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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Accuser in Trump Battery, Defamation Trail to Testify; McCarthy Scrambles for Debt Bill Votes Amid GOP Concerns; W.H.O. Warns Battle Near Biolab Could Set Off "Germ Bomb"; ISIS-K Leader Behind Kabul Airport Bombing Killed by Taliban; Today: Biden Campaign Begins TV Ad Buy in Key Battleground States. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 26, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, a writer who says Donald Trump raped her about to testify in court.

Plus, a bio lab full of deadly pathogens at risk right now in Sudan's war zone.

And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, struggling to get his party in line as default looms closer for the U.S.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin this morning with dramatic testimony expected today in a New York courtroom. E. Jean Carroll will take the stand in a civil case against Donald Trump. Carroll says the former president raped her in a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s. She also accuses him of later defaming her in comments he made about that rape allegation. Now, Trump denies any wrongdoing.

Our Randi Kaye has more.


E. JEAN CARROLL, SUING DONALD TRUMP: I proceeded into the dressing room. The minute he closed that door, I was banged up against the wall.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Author and columnist, E. Jean Carroll, sharing her story of an alleged assault by Donald Trump.

Carol now 79 is suing Trump for battery, stemming from the attack she says took place in late 1995 or early 1996 in a dressing room of the department store, Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.

She is also suing him for defamation for comments Trump made about her last October.

On his Truth Social platform last fall, Trump posted: It is a hoax and a lie, just like all the other hoaxes that have been played on me for the past seven years. And while I'm not supposed to say it, I will. This woman is not my type.

He also posted: I don't know this woman. Have no idea who she is. She completely made up a story that I met her at the doors of this crowded New York City department store and within minutes, swooned her.

In his October deposition for this case, Trump called Carroll a nut job.

Carroll filed what is now her second lawsuit against Trump last November, after a new law called the Adult Survivors Act was passed in New York. That law allows adults alleging sexual assault to bring claims years after the attack.

Carroll claims Trump forced her up against a dressing room wall, pinned her in place with his shoulder and raped her.

CARROLL: He managed to penetrate me against my will completely.

KAYE: Carroll's lawsuit says Trump jammed his hand under her coat dress and pull down her tights then forced his penis inside of her. She says the attack lasted two to three minutes. Trump has denied all of Carroll's claims, including the rape allegation.

Carroll says she called a friend right away that night who backs up her story.

LISA BIRNBACH, FRIEND OF E. JEAN CARROLL: I remember her saying repeatedly he pulled down my tights. It was horrible. We fought. And I said, let's go to the police.

KAYE: Carroll's lawsuit claims the alleged sexual assault caused her significant pain and suffering. Adding Trump's defamatory statement has injured the reputation on which she makes her livelihood.

CARROLL: Nobody has held him accountable yet, not one person.

KAYE: Carroll sued Trump initially in 2019 for defamation, after he denied raping her.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: It is a total false accusation, and I don't know anything about her.

KAYE: The trial in that first legal battle is delayed as the courts figure out if Trump can be sued for comments he made while he was president. The defamation claims from the more recent lawsuit would not be impacted since Trump made those statements after he left office.

Meantime, E. Jean Carroll is still hoping for justice.

CARROLL: Oh, total jail time, total jail time for the rest of his life. Absolutely.


ROMANS: All right. Republican lawmakers fear they may not have the votes they need to raise the national debt limit while at the same time dramatically cutting federal spending. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wanted to vote on that bill today, but he's facing resistance from his own party and several fronts as a catastrophic U.S. debt default looms ever closer.

CNN's Emily Schmidt has more.


EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): House Speaker McCarthy walking yet avoiding talking details on whether he has the 218 votes he needs to raise the debt ceiling, with a razor thin majority and divergent interests.

Iowa House Republicans opposed a provision repealing ethanol subsidies. Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz wants stricter work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I'm working to make sure that those cuts aren't aspirational.

SCHMIDT: McCarthy had vowed he would not change his plan for a one year debt limit increase and deep spending cuts.


Yet with an expected vote this week. Here's how he answered when asked if he would change the bill.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Little did I think I'd be quoting Donald Trump. But even Donald Trump said, I can't imagine anyone ever thinking of using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge.

SCHMIDT: The White House said in a statement. House Republicans must address the debt limit without demands and conditions. If presented with the act as it stands now, the president vows to veto it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: It might as well be called the default on America act, because that's exactly what it is -- DOA.

SCHMIDT: Senate Republicans chose a different abbreviation.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The White House is totally MIA.

SCHMIDT: The Congressional Budget Office estimated Tuesday, McCarthy's debt limit plan would save $4.8 trillion over the next decade.

In Washington, I'm Emily Schmidt reporting.


ROMANS: All right. The World Health Organization issuing a warning after Sudanese RSF fighters seized a bio lab containing deadly pathogens. The WHO says there is a huge biological risk because any armed confrontation inside will turn that lab into a germ bomb.

CNN's Stephanie Busari live in Lagos, Nigeria, covering this for us.

Stephanie, what diseases could spread from that lab.


So this lab is the national public health lab in Khartoum. A big lab houses, polio isolates measles, cholera and other kind of potentially dangerous diseases that the WHO is describing as an extremely dangerous situation. This kind of gives you an insight into the chaos and the descent into disorder happening in the country right now.

We had earlier reports of U.S. citizen stabbed outside his home by unknown persons and what people are telling me that I'm gangs and criminals are taking advantage of this war to really unleashed terror on the citizens in the country.

And meanwhile, the evacuations are going on, Germany became the latest country to evacuate 700 of its citizens and many people, but what? We're not hearing enough, obviously humanitarian efforts, what other in humanitarian efforts and what Sudanese are asking about is, where are the supplies? Where is the help that we need for those of us that cannot leave and get out of this country?

And the people are saying they're not hearing enough about what -- what is being done in -- to help in this situation, Christine.

ROMANS: Just a tragic situation with all kinds of civilian ramifications. Thank you so much, Stephanie. Keep us posted there.

All right. The White House says the ISIS-K leader behind the deadly 2021 suicide bombing at Kabul International Airport has been killed by the Taliban. That attack was carried out in the final days of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It left 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans dead.

CNN's Ivan Watson live in Hong Kong with more.

Ivan, what more does the White House say about the Taliban's operation here?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't have a lot of details, aside from the claim that this purported mastermind -- we don't even have his name -- has been killed by the Taliban. And we don't even know really the time frame of when it took place.

So, CNN has reached out to the Taliban itself to try to get some answer on this. We're still waiting for a response.

We have spoken with the father of one of the 13 U.S. service people who were killed in that horrific attack in those chaotic days in August of 2021, the father of Staff Sergeant Taylor Hoover, and he's confirmed that an official from the Marines called him to let him know that this had in fact happened also didn't provide any additional information, and he welcomes that development, but also continues to criticize the Biden administration's track record in those final chaotic days.

And that criticism is echoed by the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That's Representative Michael McCaul from Texas, who says, quote, anytime a terrorist has taken off the board is a good day, but this doesn't diminish the Biden administration's of culpability for the failures that led to the attack in the first place.

And, you know, he's investigating this, and it's raised a whole host of issues such as the tens of thousands of Afghans who are languishing, still waiting for visas to resettle to try to escape the Taliban regime. It also highlights the fact that the U.S. intelligence and reconnaissance and surveillance capital capability in Afghanistan of terrorist groups like ISIS-K have been dramatically reduced since the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving, somewhat ironically, the U.S. enemy on the ground in Afghanistan, the Taliban fighting ISIS-K.


And finally, the ongoing poverty that this country is continuing to struggle with, the fact that you have some 20 million people, the United Nations estimates, living a basically in penury, some six million people living on the brink of famine, dark picture all around -- Christine.

ROMANS: It certainly is. All right, Ivan. Thank you so much for that this morning.

Brazil's former president, Jair Bolsonaro, about to testify as part of an investigation into January 8th. That's the day, of course, thousands of his supporters attacked and trash government buildings after he lost the election.

Let's go to CNN's Julia Vargas Jones live in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for us.

And Julia Bolsonaro never explicitly conceded that election, did he?

So, now, what kinds of questions will he face?

JULIA VARGAS JONES, JOURNALIST: Well, Christine, he did not. In fact, he was actually out of the country at a time. You remember, he left Brazil just days before the inauguration of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who was his opponent in the election.

But all the way up to that point, he was putting out false claims that the Brazilian voting machines system was not reliable. He also had for many, many months said that he wouldn't concede, right, at the time. So the authorities are closing in, and one particular post of fake news that he shared on his social media, and that was a few days after the January 8 attacks, that was on January 10th, where he called again into question the integrity of voting machines and the results of the elections.

Now, that doesn't mean that this is the only thing they're looking at. We understand that there is a full picture that authorities are trying to draw, to see if there are further steps to be taken. He's now being looked at as someone who is one of the instigators -- alleged instigators of the January 8 attacks. Of course, him being out of the country, Christine, it's hard to put a very clear action based here.

But he is in this investigation, along with 1300 other people that were arrested and then released but will be coming in little by little to the Supreme Court in Brasilia to have their cases heard on whether or not they were part of those rights that put a mark on Brazilian democracy -- Christine.

ROMANS: Wow! All right, Julia. Thank you so much for that.

All right. Just ahead, a suspected killer on the run, the manhunt now under way after a prison break. Plus, the death sentence for selling cannabis.

And the first moves being made today by Joe Biden's new re election campaign.



ROMANS: All right. Today, President Biden begins running his TV ads in battleground states, states like Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that he carried during his 2020 campaign and those that he expects to be crucial in his reelection.

How do Republicans plan to counter it?

CNN's Kristen Holmes has more.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The plan for Republicans to attack Joe Biden. Now that he has announced is still coming into focus. Of course, we know that in order to actually put a comprehensive plan together, they have to know who exactly will be running for president against Joe Biden, and that nomination process is still very much underway.

However, after Biden announced, we started to hear what exactly that attack might look like, and they went after him for a number of different reasons. First, the RNC put out a video that they said was AI generated that hit him on a number of issues, after him on the border, talked about inflation, crime rates, essentially said that if Joe Biden won presidency in 2024, that the financial institutions will completely fall apart.

We also saw Republicans hitting Biden on a number of other issues that included crime waves. Again, inflation several different buckets that weren't not similar to what we saw in 2022. That playbook strategy there, but again, in order for a firm plan to come together, they're going to actually have to have a nominee, and that process is looking more and more messy by the day.

Right now, those Republicans are focused on hitting each other, and we even heard from former President Trump today who suggested that he might not participate in the primary debates.

So, clearly, a lot to work through their before Republicans can actually come up with a cohesive plan to go after President Biden in 2024.


ROMANS: All right, Kristen Holmes. Thank you so much for that.

Okay, so President Biden spoke yesterday at a union members conference hours after officially launching his reelection bid.


BIDEN: We made a lot of progress because of all of you. But there's more to do. So let's finish the job.


ROMANS: Let's bring in Alex Thompson, national political reporter for "Axios".

Let's finish the job, I think we're going to be hearing a lot of that in the coming months, and I wanted to zero in on Biden's announcement video. You know, it started with these images of the Capitol insurrection. Abortion rights protesters. Imagery just kind of says it all.

You say fellow Democrats are a little bit surprised that he didn't include any of the bipartisan multitrillion dollar bills he passed, you know, not even infrastructure.

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Yeah. I talked to another a number of Democrats yesterday that, you know, while they think it's a winning message, obviously, to talk about fighting for abortion rights, and you know, talking about, quote/unquote, MAGA extremists, you know, when you're talking about finishing the job, usually you talk a little bit more about the job you've already done before. Because you know in that ad, you know, it doesn't really -- it's not really clear what exactly Biden has already done, except for, you know, holding back the tide of what he calls MAGA extremists.


ROMANS: Yeah, the White House press secretary spoke yesterday. Listen to this question and answer.


REPORTER: Does the president plan to serve all eight years?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETRY: I'm not -- I'm just not going to get ahead of the president. That's something for him to decide.


ROMANS: So, Republicans are taking aim at Joe Biden for his age. Polling shows the Democrats aren't overly excited about his age, but they'll get behind their candidate. How does he plan to prove he is fit for four more years?

THOMPSON: Well, that clip that you -- that you showed, you know, the press secretary, and I can tell you people in the White House where cringing when she said it because on launch day and then just raised more questions about his age. And you saw Karine Jean-Pierre, you know, basically have to clean it up almost immediately after she got out of the briefing room yesterday.

But, you know, you're completely right that Republicans are going to target the fact that Joe Biden would be 82 inaugurated 86 when he would leave office the end of the second term. Now, Joe Biden, you know, he always has a standard reframe, which is watch me.

And so I imagine, you know, if you watch that ad, you'll notice even some of the instrumentals in the background are very upbeat. You know, I think you're going to see them do sort of like very prominent, you know, little, little moments when you know to try to, you know, demonstrate some forms of bigger, you know?

But the truth is that it's a little bit tough. I mean, even when you see him walking, you know, he has a little bit of that shuffle that was in his medical report.

I also think the main thing that you're going to see is that his schedule is not really going to change much in the next few months and that in order that the best form of bigger that bacon show is just him doing presidential duties.

I don't think you're going to see him really out on the campaign trail much at least for these next few months.

ROMANS: Also, I noticed that Kamala Harris is prominently featured in the Biden video here. What is the strategy there? Is that age-related do you think?

THOMPSON: Well, it's partly age related, because I think members I've reporting on this that is actually just came out this morning that, you know, this -- this is part of a much bigger strategy for the White House to take, you know, the fact that Kamala Harris's polling numbers are lower than Joe Biden's. And I think, because Joe Biden is so old and Republicans are expected to make her a centerpiece of the campaign, essentially by reelecting Joe Biden, you are there is a significant chance you're making Kamala Harris president.

I think the White House finally realizes that they need to get her numbers up in order for the ticket to be successful because at the moment, she's a drag on the ticket. So it wasn't a surprise also down the re-launch website. You see them both together. They are -- they are branding this as a constructive partnership. Not just the Joe Biden show.

ROMANS: Fascinating.

All right. Alex Thompson, here we go. Nice to see you go.

THOMPSON: Here we go. Thank you so much.

ROMANS: Here we go. Thank you so much. Have a great morning.

All right. Quick hits across America now.

A manhunt underway in Mississippi for four inmates who escaped a Jackson jail, one of whom allegedly killed a man while on the run. Officials believe at least one of these men is now in Texas.

Florida man faces murder charges of murder and robbery after police say he killed and dismembered an Uber eats delivery driver last week. Detectives say surveillance video led them to body parts dumped in the trash and the suspect.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has signed a new law banning the manufacturer, important sale of the assault style weapons in his state, except for law enforcement. Republican lawmakers say the ban will face legal challenges.

Coming up, another Republican formerly gets into the 2024 race for president today. And prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny back in a Russian court on new charges.



ROMANS: Imprisoned Putin critic Alexey Navalny appearing in court -- in court a short time ago on new criminal charges, his lawyer says the charges stem from Navalny allegedly dragging his cell mate with hygiene problems out of their shared cell. Navalny's daughter also says her father is being denied food in prison and suffering extreme weight loss.


DASHA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEY NAVALNY'S DAUGHTER: He buys the food, which is, you know, oats. It's nothing. It's nothing luxurious and he bites the oats. The oats are brought to him shown to him and then are just destroyed. So he can't eat.


ROMANS: CNN's Clare Sebastian joins me from London.

You know, Clare, it sounds like they're making this incarceration is difficult as possible. What can you tell us about these new charges against him?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's complicated. Christine, and his daughter certainly has suggested that it could be intentionally so. Right now, as we know, he is already serving 11.5 years, part of it for parole violations, part of it for fraud, and contempt of court. This hearing today, not a court hearing, but a technical hearing as we understand it, related to extremism charges that were filed against him in October last year.

This is a hearing where prosecutors are attempting to restrict the amount of time that he and his team can spend reviewing the documents in this case, but we are now also hearing from him and reported by state media that the investigator in this hearing has told Navalny that he is now facing another terrorism case, which he says relates to him, potentially allegedly committing an act of terror while in prison, something that he has called absurd, so it's clear that the pressure on him is mounting.

It's also clear certainly from accounts from his family, as you just heard there, and his team, that this is happening as the conditions that he's facing in prison are worsening.