeed. But we have already halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program and begun to roll it back in critical ways. For six months, this program will be set back, and the timelines for them to achieve any kind of breakout have been expanded.

In the meanwhile, we have the potential to explore a comprehensive, peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear program. That is not something that we could say six months ago. And it is very substantially a product of American diplomacy. And it's indicative of the way we have approached conflicts around the world, where we are actively involved in trying to resolve them, from Africa, to Asia, to the Middle East.

DAVID GREGORY:

When you were last here, Ambassador Rice, it was an eventful morning on the story of Benghazi and the horrible attack on our compound there. We haven't seen you in a while. As you look back at your involvement in all of that, do you have any regrets?

SUSAN RICE:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that's been well validated in many different ways since.

And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that's been amply demonstrated.

DAVID GREGORY:

The politics of this are still intense. Do you believe it cost you the Secretary of State job?

SUSAN RICE:

David, I don't know. What I do know is that I have a great job. It's the greatest honor in the world to work for the President of the United States and on behalf of the American people. And I couldn't ask for anything more.

DAVID GREGORY:

We know, as was said at that time, and has been found later, that security at the compound was a gaping deficiency. But it's also an issue of finding the people responsible for this attack. The president spoke forcefully about that during the presidential debates. This is what he said in October of 2012.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

We are going to find out who did this, and we are going to hunt them down. Because one of the things that I've said throughout my presidency is, when folks mess with Americans, we go after them.

DAVID GREGORY:

17 months later, are we any closer to finding who was responsible?

SUSAN RICE:

Yes. I think you've heard the attorney general speak to this. The investigation is ongoing, and it has indeed made progress. But the point is we will get the perpetrators. And we will stay on it until this gets done. And If you need any proof of that, recall the capture operation that occurred not long ago in Libya against somebody who attacked the United States many years ago in Africa.

The United States stays on the case. This president, our President Obama, has said that we will do what it takes to bring the perpetrators to justice. And indeed, we will.

DAVID GREGORY:

Finally, I just want to, on a final point about Ukraine and what you will be monitoring and watching for today and in the days to come.

SUSAN RICE:

Well, most importantly, David, we want to obviously see a de-escalation of the violence. And for the last few days, things have been much more peaceful. That is welcome, and it's something we want to see sustained. The parliament is actively involved now in choosing this transitional government, setting the date for elections, and appointing acting heads of ministries. We want to shore that up.

And very importantly, we want to cooperate with partners in Europe, the IMF, the Russians, if they're prepared to participate to help the Ukrainian economy, which is very, very fragile. They need to reform, and they need financing. And that will be very much a part of our shared efforts.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, do you think the United States has a big financial role to play in helping Ukraine?

SUSAN RICE:

The United States will play a role, along with our partners in Europe. If Russia chooses to participate, they would be welcome. And of course the IMF is the big player on the block in this respect.

DAVID GREGORY:

Susan Rice, thank you very much for your time.

SUSAN RICE:

Good to be with you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Appreciate it very much. Coming next here, we're going to get a sense of what's happening in Ukraine on the ground from our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. He's in Kiev with the latest on that Ukrainian revolt. Plus our roundtable with some insights and analysis: David Brooks, Chris Matthews, Judy Woodruff and Helene Cooper with their reaction to ambassador Rice, and also about America's role in the world. That's coming up here on Meet the Press.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back. You're looking live at Independence Square in Kiev, the capital, of course, of Ukraine. Before we get to our roundtable, fast-moving developments, as we've been saying all morning, in the situation there. I want to go to our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. He's live in the capital, as I said, Kiev. Richard, good morning.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Good morning, David. The parliament here has appointed its speaker as the new interim president. An arrest warrant has been issued for, I guess we can describe him now as, Former President Yanukovych, although he claims he is still president. There were never more than 20,000 demonstrators in this square behind me. But in less than a week, they managed to change the balance of power in Europe and Central Asia.

2:53

(BEGIN TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL:

The revolution began with a fiery miscalculation by the government when, last Tuesday, riot police tried to storm a three-month-old protest camp in the center of Kiev. The demonstrators held their ground, setting bonfires to keep the police at bay. Police couldn't take the square. And by the next morning, they were reduced to throwing stones. The police didn't have much food or shelter, either. We saw them exhausted, sleeping on the streets.

By day three, protesters felt they had the upper hand, and charged police lines. (GUNFIRE) Then the government made a second tragic mistake. (GUNFIRE) Riot police opened fire, killing nearly 80 demonstrators. In minutes, volunteers converted a nearby hotel into a field hospital.

UKRAINIAN MAN:

Yanukovych, with support of Russia, tried to kill Ukraine.

RICHARD ENGEL:

The U.S. and other nations threatened sanctions. And under pressure from Europe, Ukraine's pro-Moscow president, Yanukovych, agreed to limit his authority and hold new elections by the end of the year. The protesters sensed weakness and chose to push on. They occupied Kiev, (CHANTING) starting with the presidential offices. Police abandoned their posts.

RICHARD ENGEL (TO UKRAINIAN MAN):

So is today your liberation day?

UKRAINIAN MAN:

I hope so.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Yanukovych fled for eastern Ukraine, and demonstrators entered his chalet. Kiev fell without a shot. Hungry for information, people pressed their faces to the gates of parliament for updates broadcast on loudspeakers. Parliament was taking over the government. (CHANTING) For the demonstrators, Yanukovych was a run puppet.

UKRAINIAN WOMAN:

I'm not against Russia, just I'm against Putin. Maybe he wants to return to USSR, something like that.

RICHARD ENGEL:

This week, Vladimir Putin's Realpolitik met 21st century internet politic, as Tahrir Square style siege demonstrations came to Moscow's doorstep, making Russia wonder: "Will there be more? Is this the start of a Eurasian Spring?"

(END TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL:

Demonstrators say they will stay in this square to act as an insurance policy during this transition of power.

DAVID GREGORY:

Richard, thank you very much. This morning, I'm joined by our roundtable now, co-anchor of the PBS Newshour, Judy Woodruff, New York Times columnist David Brooks, host of MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews, and also of The Times, national security correspondent Helene Cooper. Welcome to all of you. A big, fast-moving story with great importance. Again, I come back, Chris, to the idea of this being a high-stakes moment between the United States and Russia.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

It's not about Ukraine.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

It's so familiar, too, because I grew up rooting for the captive nations of Eastern Europe. Catholic school, a lot of Ukrainians in Philadelphia went to school with us. They were the smart kids, the hardworking kids. We rooted like hell for them against the Soviet Union.

At the same time, we spent that entire Cold War avoiding a face-to-face military conflict with the Soviet Union. We did not want to fight them. And I think we're on that same tricky slope right now. Make our values clear, our sympathies clear, but don't let it get geopolitical. Don't let it get to be the Soviet Union-- or, in this case, Russia and Putin--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

--who's very much like the Soviet Union, fighting over turf. Don't let it become that, because that means real trouble.

DAVID GREGORY:

And that, Judy, is what you heard Ambassador Rice insist on, that that's not how President Obama wants this to be viewed.

JUDY WOODRUFF:

That's right. And you-- you asked her about what-- is this a return to the Cold War? Certainly that's how Putin sees it. And you heard her say, "Well, that's not how we see it." And but for the United States, it is crucial in that it affects Europe's stability, it's another place. The U.S. needs Russia right now to work with us on Syria. You asked her about Syria.

The U.S. needs Russia to work with us on Iran. These are countries that have a direct relationship right now to some of the international issues we care the most about. But at the same time, David, we can't forget about the people of Ukraine. This has all happened very fast. They are facing an incredibly uncertain period right now. Economically, they are in a-- somebody said to me they've gone from being the breadbasket of that part of the world to being a basket case. So the IMF, the role of the U.S., it all matters right now.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, I just think, too, as I think about why this matters, it is ultimately about the United States and Russia. But it's also about what America stands for and the rest of the world, David. What is our voice? What is the President's voice? Is it a foreign policy that's defined by its limitations or by its potential? And you look at, you know, this democratic ferment on the streets, it's not just happening there, it's happening in lots of parts of the world.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yeah. And we're going to have big tests coming up. The crucial battlefield right now is in Putin's mind. He's seen an autocrat fall on his border. He's got to be thinking about himself. So he's thinking, "This guy fell because he was a day late and a dollar short. He was not tough enough." So Putin's probably going to want to crack down more, possibly sparking a counter-reaction.

The second thing he'll be thinking about is, "What do I do with my Eurasian vision? Do I let-- what about Crimea, which is part of national honor for the Russians? Do I let Ukraine break up? No, I don't. I do, if I have to, what I did in Georgia." And so that is a potential epic conflict between us and them.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

DAVID BROOKS:

And so what the U.S. is doing, I think pretty well, actually, you've got to give the Obama administration credit, trying to get Ukraine to a place where they don't force Putin to make these decisions, getting the IMF involved, getting the opposition to unify, getting this legal. And the de-escalation that Susan Rice talked about is the core to our strategy, done as effectively as we can, I think.

DAVID GREGORY:

Helene, you of course covered the White House. You're covering national security more broadly here. I was struck by Josh Marshall in the Talking Points Memo blog this week where he took on the idea that this is a cold war again. He basically said, "Stop it. You know, Russia doesn't matter." This is part of what he wrote. He said, "Yes, Russia still has nuclear weapons. But in the absence of anything to fight about, they simply aren't the same kind of threat, other than the fact that it's sort of dangerous to have so many of them around in the world. At the end of the day, Russia-- meaning they have nuclear weapons, (CHUCKLE) "At the end of the day, Russia just doesn't matter that much in the early 21st century world, certainly not as an any sort of primary, let alone, existential, threat to the United States.

HELENE COOPER:

I wonder if he was talking to Mitt Romney, who said that (CHUCKLE) Russia, remember, was our number one strategic threat--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

HELENE COOPER:

--back during the campaign. I think that's why you're seeing the Obama administration reaction is not over-the-top. Because, at the end of the day, what we need to remember is this-- what's happening in Ukraine matters so much more to Vladimir Putin than it ever will to us. And that's why-- I mean this is his backyard. This is his sphere of influence.

He sees things, and the Russians tend to see this so much as a zero-sum game. You know, the Americans are ahead, and they're behind. And so what Chris was saying I thought was really interesting. This is so familiar. Ten years ago, we saw almost this same scenario, not quite, coming too close to a civil war.

But we saw the same thing in the Ukraine with the presidential elections, where Russia tried to influence and turned off the gas taps. And we saw-- that's when we saw Yanukovych beaten. But he ended up back in power. And you're seeing the same thing over and over again. And we need to remember just how important this is to Russia. At the end of the day, it's not the number one priority for the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF:

And in effect, what happened ten years ago, laid the seeds for what happened today. Because there was the Orange Revolution.

HELENE COOPER:

Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF:

And yet, the victors fought among themselves. It was a messy outcome. Yanukovych took over. The corruption has become rampant. So you're now looking at a country where things, instead of getting better, they had that golden moment, that opportunity, they've gotten much more complicated.

DAVID GREGORY:

But more importantly--

DAVID BROOKS:

Can I just disagree just a little?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yes, go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS:

I think this will be an issue for ten years. This is a civilizational scene between these two places. Ukraine sits on the middle of that scene.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

DAVID BROOKS:

And if Putin goes into Ukraine, either in a heavy way, a more heavy-handed way than he has, whether it's in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine, if the country falls apart, then Europe is really sucked in. You've got, really, a gigantic part of the world, Russia, which has essentially a failing system, an economy that is based on corruption and petrodollars, the talent leaving, a gigantic part of the world more or less imploding, it's hard for me to not see how that is not a major issues, let alone with the demography--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

So Chris, I want to talk about Obama. Because I do think that this becomes the leadership challenge. You heard Susan Rice say, "Look, it's not in our interests to go into Syria." There's a lot of agreement about that. But nevertheless, you have another country falling apart, that's Syria. Iraq looks like it's listing a bit and because of sectarian division. Do you think this President's been clear enough about what America stands for?

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

I think he's clear about what he stands for, which is not to get involved in any more countries. I think his policy's been pretty clear. And it is consistent with the American people's sense of pulling back. Now that could change, it's cyclical.

What I found interesting over the weekend was not in the Olympics, but in Ukraine, they're wearing ski masks, which told me that the people involved with the overthrow of the president there are not at all comfortable this is gonna hold, that the Russians are coming. Why would you wear ski masks after you've overthrown the guy? Because you don't want to be identified. I think they're very worried about what's coming next, the Russians coming in, at least a portion of the country.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me bring the conversation back home. Meanwhile, back in Washington, where things have been a little bit quiet, but it's in that quiet that there is a great message. This is how our political team described it in our First Read blog that they've put on on Friday. I'll put it on the screen. "Both Democrats and Republicans have cleared the decks of ANYTHING that could divide their parties before the 2014 midterms. Republicans have essentially taken immigration off the table, as well as the threat of default or a government shutdown. Meanwhile, the White House has now removed chained CPI from its budget and slowed its push for fast-track authority." So both sides are deploying a do-no-harm strategy -- all with less than nine months before election day 2014,” David. In fact, the White House is saying, "We want to spend more in the president budget that will come out and get back to some of those infrastructure priorities. That's campaign mode."

DAVID BROOKS:

Yes. And it's all bad for the country. (CHUCKLE) So what are the things that are going to help the economy in the near term? Immigration would be a huge boost for the economy. A fast-track trade deal across the Atlantic, across the Pacific, huge boost. Chained CPI would save a trillion dollars in the second decade off the federal budget debt.

So these are all gigantic, very good policies, where there is majority support and where, in the old days in Washington, you'd cobble together a bipartisan coalition and get rid of the fringes. But right now, the fringes have veto power over everything else, and nobody's found a solution to that.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

So right. And by the way, it used to be that the parties would help each other to make up for each other's differences. Now they accentuate each other. To the Democrats, this election, a rosy scenario is to lose five Senate seats, not six.

DAVID GREGORY:

That’s saying, right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

They could lose ten. And so what they've said is, "If we're going to lose ten seats potentially," and they could well do that, a big sweep, they're going to the battle stations. Nothing on Social Security. All-out talk about minimum wage. Nothing on trade. David's dead right. Nothing's going to get done, because both parties have gone to their base.

JUDY WOODRUFF:

Well, something that could make a difference, frankly, is the president. His approval rating, right now it's in the low 40s. As long as it stays in that range, the Democrats really have to worry about not only losing seats in the House, but also, losing control of the Senate. If he can figure out a way at this point, and here we are, February, to get his numbers up somehow, I think that helps across the board. But right now, you're right, both parties have gone into the bunker. And they're waiting. They're sitting there, waiting to see, you know, what happens on the campaign trail.

DAVID GREGORY:

But--

JUDY WOODRUFF:

It's all out of Washington.

DAVID GREGORY:

Helene, it's so interesting that, in a bit of this vacuum, right, campaigning goes on. Foreign policy comes back in, in this respect: still a lot of focus on Hillary Clinton in 2016. On this program, Rand Paul raising the specter of Bill Clinton as a sexual predator, reviving--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--the Lewinsky scandal, the 1990s return. And here's Lindsey Graham, who's facing a primary fight in South Carolina, who's being challenged because of his positive comments about Secretary of State Clinton and her record. Here's a portion of that ad running against him.

(BEGIN TAPE)

LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I think she is a good role model, one of the most effective secretaries of state, greatest ambassadors for the American people, that I've known in my lifetime, Secretary Hillary Clinton.

NARRATOR:

Isn't 20 years of Lindsey Graham in Washington enough?

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

So here it comes, right? The State Department (CHUCKLE) record in proximity to Hillary Clinton.

HELENE COOPER:

That's so funny. I think what's really interesting about this, though, gets to something that the Republicans should actually be worried about coming up in the midterms is that, you know, they are in danger of having in their primary season, ending up with candidates who are too far to the right even for the Republicans. I mean what they need is they need people who are more moderate if they're going to have any chance of taking the Senate from the Democrats in November. And so if they go too far to the right, if you start coming in, people like Lindsey Graham from the right, you could end up, you know, in another dangerous situation for Republican candidates.

DAVID BROOKS:

It should be said Lindsey Graham was a House manager in the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. (CHUCKLE)

DAVID BROOKS:

I mean it was not like he's not a conservative guy.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

DAVID BROOKS:

He's a pretty conservative guy. And so we complain about Washington is all dysfunctional. But so the voters of South Carolina get a chance to make a decision. So they want a guy who's a very conservative guy but who happens to be able to work across the table. Let's be frank, Lindsey Graham is one of the top five or ten senators.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Well--

DAVID BROOKS:

He's a very effective Senator. And so the people of South Carolina get to make a choice. Do they want an effective Senator or do they want a talk show host?

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. And ironically, Lindsey Graham was among the most confrontational on the issue of Benghazi.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

So he chooses his issues that could--

(OVERTALK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Can I defend-- well, Former Ambassador Rice, now NSC director. You know, when she was on the program with you, if you go back and look at the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, basically, on the main points that it was a copycat situation, Benghazi, it came out of what happened in Cairo, which itself probably came out of that crazy video out of Los Angeles, but it did track. And the language used by her that day, which was "extremism" rather than "terrorism," had come from the intelligence community. Then the refusal to mention al-Qaeda in that context, was directly a decision by Petraeus, as DCI. And so it wasn't that bad a performance. And for them to make a big deal about this thing as their main campaign against Hillary Clinton I think is not going to get very far.

DAVID GREGORY:

The intrigue, though, about that appearance on this program and others by Susan Rice that Hillary Clinton didn't make it. And then ultimately, whether it cost her the job as Secretary of State, she didn't really engage on that, and I didn't necessarily expect her to today.

JUDY WOODRUFF:

Well, that's right. And I think the Republicans have beaten that drum. They'll continue to beat that drum. But I don't see it playing a central role in the election. I mean we all know, we've said this a thousand times, politics six months from now, much less two, three years from now, might as well be 100 years away. We don't know what's going to happen.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right.

JUDY WOODRUFF:

But I think it--

DAVID BROOKS:

Ted Nugent will say something stupid. (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. We'll come back with our roundtable a little bit later on. But up next here, a live report on another huge story this morning, the capture of one of the world's most wanted criminals, the arrest of Mexico's top drug lord, plus a story from our Harry Smith that you're not going to want to miss about a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice U.S. Hockey team who sold his most precious memory of that magical year, his gold medal. That's coming up.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Welcome back. You're looking at the world's top drug longer, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman. He was arrested by Mexican forces in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan on Saturday. Guzman has long been considered the most wanted figure in the Mexican drug war that has left tens of thousands of Mexican dead. Mark Potter is live for us in Miami now with an inside look at the man who's been responsible for much of the drug traffic to the United States. Mark, good morning.

MARK POTTER:

Good morning, David. To the Mexican government and U.S. drug agents, the arrest of Joaquin Guzman known as "El Chapo," or "Shorty," is equivalent to the killing of trafficker Pablo Escobar in Columbia, or even Obama bin Laden in the war on terror. Chapo had been sought for years. And legends grew that he was invincible. But now he has been caught.

(BEGIN TAPE)

3:59

MARK POTTER:

The arrest this weekend by Mexican Marines of Joaquin Chapo Guzman ends his years-long reign as the man widely believed to be the most powerful and prolific drug trafficker in the world. Authorities say he and the Sinaloa Drug Cartel, which he handed, were infamous for their levels of brutality throughout Mexico and along the U.S. border.

MICHAEL BRAUN (FORMER DEA CHIEF OF OPERATIONS):

When most of America thinks of organized crime, they naturally think of guys like John Gatti, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, even guys like Al Capone. But the reality of the situation is Chapo Guzman made those guys look like absolute Boy Scouts.

MARK POTTER:

Authorities say the Sinaloa Cartel has long been Mexico's largest drug trafficking organization, supplying the United States with most of its marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

ANTHONY COULSON (FORMER DEA SUPERVISOR):

A significant majority, 80 to maybe 90% of all the drugs that came into this country belong to Chapo Guzman.

MARK POTTER:

Officials say Guzman was arrested at this condominium in the resort city of Mazatlan, and that he offered no resistance and no one was hurt. Sources say U.S. agents from the D.E.A., I.C.E. and the U.S. Marshall Service helped supply Mexico with intelligence leading to the arrest. In addition to facing charges in Mexico, Guzman has also been indicted in a half dozen U.S. cities, as far north as New York and Chicago, where he was named Public Enemy Number One. (GUNFIRE)

In addition to his reputation for extreme violence, (SIREN) especially while seizing lucrative drug routes from other cartels, the Sinaloa group is also known for its use of tunnels to sneak tons of drugs under the U.S. border fence. Forbes Magazine named Guzman as one of the world's richest men. And authorities say he's spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year to corrupt officials in Mexico and the United States.

MICHAEL BRAUN (FORMER DEA CHIEF OF OPERATIONS):

He's turned more on our country, you know, to corrupt law enforcement on our side of the border and our judicial system. Law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and prison officials.

MARK POTTER:

After Guzman escaped from a Mexican maximum security prison 13 years ago by hiding in a laundry truck, he then built his cartel in the rugged mountains, and his exploits became legendary. (MUSIC) And were even celebrated in songs. But this morning, it's a different story, with Guzman back behind bars.

(END TAPE)

MARK POTTER:

And a question now is where will Guzman be held and tried, in Mexico or the United States? There are also concerns that his arrest could lead to another outbreak of violence over the next year, as rival traffickers try to take over his routes. David?

DAVID GREGORY:

Mark, thank you so much. There's so much intrigue about getting him this time. And previous times that they tried to find Guzman that were unsuccessful.

MARK POTTER:

Well, both Mexican and U.S. officials say that they had been tailing Guzman for the last month. And in one instance, just missed him by seconds, finally figuring out that the way he escaped was by using a tunnel dug beneath the house where he was hiding. But this weekend, they were onto that, and they got him. David?

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Mark Potter for us in Miami this morning, a fascinating story. Thank you so much. We're going to take a break here. Up next, remembering our colleague, Garrick Utley, a man for all seasons at NBC News and a former moderator of Meet the Press. Plus later on this final day of the winter Olympics, tough times for one member of the famous U.S. Miracle on Ice team and why he was forced to sell his coveted gold medal.

MARK WELLS (ON TAPE):

20 years of my life is gone. However, that memory will never go away.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Coming up here, it truly was one of the greatest achievements in middle sports history. But for one player on the U.S. Miracle on Ice team, tough times forced him to part with his gold medal. Harry Smith has this story. You don't want to miss it, coming up next.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Here now, some of this week's images to remember.

(“IMAGES TO REMEMBER” SEGMENT)

DAVID GREGORY:

This week's images to remember. We got some sad news around here Friday morning that we lost a great journalist and colleague, Garrick Utley. Utley's career spanned the globe. As a foreign correspondent, he covered major moments in history, from the Vietnam War to the Soviet-led invasion of Prague, and of course, politics here at home. He moderated this program from 1989 through 1991. During that period, he reported on the Tiananmen Square protest in China and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

GARRICK UTLEY:

There is certainly no more appropriate place to talk about the breathtaking events of the past several days and the prospects for the future than right here on what has been the front line of the Cold War.

DAVID GREGORY:

Our friend, Tom Brokaw, remembered Utley this way: "Garrick embodied the history of NBC News for most of the latter half of the 20th century. And he will be greatly missed." Garrick Utley was 74 years old. You can go to our website and watch Utley's final sign-off as moderator of Meet the Press in 1991. That's at MeetThePressNBC.com.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Now to the final day of the Olympic Games. The U.S. hasn't won the gold medal in men's hockey since 1980. That was the year, of course, of the famous "Miracle on Ice" triumph against the Soviet Union, still considered one of the greatest wins by an underdog in sports history. But as our Harry Smith reports, there's one member of that celebrated U.S. team still searching for a miracle.

(BEGIN TAPE)

4:04

HARRY SMITH:

At a public rink in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, a man laces up his skates. When he gets on the ice, he moves with neither grace nor speed. But that doesn't matter to Mark Wells. That he's back on skates at all is remarkable, maybe even a kind of miracle. Wells knows a bit about such things. He was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, the team that beat the Soviets and went on to win the gold medal.

HARRY SMITH:

This is at the end of you guys beating the Soviet Union.

MARK WELLS:

Yes.

HARRY SMITH:

Is there a word beyond "elation"--

MARK WELLS:

No.

HARRY SMITH:

--that (CHUCKLE) can describe the feeling?

MARK WELLS:

No. You know, if I could find one word, I'd be lucky. It was more a feeling within. God was there. There was magic.

HARRY SMITH:

In 1980, no one could imagine a thaw in the Cold War, nor could anyone imagine beating the Soviets in hockey. In international play, no one was better, not even close. Back then, we believed the victory was a triumph for our way of life. And we meant it. (CHEERING)

HARRY SMITH:

You guys are all standing there. And the gold medals are being put over your heads. What was that like?

MARK WELLS:

At first, I didn't believe it. Even though I'd been through all the trials and tribulations, to this day, I was the hero. (VOICE BREAKING) And I knew what it was to have the feeling of being a hero in my country. It wasn't about hockey anymore.

HARRY SMITH:

After the Games, Wells would bounce around pro hockey, but soon found himself flat on his back, disabled by agonizing back pain. He underwent surgery after surgery, became a recluse, ran out of money, and then did the unthinkable. He sold his medal for $40,000. Years later, it would bring $310,000 at auction.

HARRY SMITH (TO MARK WELLS):

You're getting ready to make this decision to sell this medal. Symbolic of maybe the most important moments of your life. How hard was it to make the decision?

MARK WELLS:

How hard? Felt like I died.

HARRY SMITH:

Felt like you died?

MARK WELLS:

20 years of my life was gone. However, that memory will never go away.

HARRY SMITH:

It was the memory of what happened on the ice in Lake Placid that helped pull Wells out of his despair. He started moving again, started living again.

MARK WELLS:

I had the dream of walking one day. And that's, again, going back to being an Olympian that has put me at this level today to be able to do this interview. And that's why I'm here to tell the world. Nothing's impossible.

HARRY SMITH:

Wells is working on a book about his life. He's become a father. And against doctors' orders, gotten back on skates.

MARK WELLS:

I've overcome. And it is, to me, a miracle, of course, if we create a miracle. Why can't I do it again?

HARRY SMITH:

The second miracle on ice.

MARK WELLS:

Exactly. That's the way I see it. Whoo!

HARRY SMITH:

For Meet the Press, Harry Smith, NBC News.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

And as Harry mentioned, Mark Wells's gold medal was eventually sold at an auction in November of 2010 for $310,000. The buyer was identified only as a rancher from the Western U.S.. We're back with our roundtable with some final thoughts on these Olympic Games and the medal count, which we can share with everybody and put on the screen. There is some advantage to home field advantage. It is the Russians who have the highest total, David Brooks, and the highest number of gold. But they didn't win it in hockey.

DAVID BROOKS:

I actually once had a conversation with Mitt Romney. You can shave the ice to favor you. There are actual home-field advantages to hosting the winter games. (LAUGHTER) I of course model my life after the X Games.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yes, I know.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

People don't know.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID BROOKS:

I know. My costume, everything. I actually thought Shaun White's grace in defeat was one of the highlights of the games for me. He's known as a pretty competitive guy in that culture. But he handled it well. Anybody can win while losing well is harder.

DAVID GREGORY:

Judy, did you enjoy the Games?

JUDY WOODRUFF:

Well, I want to pay tribute to the women athletes.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF:

You know, we don't celebrate women's athletics, I think, enough in this country. But whether they were winning or losing, I particularly remember the women's snowboard half pipe. Kaitlyn Farrington was, you know, surround-- all the women were supporting each other, winning or losing.

DAVID GREGORY:

And I'm all about slopestyle, by the way. I think slopestyle is a great- (LAUGHTER)

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

No. And our women did so wonderfully, and--

JUDY WOODRUFF:

And even in ice hockey.

DAVID GREGORY:

--Mikaela Shiffrin, as well, on the downhill.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

I agree with you on that, because that guy, Josh Christensen, who went up in the air, he's up in the air, doing all this stuff in the air.

DAVID GREGORY:

I loved it. It's remarkable.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

And way up there, and then he finally comes down perfectly. I think, you know, like some sports, like baseball, I don't think they get much better every year. Basketball probably gets better every year. Football, maybe. But definitely these winter sports, these two were better than they ever were before.

DAVID GREGORY:

We have to say, Helene, too, for all of the fear, security fears, fear of terrorism and violence, the Games, up until this final moment, have come off well.

HELENE COOPER:

They have. I mean I think that's because we're so worried about it beforehand, we gave Vladimir Putin a giant gift of a good luck charm.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. (CHUCKLE) Exactly. All right, thank you all very much. That is all for us today. We'll be back here next week. Tonight, don't miss the Olympic Closing Ceremonies right here on NBC. And coming up this Friday, on Today, an exclusive interview with First Lady Michelle Obama. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.