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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Compares His Legal Woes To Navalny's Death In Prison; U.S. Unveiling "Major Sanctions Package" Against Russia Friday; Soon: UK Court Rule If Julian Assange Has Right To Appeal; California Flood Threats Diminish As Storm Moves East. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 05:00   ET




Donald Trump finally speaking out about Alexey Navalny, not to condemn his death, but to compare himself to the fallen dissidents.

The FBI informant who lied about the Bidens being tied to a Ukrainian energy company admits he got his information from Russian intelligence agents.

Plus --


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no fear of Trump's retribution.


HUNT: Nikki Haley refuses to be intimidated by Donald Trump. She says and she's not getting out of the race anytime soon.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, February 21st. It's 5:00 a.m. here in Washington.

It's also 05:00 a.m. in Greenville, South Carolina, where former President Donald Trump is doubling down on recent comparisons he's made between himself and Alexey Navalny, the opposition leader who died in one of Russia's most brutal prisons last week.

So Trump is still alive and his Mar-a-Lago estate is markedly more comfortable than an Arctic penal colony. Trump insisted during a Fox News town hall last night that paying a fine for bank fraud isn't that different than what happened to Navalny.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But 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 get indicted, I never heard of being indicted before. I was -- I got indicted four times. I have eight or nine trials all because of the fact that, you know, this all because of the fact that I'm in politics.

It is a form of Navalny. It is a form of communism or fascism.


HUNT: Form of Navalny.

According to new reporting by CNN's MJ Lee, it's precisely these sorts of inflammatory remarks that President Biden is personally directing his senior campaign staff to focus on. He's been telling them that they need to more aggressively highlight the, quote, crazy stuff, the Trump says. Although Biden did not use the word stuff, I'll let you fill in that blank.

Biden himself appeared in a video yesterday, slamming Trump for the Navalny comparisons.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The former President Trump and other Republicans refused to hold Putin accountable for his death. Why does Trump always blame America? Putin is responsible for Navalny's death. Why can't Trump just say that?


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in senior politics reporter for "Axios", Eugene Scott.

Eugene, good morning. It's always wonderful to have you.

EUGENE SCOTT, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS: I mean, let's start with these Navalny comparisons and what we heard last night. I mean, this isn't new for Trump to say that he's persecuted. That's become, you know, a cork campaign talking point that he's making.

But this is definitely a new twist. It absolutely is. And what Trump is banking on is that his supporters are people paying attention to him, aren't really that informed about what's happening. In Russia, regarding human rights violations towards people who criticize Putin.

And so, what the Biden campaign is trying to do, is actually clear up the miscommunication, hoping not only to connect with some of the individuals in Trump's base. But really these swing voters and these undecideds that Biden is counting on to deliver the White House to him, who have, you know, not been as clear about their support for him so far.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Eugene, I think we keep when I think about the Republican Party that I've covered for so many years in Washington, it often harked back to Ronald Reagan, tear down this wall. I mean, it was a worldview that really shaped the party for many years. But now, you are seeing the way Republicans talk about Russia and about Putin be markedly different. And honestly that's coming I think in no small part from the voters in Donald Trump's base. What's with the authoritarian curious in the American electorate?

SCOTT: Yeah. We've seen multiple surveys and polls over the past few years showing that the Republican base want a strong man, strong armed leader.


But what that means, it has real implications on foreign policy, and it means turning a blind eye to so many of the values and principles that American presidents have champion over the years as you've mentioned. Killing people because they protest the government is fundamentally not consistent with what we expect American presidents to articulate and certainly not to embrace a victim hood mentality comparing themselves to someone who lost their lives for expressing their rights and their opposition to government policies when the reality is that they found themselves in the place and position that they're currently in because of their own doing. And that's what's happening right now.

And whether or not Trump will be punished for that with people outside of his base remains to be seen, but Democrats led by Biden certainly are trying to remind these voters that that is not what America needs for the next four years.

HUNT: Right. And there's, of course, that remark that Biden made. And I want to read you a little bit more from MJ's reporting. She says -- she writes, quote: As one senior campaign adviser, put it recently, they, the Biden campaign have been surprised by how many voters appear to put on rose-colored glasses when looking back on the Trump years.

I think this is pretty typical thing in politics or even in your own human memory. It's -- you tend to the late overlook some of the bad things. Remember the good times. I mean, that's -- that's kind of fundamentally human nature. And, of course, Biden is in the White House. People are looking at their lives right now and seeing what's going on here.

But it's interesting to me that Biden himself has personally directed his campaign stuff to focus on what Trump is saying. I think they also feel like its not being covered enough aggressively, enough. Do you think that that's a strategy that will work for the Biden campaign to just remind voters, hey, this was what it was like? What is the Hill they have to climb there?

SCOTT: I think that's very possible. I was talking to swing voters last week with the "Axios" Swing Voter Project. And there are two things that are happening to your point. The rose-colored glasses perception is very real.

One of the reasons why, as you noticed, because people are often focused on their lives as of now. But another is that people aren't as tuned into news as they were during the height of the Trump era. And so many of the things that you and I talk about every day, a lot of the people who should be paying attention respectfully aren't because they're focused on their families and the economy and other priorities.

What Biden and Democrats are banking on, it said these individuals will tune in more the closer that we get to the election and they're hoping to remind these individuals of all of the things that led not only Americans, but people around the world to give Trump such low approval ratings when he was in office, hoping that those ratings will be more of a the priority and concern for these voters, than Bidens own

HUNT: Yeah, there's some Trump fatigue, too, that caused a lot of people tune out at the end of the last election.

All right. Eugene Scott of "Axios", Eugene, thanks very much for being with us this morning.

All right. Just moments from now, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange returns to London -- to a London courtroom, desperately trying to avoid extradition to the U.S.

And New York's attorney general threatening to seize Donald Trumps properties if he cant come up with enough cash.

Plus --


HALEY: I feel no need to kiss the ring.


HUNT: Nikki Haley not backing down from Donald Trump and not getting out of the race.



HUNT: Welcome back.

The White House set to announce a major new round of sanctions against Russia in the wake of opposition leader Alexey Navalny's death in a Russian prison.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: President Putin and his government are responsible for Mr. Navalny's death. In response, at President Biden's direction, we will be announcing a major sanctions package on Friday of this week to hold Russia accountable for what happened to Mr. Navalny, and quite frankly for all its actions over the course of this vicious and brutal war.

(END AUDIO CLIP) HUNT: CNN's Clare Sebastian is live for us in London.

Clare, good morning to you.

These sanctions had been in the works. What is the sort of escalatory move that the Biden administration is making in the wake of Navalny's death?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Good morning, Kasie. That senior U.S. official is telling CNN that yes, a package was in the wax, as you say, timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the invasion, which is on Saturday, but they are expanding that in the wake of the death of Alexei Navalny.

Now, in terms of who it will be targeting, Jake Sullivan telling reporters on Tuesday that it will be but punishing people or entities linked to Russia's defense industrial base. So that presumably is more linked to what's happening in Ukraine, but also elements that power Russia's repression he said, we don't know what that means, possibly elements linked to law enforcement, the prison service, things like that. They aren't going into detail as of yet. But that would seem to be the area where things have expanded in the wake of the death of Navalny.

This is not a paradigm shift. This is more entities and individuals being added to the sanctions list. That means asset freezes, travel bans, things like that. Will it move the needle when it comes to Russia? It seems unlikely at this point, but it is getting weight from the fact that it is going to be coordinated with the E.U., which has just agreed its own package in principle -- Kasie.

HUNT: Very interesting.

All right. Clare Sebastian for us, live in London -- Clare, thank you.

Moments from now, arguments begin in the second day of a critical hearing in London on whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has the right to appeal the British government's decision to extradite him to the U.S. The 52-year-old is wanted on 18 criminal charges here in America and is facing life in prison for his organization's leak of classified materials about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


His team has argued that the extraditions political and that it undermines freedom of the press.


STELLA ASSANGE, LAWYER, WIFE OF JULIAN ASSANGE: It's an attack on the truth, and it's an attack on the public's right to know. Julian is a political prisoner and his life is at risk.


HUNT: CNN's Max Foster is joining us live now from London on this. Max, good morning. Always wonderful to see you.

The big picture here -- the arguments that Julian Assange's supporters, that was his wife there, are making about him being a journalist. That's obviously not how the U.S. government views this. They view him as a criminal.

How is this debate playing out across the Atlantic?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, if again on for so long, so I think people are quiet lost in it, but that's the fundamental argument. He was a journalist who released classified information in the public interests because of what came out in that.

Lots of debate in the journalism world that you'll be aware of Kasie about whether or not that was in the public interests broadly because he did -- he released the name of agents effectively unredacted the U.S. suggesting that put their lives at risk. So we also have lots of conversations about what part of a classified document we might release and what parts of it are in the public interests.

He dumped the whole lot back in 2010, and 2011. So that is part of the argument. There were other arguments coming in today as well about, you know, we're wondering if he'll turn up to court today. There's a lot -- he couldn't turn up yesterday because he's unwell. The only sort of illnesses we're aware of are his mental illness and the argument that he might take his own life if he's sent to America. That would breach his human rights.

And then this much broader argument that the CIA was out to assassinate him. He said he's got evidence of that. We haven't seen it yet. I don't think it'll appear in court. That would be for a future hearing if there is one. But it's largely based as we understand it, from the CIA, wanting to get plans of the Ecuadorian embassy that he was hiding out in.

And that was an assassination plots. And Donald Trump, who was present at the time, was part of it. So major accusations, we haven't balanced that.

We're waiting for more on defense on that, but these are long-running arguments or being thrashed out in court today.

HUNT: Max, very briefly, what's the timeline here? Like if he's going to get extradited, when might that happen?

FOSTER: Well, the court could throw everything out today. All those arguments out today in which case the extradition process starts, it could be days, but probably weeks but if they feel there is something in these arguments, then there may be more hearings. I mean, he could appeal to the European court of human rights, for example. So, it might not be over today, and we might not get the exact judgment today. They might want to go away and consider it.

HUNT: All right. Max -- Max Foster for us, live in London. Max, thank you. I always good to see you. FOSTER: Thanks.

HUNT: All right. Georgia's Republican governor with new revelations to CNN about what he told the special counsel in the January 6 case.

And take a look at this. The last thing you want to see when you look out a window of a plane. Yikes! We'll have that.



HUNT: Welcome back.

We got quick hits across America now.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp revealing he was interviewed by the special counsel in Donald Trump's federal election interference case. Trump tried to pressure Kemp to overturn the 2020 election results in his state.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: It has been months ago that really didn't last that long. I mean, I basically told them the same thing I told the special grand juries that I followed the law and the Constitution and answered all their questions truthfully.


HUNT: Kemp was contacted by the special counsel in July. Trump was charged in August.

New York Attorney General Letitia James says that she has a plan if former President Trump doesn't pay the nearly $355 million fine from his civil fraud case.


LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, and then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court. And we will ask the judge to seize his assets.


HUNT: So by assets, she means buildings. James even referred to Trump's 40 Wall Street skyscraper by name. And this comes after the judge determined that Trump inflated his net worth for more favorable loan terms.

And passenger video shows the United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Boston, diverted to Denver with damaged wing. United says the plane landed safely and another aircraft took passengers on to Boston.

All right. The storm that brought heavy rain and mountain snow to California is moving east today, leaving some lingering flood threats across the region.

We also have some beautiful weather on the horizon for other parts of the U.S.

Our weatherman Van Dam tracking all of it.

Derek, good morning.


I think it's important. We lead off with the most important information most pertinent, and that is within the past ten minutes or so, Los Angeles National Weather Service issuing flash flood warnings for southeastern sections of L.A. County. And excuse me, south -- excuse me, southwestern sections of Los Angeles County and southeastern sections of Ventura County. This is through 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard. That is noon Eastern Time.

So we want to highlight this area because we are noticing some heavier rain move into this area from the Pacific Ocean. There it is highlighted within the shading of red, still flash flood alerts extending across much of southern California through the Sacramento Valley. But focusing in on this high population density, or we want to watch off for the potential of urban flash flooding, landslides, mudslides.


That's a real possibility this morning.

So there's the remnant of our atmospheric river is still bringing precipitation. Another one to locally two inches of rain. Remember this is on top of what's already fallen, so it doesn't take much to allow for rapid rises in rivers.

Look at these rainfall totals approaching a foot of rain, that is impressive, near some locations. And we are approaching the wettest February ever for downtown Los Angeles. We talked about that yesterday. We continue to add to those totals today.

And here it is. We have just a marginal risk from the Weather Prediction Center for flash flooding. But what's valid through this morning is what you saw on the radar just a few moments ago? Snowfall totals here have exceeded a foot-and-a-half helping that statewide snowpack jump up.

But were going to clear things out nicely across the West Coast later today and bring some of that, whether to the East Coast with a big warm-up in store for D.C. to Atlanta and New York, by the weekend -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. I could use a little sunshine this weekend. But of course, thinking about everyone in la battling all that.

Our weatherman Van Dam, thank you very much.

VAN DAM: All right. Take care.

HUNT: All right. The man accused of lying about the president and his son claims the information came from Russia.

And Donald Trump thinks the South Carolina primary has already decided, Nikki Haley not having it.