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Trump Compares His Legal Troubles To Navalny's Persecution; No Decision Yet As Assange Appeals, Fights Extradition To U.S.; Suspect In Death Of 11-Year-Old Girl Charged With Capital Murder; Biden Administration Cancels Another $1.2B In Student Loan Debt. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 13:30   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Days after Alexei Navalny's death, former President Donald Trump is responding, not by condemning Vladimir Putin, who's widely seen as responsible for the demise of his main political rival. Instead, Trump is comparing Navalny's untimely death with his own personal legal battles.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES(R) AND CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): It's happening in our country, too. We are turning into a Communist country in many ways.

And if you look at it, I'm the leading candidate. I got into -- I never heard of being indicted before. I got indicted four times. I have eight or nine trials.


TRUMP: It's a form of Navalny. It is a form of Communism or Fascism.


SANCHEZ: Speaking strictly off the facts, that comparison is ludicrous. It's a name.

But let's be precise as to why. Alexei Navalny died, a political martyr after he spent years fighting government corruption and brutal repression in Russia.

He advocated for reform. And he published exposes detailing how Russian leaders allegedly built extravagant fortunes by stealing from the public. He organized dissidents. And even in the face of violent retribution, he took his message to the streets.









SANCHEZ: And for that, Navalny received multiple prison terms. Before, he was almost killed, poisoned by a rare nerve agent that dates back to the USSR. An attempt on his life that investigators found pointed to the highest levels of the Russian government.

And even after that, he decided to go back to Russia to keep fighting for basic rights.

Compare that to Donald Trump. The ex-president is facing more than 90 charges across four separate criminal cases. But on like Russia, you need significant evidence to charge or convict someone in the United States.

Trump isn't being prosecuted for expressing himself or over a personal vendetta. The fact is multiple grand juries looked at the evidence, the actual evidence against Trump and, based on their conclusions, prosecutors decided to indict.

Now, this is the key. Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He has the right to a fair trial. He'll get his day in court. All of us will be watching as he gets to present evidence to make a compelling argument in his defense.

And even if he's found guilty at that point, he still has the right to appeal, as he should. Here's the thing. None of those protections exist in the Russian legal system. Alexei Navalny never enjoyed those rights.

And yet, the most striking difference here is that Alexei Navalny is dead. He died inexplicably while being held prisoner in a Russian penal colony.

Donald Trump is not only alive, but he's campaigning across the country fundraising off of his legal woes and running for president in a country that, unlike Russia, democratically elects its leaders through free and fair elections.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: All right, so bearing all of that in mind, here with us to discuss all of it is Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mitt Romneys 2012 presidential campaign. He's now a senior partner at the Pentagon Group. Also with us, Keith Boykin, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton

White House aide.

Great to have both of you with us.

Kevin, it's a simple question, and I hate to pin it on you, but why is Trump doing this? Why --


DEAN: -- compare yourself to Navalny?

MADDEN: You know, this is -- this is always Trump's instinct. I think if you take -- if you take a step back, the big picture, Trump's strength was always as a vessel for a lot of concerns that people had about the state of America, jobs, the economy, immigration, border security, those type of things. That was where he really derived a lot out of his political power.

But one of the things that he -- has always been a problem for him is this reflection on himself. Helped self Is the center of the story, as well as a constant litigation of his own personal grievances or a constant re-litigation of the 2020 election, for example.

And so I think that's the real utility here, I think as this, as a political cudgel to use against Trump, is that an absurd line of reasoning like this puts Trump talking about himself when the general election should be all about talking about the concerns that people have about the big issues.

So I think the more that you see Trump's opponents there, as well as President Biden, the White House, bait Trump into making this all about himself and having absurd sort of leaps of reason like this about Navalny, I think the bigger that -- I think the more toxic Trump's political profile comes with voters who care about those big issues.


DEAN: Right?

And Keith, in the -- in the meantime, we are seeing this real shift in sentiment within the Republican electorate, also, elected Republican officials, certainly Donald Trump, who has advocated for no more Ukraine aid or assistance.

What do you make of this shift within the Republican Party that has for so long been synonymous with national security and foreign affairs?

KEITH BOYKIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST & FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Yes. I think, Jessica, that the shift in the Republican Party is a reflection of the fact that they have caved to Donald Trump.

First of all, the Navalny point that Kevin made is exactly right. Donald Trump's situation is not the same as the situation with Navalny. He was not persecuted. He was not poisoned. He was not tortured. He was not in prison. And he was not murdered.

But the fact that Donald Trump even makes the comparison and that Republicans haven't criticized and condemned him widespreadly (sic) and done so, is a reflection of just how corrupt he's made the entire party.

The other fact is that Donald Trump is beholden to Vladimir Putin. He's afraid to stand up to Vladimir Putin. He wouldn't stand up to him in Helsinki.

He's inviting the destruction of NATO, inviting Putin to invade Europe. He has shown himself to be sort of complicit with the actions of Russia.

And thirdly, Donald Trump is clearly corrupt, the most corrupt president we've ever had an American history.

The fact that he has 91 charges, that he has four indictments, as Boris said that were from grand juries of his peers, not from prosecutors, not from the Biden administration, but from his own peers, who came together and reviewed the evidence, all that evidence.

And the $355 million settlement that just came up for civil fraud. And the $83 million defamation judgment against him. And before he even took office, a $25 million fraud suit against him for his fake university.

Donald Trump has had a history of fraud and misjudgment and lying and dishonesty, 30,000 lies in office. We know that he came in with six bankruptcies. And we know these also had a career of being a con artist.

The fact that the Republican Party has now fallen for the con after they spent all of 2015 and much of early 2016 denying that Donald Trump represented who they were is a reflection that they have just completely given up and allowed Donald Trump to run their party.

DEAN: And yet, there are some people that, that really, Kevin, he connects with that are out in America trying to get through a day and see any further -- they see aid as a gift.

They don't know that perhaps we're making those weapons in states across the country. They think it's just you're giving money away when there needs to be help at home.

And it seems like Trump is tapping into something there and the Biden administration hasn't quite explained it in a way that benefits, you know, how on an average, American can absorb that message.

MADDEN: I think the political battle ahead comes down to who's actually controlling the marketplace of the debate.

I think if you look at polls, there's large or broader support for supporting Ukraine and supporting NATO. I think there's a very vocal minority.

And look, vocal minorities who make their voice heard at town halls or with females --


MADDEN: -- they're not new. But I think they are particularly animated right now.

And I think your -- your other point is probably the most important one. The White House has a charge here, how do they serve as both a uniting force and how do they serve as the broader sort of sustained message about how important this is to our overall national security posture.

Bring Republicans and Democrats together to solve the funding issue that we have up on Capitol Hill.

But then also the long-term objectives that we have, whether it relates to NATO as a force for good, the most successful alliance now -- military alliance in history, over the longer-term part of their -- of their policy stance.

DEAN: Right. That it's -- really, it's been in place for a long time.

All right, Kevin Madden, Keith Boykin, we are grateful to both of you. Thanks so much for being here.

Up next, a U.K. court deciding right now whether Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, will be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial. We will have the latest on his appeal.


Also, an update on the Audrii Cunningham case. That's the 11-year-old who was killed on her way to school. Charges have now been filed.


DEAN: Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, still doesn't know if he'll get a new appeal as he fights being extradited to the U.S. on criminal charges. Two high-court judges in London ended today's hearing without making a decision.

Assange faces charges under the Espionage Act for obtaining and sharing classified information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If convicted, he could receive a life sentence.

CNN's Melissa Bell is here with more on what's at stake here.

Melissa, walk us through what happened in court.

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, these were a couple of days of hearings, Jessica, that were a last-ditch attempt by Julian Assange to avoid the extradition that the high court in the United Kingdom had ordered back in 2021, upholding it in 2022, a decision that was stamped by the Home secretary of the time.

Still he is trying through these hearings to get the chance to appeal the extradition to United States on the grounds arguing through his lawyers he has poor health. But on others as well.

Now, those hearings have now ended without a decision from the judges. They've reserved their judgment. We don't have a timeframe for when it'll come back with that.

But essentially what we saw were two days of hearings that involved the U.S. government's counsel arguing that Julian Assange, back when the founder of Wikileaks published the certain redacted -- certain documents, military and classified documents that related to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, had gone above and beyond journalistic practice.


So the documents had been published, for instance, without any of the names redacted, putting the lives of people on the ground in danger.

The defense, the lawyers for Julian Assange, argued that this would set a dangerous precedent for journalism and for freedom of speech.

The other argument that the defenders -- the lawyers that Julian Assange had in trying to get this chance to avoid extradition, they make the case that, beyond, they say, the fact that he may spend life in prison -- that's pushed back on by the American lawyers who say that, in fact, he would only spent four to six years in an American jail.

They say that he had been the subject of a lot of extrajudicial killing that the United States, the CIA, had sought allegedly to have him killed a few years ago.

And this means that he could face dangers beyond what the legal system in the United States might give him. That was also pushed back upon.

For now, we don't have a decision. We should hear fairly soon, although we don't I have a timeframe.

Then either the extradition proceedings will start and it could be a matter of weeks before he finds himself the United States or he will get his permission to seek further challenges in British courts -- Jessica?

DEAN: All right, more to come on this.

Melissa Bell, thanks so much.


SANCHEZ: This just in. The suspect in the death of an 11-year-old Texas girl has officially been charged with capital murder. Authorities in Livingston say that 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham was found dead in a river with a large rock tied to her body.

Investigators say that several pieces of key evidence, including the rope used on the victim, all linked back to the suspect, Don McDougal.

CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, John Miller, joins us now.

John, walk us through the details that were learning from prosecutors here.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT & INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, what we learned from the charging documents today is that Don McDougal allegedly leaves the house with Audrii Cunningham in his 2003 blue Suburban.

Ostensibly, to drive her to the bus stop, which is at the end of the development, where their home is and where he lives in a trailer in the back. When the bus gets there, she's not there.

When McDougal was questioned by police, he gives stories about his travels, about his whereabouts, but says he dropped her off at the bus stop and she wasn't with him.

Using cell phone data and using video canvass that shows him in various places, they were able to place him in three critical locations. And one of those locations was Highway 59 where it crosses with the Trinity River, where the body was found yesterday.

Part of the delay there was there had been heavy rains. There's a dam there. They had to work with the dam authority to actually lower the water so that the divers in the boats could have a better chance of recovering that body.

And as you reported, when they found the body, it was tied with a rope attached to a large rock to weigh it down.

And critically, they say that a police car stop of McDougal just a couple of days before allowed the officer to observe a similar rope in the car.

What they have now is a circumstantial case. But they're also at a very early stage. So scientific evidence from the autopsy, potential DNA, and the processing of his car could develop further evidence.

At this point, he has said, on his own social media channels, more than once, that he's innocent, that he didn't do anything wrong -- Boris?

SANCHEZ: John Miller, thank you so much for that update.

Up next, more than 150,000 people who went to bed with student loan debt no longer have it. We're going to tell you who qualifies and why you may want to refresh your email.

And breaking news. We just learned that Boeing has replaced the head of its 737 Max unit after several safety and quality related incidents, probably the most high-profile incident being that Alaska Airlines door plug falling off, that door blasting off of that plane in mid-flight. [13:49:09]

We're staying on top of this. We'll bring you the very latest after a short break.


DEAN: More than 150,000 people got a life-changing email today saying their student loan debt has been erased. The Biden administration notifying borrowers this morning that their balances had been zeroed out, totaling more than $1 billion.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is here.

And this move is part of the latest round of student debt relief. Who qualified for this, who got these emails, Vanessa?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS & POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 153,000 lucky Americans got this email this morning saying that their federal student loans had been forgiven.

And here is who qualified. You have to have been part of the Biden administrations SAVE program. That is a program that they started last year.

You had to have original debt amount of 12,000 or less. And you had to have been paying this back over the last 10 years. This totals, today, $1.2 billion of student loan forgiveness.

The Biden administration has had to get really creative in how to forgive student loans.

Because they had this wide-sweeping plan to forgive millions of dollars in student loan debt for millions of Americans but the Supreme Court rejected that plan that they had in place. So the SAVE program is one way today that they've been able to do that.


But to date, the Biden administration saying that they've been able to forgive $138 million of student loan debt. That's for about 3.9 million Americans.

But just to take a step back, Jessica, the total amount of student debt in this country is $1.6 trillion, impacting 42.3 million borrowers. So it is just scratching the surface.

We know that the Biden administration has wanted to do more. They've really been held back legally, especially by the Supreme Court decision.

But today is a reminder for voters that they're still trying to make strides, that this is still a cornerstone of the Biden administration.

As they look to the election, they want to remind people they're still trying to make headway on this. They've just had to work a little harder to forgive more money for everyday Americans -- Jessica?

DEAN: All right. Vanessa Yurkevich, with us on that, thank you so much.

Ahead legal experts warned Alabama's recent Supreme Court ruling equating frozen embryos to children would imperil IVF in the state and we're now seeing the first of that fallout.