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DOJ Preparing Charges Against WikiLeaks' Julian Assange; ISIS Paris Attack Reshaping French Presidential Election; Florida Lawmaker Resigns After Racist Rant; Trump Signs Executive Orders on Tax Reform, Dodd/Frank. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 21, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: The Department of Justice says it may have found a way to arrest WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange. CNN has learned right now authorities are preparing charges. The Justice Department has been investigating Assange since his website posted secretive and sometimes embarrassing and classified documents. The files were stolen by former U.S. Army soldier, Chelsea Manning. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison but will be released next month after getting her sentence commuted by President Obama. Assange is still living under asylum right now at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. U.S. prosecutors under Obama had been leery of charging him because of First Amendment laws.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions says arresting people who leak sensitive files is a top priority.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am concerned and have made that clear for some time now that we are having way too much leaks as providing and inflicting real damage on our nation and on our national security. We've got to have much more discipline within our governmental structure and we've got to be aggressive against those, from the outside, who penetrate our systems.


CABRERA: Joining me now, Shimon Prokupecz, CNN crime and justice producer; and Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Shimon, under the Obama administration, the DOJ has concluded it would be difficult to bring charges. What is different now?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE PRODUCER: This administration, for one. I think there's a different administration, quite obviously. They have a very different position about leaks. Under the Obama administration, there were leak investigations and prosecutions for leaks. I think this administration, this Department of Justice, is taking a different look at this.

In terms of Julian Assange, there was always this concern that he sometimes fell under the umbrella of the media, and it's clear in the last few weeks that the current administration, the Department of Justice and U.S. government, don't think that he any longer is protected by the First Amendment.

CABRERA: So what kind of charges could be filed?

PROKUPECZ: Well, there could be an espionage charge. There could be a possession of stolen property. Remember, he released tons of -- he was part of the release of tons of information of classified information that went overseas, that went into the hands of not only news organizations but foreign countries, countries that want to so- called harm us. Also, they are arguing hurt national security. That is one of the charges. Certainly, the espionage.

The other interesting thing is whether or not they would bring maybe possession of stolen -- some kind of stolen property-type charges because he was, you know, in possession in handling documents that ultimately were stolen.

And I also wonder if the whole Russia investigation, the DNC hacks and his release of the DNC hacks has played a role into the government's thinking. Certainly, career prosecutors and FBI agents have been wanting to bring charges against him. And this just may be their window, their opportunity to do so.

CABRERA: So, Laura, it doesn't sound like this is going to be a necessarily easy slam-dunk case for the government. What kind of legal challenges could the prosecution face?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you've got the First Amendment. It says this is a matter of free press oftentimes. What would get over that hurdle is what you were talking about. First Amendment protects who are recipients and actually journalists or the press. If he played an active role in directing the leak of the information or guiding the actual leak itself is less of a passive- reactive role and much more of a proactive role that becomes a criminal liability.

The other issue you'll have, of course, is that he's not in U.S. custody and not under the jurisdiction of the United States. This is really a political statement until you actually have him under the jurisdiction of the United States. He's still somebody who could not be tried today as long as he remains in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

CABRERA: You talked about the nuance with WikiLeaks versus other news organizations. But if the DOJ charges Assange, could that open the door for other news organizations, like "New York Times," who also published some of the information that was leaked, to be similarly charged?

COATES: Absolutely. It would open exposure a great deal but only if the other organizations played an active role on the acquisition. It's not just a matter of saying, talk to me, tell me what you know. It's the allegation that Assange chose a path to get the information to be released. That's much more of an active role than someone reporting the information.

But this does -- this has been in the cross-hairs of the Department of Justice for at least seven years at this point. The timing is curious because this comes after they released information from the CIA's ability to look at electronics, different devices. The timing is more than just Russia or the election or the DNC. It also got under the craw of the CIA for good reason. I think now you have this pivotal moment to say, this is an organization that may not be actively be the press but actually somebody who is using the cover of the media to progress espionage.

[14:35:24] CABRERA: There's a bit of irony. President Trump praised WikiLeaks on the campaign trail. Now with this hardline language from CIA Director Pompeo, the attorney general.

Shimon, does this signal a shift in President Trump's attitude towards WikiLeaks?

PROKUPECZ: We don't know that. I think the Department of Justice and the FBI agents, the investigators who have been looking at Julian Assange, are trying to keep away from the politics of this. But it will be interesting to see what happens if they do bring charges, you know, if charges are actually filed and what Trump's position will be. Clearly having the CIA director come out last week and saying that Assange is acting as an intelligence agent for foreign countries, those comments had to be vetted through the White House. They were vetted through the Department of Justice. So he knew that was coming and perhaps maybe some folks have changed his mind on that, and so he gave the go ahead to Pompeo to say that.

CABRERA: OK. Shimon Prokupecz and Laura Coates, our thanks to both of you. Happy Friday.


CABRERA: Up next, ISIS claims one of their fighters opened fire on police officers in Paris. Now that attack may be reshaping the French presidential vote, which is just days away now. We're live in Paris, next.

Plus, we are just minutes away from President Trump signing new financial executive orders, one taking a look at how regulators deal with big banks. We'll bring that to you live as it happens. Stay with us.


[14:41:10] CABRERA: We have this just in to the CNN NEWSROOM. The Trump administration has just denied ExxonMobil permission to drill for oil in Russia near the Black Sea. The drilling venture was blocked when the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia back in 2014, but Russia had appealed to the U.S. government to keep drilling anyway. It's worth noting here that this appeal did not come up at all during Senate confirmation hearings for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who, as you know, was Exxon's chief executive before his nomination by President Trump.

The people of Paris are coping yet again with the aftermath of a terror attack. A gunman opened fire at the Champs Elysees. One police officer was killed, others were wounded. The suspect was gunned down by police who now say the man pledged allegiance to ISIS. They found a note in his pocket praising the Islamic State. ISIS also claims the shooting is one of their soldiers.

This is all casting a shadow over the city just as France prepares for its presidential election this weekend. In a presidential debate last night, far-right candidate, Marine le Pen, called for the tightening of borders and for a complete shutdown of all mosques.

CNN international correspondent, Melissa Bell, is joining me now from Paris.

Melissa, what is the mood like there today? Do people think this latest attack could have an impact on the election?

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: It is a big question. We are a few hours really shy of the official close of campaigning here in France ahead on this hugely important election, which we'll see a number of candidates with very different programs and programs for the most part that call for a massive change in France's -- the future of France's politics. They'll be facing off.

How will this have played out in their minds? That is a big unknown. And because campaigning closes at midnight tonight, we're not going to get any more opinion polls until the French go to the polls on Sunday morning. The first measure we're going to have about how this played into the campaign will come at 8:00 p.m. local time with the results of the first round of voting, which should give us an idea of whether Marine le Pen, the far-right leader, who has really been seeking to make capital out of what has happened here in Paris over the last 24 hours, how she's polled, has she managed to convince the French to back her controversial program of reform. And just to remind our viewers, she's calling not only for France's borders to be closed, for Islam mosques to be closed, but also for the thousands of people on the watch list for French authorities -- so we're talking about terror suspects, no one has been convicted -- to be shipped out of France. Controversial proposals that will be tested on Sunday. Will she have managed to make the capital she seeks out of this particular attack, or on the contrary, will the man who's really been close to her in the polls, the Independent centrist, Emmanuel Macron, who says it's not the time to give into fear.

[14:44:04] CABRERA: Interesting. Questions yet to be answered.

Melissa Bell, our thanks to you.

Moments from now, President Trump is set to sign an executive order on taxes. We'll bring it to you live as that happens.

Also, a Florida lawmaker accused of using racial slurs during a heated exchange with his colleagues issued an apology on the Senate floor. Now a major development surrounding his future as a politician. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CABRERA: A Florida lawmaker has resigned now over racially inflammatory remarks he made in front of two of his African-American colleagues. We're talking about embattled Frank Artiles. He submitted his resignation today. The Republican lawmaker went on a racist and sexist rant. He referred to some of his fellow Senate members with the "N" word. This all happened during a private conversation over drinks at a members-only club frequented by politicians in that area.

Artiles' resignation comes days after he apologized on the Senate floor for his remarks.


FRANK ARTILES, (R), FORMER FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: To Senator Audrey Gibson, I apologize. I am so sorry for the words and the tone I used for you regretfully Monday night. There's no excuse, nor will I offer one. My comments to you were the most regretful of all because they injured you personally. No one deserves to be spoken that way, much less a person of your stature, dignity and integrity. I humbly ask to accept my heartfelt apology.


CABRERA: Let's bring in CNN correspondent, Nick Valencia, joining us live from Miami.

Nick, the Senator apologized. He even, as pressure was building, said he wasn't going anywhere. So what else happened?

[14:49:52] NICK VELENCIA, CNN CORRESPODNENT: Well, Frank Artiles has been facing possible removal from the state legislature by his colleagues. 48 hours ago, he was pretty defiant. He said not only would he not step down but he's planning on seeking re-election. But it became abundantly clear that his own party was backing out on him. Rather than being voted out, he decided to back down.

Here's part of what his resignation letter says. He said, quote, "It's clear to me that my recent actions and words fell short of what I expect for myself and, for this, I am very sorry. I apologize to my family and friends and to all of my fellow Senators and lawmakers." He went on to say, "My action is regretful." And his resignation is effective immediately.

This unfolded during a private conversation. He was talking to two state Democrats, both of them, African-American. It was in that conversation that he used a racial slur. One of those Senators was Audrey Gibson. She was so disgusted with that that she stormed off. Artiles said he grew up in a rough part of town so he was allowed to use it.

We caught up with Audrey Gibson who describes the incident as indescribable and is trying to move on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [14:51:06] STATE SEN. AUDREY GIBSON, (D), FLORIDA: The way that the Senator addressed me as a mother was apprehensible and really relates to my work in the legislature in that I have opposed some of his bills and asked questions on others that he really didn't appreciate and I presume that he used that opportunity to his -- to express his discontent.


VALENCIA: This is not the first controversy for Frank Artiles. Back in 2015, he was accused of punching a college student outside of a bar in Tallahassee. He denied those allegations. He was never charged. In 2014, he was also recorded with using an anti-Muslim slur. He --


CABRERA: Nick Valencia, sorry to interrupt.

We need to go live right now to this press conference dealing with tax reform and the Dodd/Frank regulations. Let's listen.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Your core principles of financial regulations have been guiding our work here and will continue to do so. I am happy to report that we are busy in our review, not just at Dodd/'Frank but the broader economic framework as well. We have met with stakeholder groups with hundreds of people representing small banks, big banks, non-financial institutions, consumers and regulators. This review is thorough and mindful of our goals. We look forward to delivering our findings in June. Your directives today further highlight the priority of this administration's place on fair and efficient regulatory relief and provide further details of our mission here.

We're going to go back and look to see if the processes regarding orderly liquidation authority and financial stability oversight designations make sense. We now have a targeted mandate in place to review both. As instructed, I will report back to you on our findings. In the interim, you are calling for a much-needed time-out from the Financial Stability Council's process for designations financial institutions that are systemically important. Until that review is completed, we have agreed not to designate financial institutions except in cases of emergency. Our goal is to make a smarter, more effective process that reduces the kind of systemic risks that harmed so many Americans during the financial crisis of 2008.

On orderly liquidation authority, we are going to look closer to evaluate whether its framework is consistent with your core principles. We intend to provide a clear analysis of the extent to which OLA encourages inappropriate risk taking and the extent of taxpayer liability. We will also note where additions to the bankruptcy code may be a more appropriate avenue for resolving financial distress.

Finally, today's executive order launches a reexamination of last year's major tax regulations to make sure they do not unduly strain Americans and the economy. The order calls for revision or repeal of harmful rules that impose unnecessary costs and complexity on taxpayers.

I look forward to taking a hard look at the regulatory burden of our tax code, which consumes billions of productive hours in compliance costs.

A significant amount of time has passed since the crisis. With the passage of time and with your leadership, we are now well positioned to evaluate what works and what doesn't. We believe in clear and effective regulations but not regulations for its own sake. Where we can do so, we'll lift the burden of excessive regulation to make sure banks can lend, small businesses can borrow and Americans' work can thrive.

So on behalf of the entire staff here at Treasury, who worked tirelessly to make this country prosperous and safe, I want to extend our warmest welcome.

Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

[14:55:35] DONALD TRUMP, PERSIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

Thank you very much, Steve. Great honor, I must say.

It's a great pleasure to be at the United States Treasury Department and to meet so many dedicated public servants. I went through that beautiful hallway with those incredible paintings of past secretaries. It was really interesting. I want to read about every one of them. I want to learn about every one of them. But we have one that I hope will go down as one of the greats. I think Hamilton is tough to beat but maybe you can do that, too.

We'll take it, right?

But thank you very much.

The Treasury Department is the guardian of America's wealth and a worldwide symbol of American prestige. This department was first led by Alexander Hamilton, a man who understood that the government must protect the jobs of its citizens and the wealth of our nation.

Secretary Mnuchin, who I've known for so long -- and he's so good and so smart and so financially adept -- is working very hard every day to do just that, to protect the working citizen of America and to safeguard our finances from anyone, anybody, any nation who would try to take advantage of the United States. His vast experience and financial talent are now being put into service on behalf of the American people. And you'll see what I mean very soon.

We have taken unprecedented action to bring back our jobs and returned power to our citizens that's been taken away. We've lifted one terrible regulation after another at a record clip from the energy sector to the auto sector. We have many more to go. And that's going to be happening over the next, I would say, four to five weeks. We have begun an historic effort to protect our manufacturing and manufacturing businesses, companies and our workers from unfair foreign trade.

Protecting our Treasury also means finally getting countries to finally to pay for their share cost of defense and many other global projects that, for too long, have fallen under our guidance and, unfortunately, fallen under the United States taxpayer expense. We're going to end that and end it quickly. We want fairness. We don't want to take advantage of anyone. We want fairness.

We're now in the process of rebuilding America and there's a new optimism sweeping across our country like people have not seen in many, many decades. We're here today to continue this great economic revival.

I'll be signing three presidential directives to further protect our workers and our taxpayers.

The first executive action instructs Secretary Mnuchin to begin the process of tax simplification. Such a big thing. People can't do their returns. They have no idea what they are doing. They are too complicated. This regulatory reduction is the first step to tax reform that reduces rates, provides relief to our middle class, and lowers our business tax, which is one of the highest in the world and has stopped us from so much wealth and productivity.

Secretary Mnuchin is a leader in our effort to make America competitive again. It will make it great again and we'll make it strong again and safe again, and we're going to make it competitive again.

I'm also issuing two directives that instruct Secretary Mnuchin toe review of the damaging Dodd/Frank regulations that fail to hold Wall Street firms accountable. I mean, they have done, really, in many cases, the opposite of what they were supposed to. These regulations enshrine "too big to fail" and encourage risky behavior. We're taking steps to make our economy more fair and prosperous for all.

As part of our broader financial strategy, we're working to open up lending to small businesses and entrepreneurs, including our incredible women entrepreneurs, who are doing better and better and better.