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Another Run at Health Care; Curiel on the Case; U.S. Seeking Arrest of Julian Assange. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:09] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Another health care push from the Republicans. The optimism and skepticism appears about equal. It's Capitol Hill, folks. Are Republicans pushing too hard to give Trump a win before the 100-day mark?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: And they meet again. The same judge who Donald Trump assailed over his Mexican heritage last year will hear a case involving the president's immigration policies. Will the White House respond?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs.

And that judge, of course, from Indiana. More on that later.

It's Friday, April 21st, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Have you heard this before? Republicans insisting they are nearing a breakthrough on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. But the devil, as always, in the details. And getting enough Republicans on the same page remains the big challenge, especially since most House members haven't seen any reworked bill yet.

The leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, that's Mark Meadows, and the head of he more moderate Tuesday group, Tom MacArthur, have been working on a compromise agreement that they believe will deliver 18 to 20 new "yes" votes from Republicans.

KOSIK: But a Republican House member, familiar with the talks, tells CNN, he's skeptical the Freedom Caucus can actually deliver those votes. President Trump sounding hopeful the third time around will be the charm for the health care reform bill.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The plan gets better and better and better, and it's gotten really, really good. And a lot of people are liking it a lot. We have a good chance of getting it soon. I'd like to say next week, but it will be, I believe we will get it and whether it's next week or shortly thereafter.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KOSIK: Many are questioning, though, why the GOP would attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare again just weeks after flaming out on the issue. Much of the disagreements still centering issue.

BRIGGS: No comment from the White House after it was announced Judge Gonzalo Curiel will hear the case of a California man who claims he was illegally deported to Mexico. Now, if Curie's name sounds familiar, it's because he is the same judge who was attacked last year by then-candidate Trump for his handling of the Trump University lawsuit case.

Mr. Trump claimed Curiel could not be impartial because of his Mexican heritage. The lawsuit was ultimately settled.

KOSIK: Now, Curiel, who was chosen randomly, will preside over the case of 23-year-old DREAMer Juan Manuel Montes who claimed he was protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Montes tried to sneak back into the U.S. on February 19th, and was caught by Border Patrol agents. His lawyers claim he was improperly deported one day earlier. Homeland Security officials dispute that, insisting Montes left the country without preauthorization and therefore voided his status.

BRIGGS: U.S. authorities are seeking the arrest of Julian Assange. CNN has learned the Justice Department has already prepared charges after investigating the WikiLeaks founder for years. But how will U.S. prosecutors pursue their case with Assange still holed up overseas?

Here now is CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alison and Dave.

We have learned the U.S. authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Now, the Justice Department probe of Assange and WikiLeaks dates back to at least 2010 when the site first gained attention for posting thousands of files stolen by the former U.S. intelligence army analyst known as Chelsea Manning. Well, prosecutors over the years have struggled with whether the First Amendment precluded the prosecution of Assange.

But now, they believe they have found a way to move forward. During President Barack Obama's administration, Attorney General Eric Holder and officials at the Justice Department determined that it would be difficult to bring charges against Assange because WikiLeaks wasn't alone in publishing documents stolen by Manning. Several newspapers, including "The New York Times" did as well.

The U.S. view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, the former NSA analyst, disclosed a massive cache of classified documents. WikiLeaks has long defended itself as publishing in the public's interest and compares itself to media organizations.

Now, as we know, Assange is sitting in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and it's unlikely that the U.S. can get him anytime soon. So, this is viewed largely within the Department of Justice as sending a political message.

Back to you, David and Alison.


BRIGGS: Thank you, Pam.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions calls the arrest of Assange a, quote, "priority". U.S. officials were hoping a new regime in Ecuador would expel the WikiLeaks co-founder, but -- so he could be prosecuted. But Ecuador's new president has promised to continue to harbor Assange.

[04:05:03] KOSIK: Meantime, officials in Hawaii are pushing back on the attorney general for a comment about one of the judges who put a hold on the president's travel ban. Earlier this week, Mr. Sessions expressed shock that a judge in Hawaii could block President Trump's executive order. Judge Watson wanted to block the second version of the ban.

I want you to listen to what the nation's top prosecutor told conservative talk show host Mark Levin.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.


BRIGGS: The Justice Department says sessions only meant there's a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the president, adding, for the record, quote, "Hawaii is, in fact an island in the Pacific." Thank you for the clarification.

Hawaii's Democratic Senator Brian Schatz not amused, tweeting, "Mr. Attorney General, you voted for that judge and that island is called Oahu. It's my home, have some respect."

KOSIK: President Trump will visit the Treasury Department later today. There, he will sign executive orders targeting Dodd/Frank financial reform law. The president will direct Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to review regulator's authority on banks in trouble. He'll also ask to label insurance firms, private equity companies and hedge funds as risky, and he will direct Mnuchin to review tax regulations from last year, looking for ones that are too complex or burdensome on taxpayers.

Deregulation is one of the big hopes for Wall Street and one of the reason we've seen stocks climb since Trump was elected. But the biggest prize is tax reform. And the treasury secretary is giving some reassurance to investors.

At an event Thursday, Mnuchin said this, "Whether health care gets done or health care doesn't get done, we're going to get tax reform done. We hope that this won't take until the end of the year. It will be soon, very soon," end quote.

Mnuchin says it will cut taxes for both individuals and businesses. And that is certainly an ambitious goal there.

BRIGGS: That was big news. Because, you know, Steve Moore, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, they've all written an op-ed on "The New York Times" saying, Mr. President, let's get tax reform done, you don't need health care to get it done, get something to spur the economy.

KOSIK: And that's what Mnuchin is saying now, easier said than done.

BRIGGS: No doubt. That is very difficult to ask.

Meanwhile, in confrontation with conservative firebrand Ann Coulter, Cal Berkeley blinked. The university reversing its decision to cancel a speech by Coulter because of protest concerns. Officials set a new venue and new date for her appearance. Coulter, though, rejecting the new invite and blasting the school for putting unreasonable restrictions on the event. She plans to speak at Berkeley on the originally planned date, that's April 27th, whether the university approves it or not.

All right. Breaking details from Paris this morning, on the gunman who left a policeman dead in a terror attack, days before national elections. We are live in France when we come back.


[04:12:17] KOSIK: Breaking overnight, a second suspect in connection with Thursday's deadly shooting in Paris, surrendering to Belgian authorities and there are new details about the gunman who shot and killed a police officer on the Champs-Elysees. Authorities say the attacker who was killed by police was well known for his radical Islamic activities. Now, ISIS is claiming him as one of their own as the French prepare to head to the polls for the first round of presidential elections.

Let's go live to Paris and get the very latest from CNN's Melissa Bell.

Good morning, Melissa. So, it's interesting that ISIS went ahead and claimed responsibility soon after this attack.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Remarkably quickly afterwards actually, Alison. What we've seen over the course of the last few weeks, is when you've had these kinds of attacks, and there have been several, well, where individuals have targeted specifically security forces, be they the soldiers patrolling the streets of France as a result of its state of emergency, or the policemen and women, that is what happened here last night. The difference this time is that very quickly, within about three

hours of the attack, ISIS claimed responsibility, speaking specifically of a soldier of the caliphate, which suggests a greater degree of coordination perhaps than we'd seen previously when the suspects had seen more ISIS-inspired, than ISIS-controlled. That's one thing.

Another, one of the surprising things or one of the questions that surrounded that ISIS statement is that it had referred to a man as Abu Yousef, the Belgian. So, as this investigation has progressed and sources tell us clearly now the man who was killed here after attacking security forces last night, the attacker himself was a French national, who was known to authorities, who'd already spent time in jail for shooting police officers back in 2001, and who was known to French authorities on their radar screen, known to be increasingly radicalized.

What then was the connection with this Belgian? Well, we've just had what appears to be the answer to that, since French authorities, France's interior ministry has now confirmed that a second suspect was indeed being looked for and that man has now handed himself in to Belgian authorities.

KOSIK: And French voters are going to be heading to the polls for the presidential elections. How do you think this event could affect how they vote? And it's a very controversial election.

BELL: You know, Alison, it was already looking incredibly uncertain, full of controversy, as you suggest. There are huge numbers of undecided French voters, historically high numbers of French undecided voters, even at this late stage. The timing of this attack, just three days before the first round of voting in this very tense, very tight, very unpredictable election is almost certain to play into the narrative of one candidate in particular, and that is the far right's Marine Le Pen.

[04:15:07] She's really made law and order, dealing with Islamists, extremism, one of the central planks of her platform. This really feeds into that. And so, certainly the emotion this will have given rise to throughout the country is likely to play into her hands. And we really have just a couple days to go before voting begins.

KOSIK: Exactly. So, now, it's not just economic issues pushing voters to the polls, but security issues as well.

Melissa Bell, thanks so much.

BRIGGS: All right. China's air force on high alert, cruise missile, capable bombers preparing to respond to any provocation from North Korea. A U.S. defense official telling CNN, a, quote, "extraordinary number of Chinese military aircraft are now being readied for combat." President Trump expressing confidence that China is working very hard to rein in Kim Jong-un.

CNN's David McKenzie tracking the latest developments live for us from Beijing. David, good morning to you.

These comments from Pentagon officials to CNN. Any comment from Chinese officials?


Well, not surprisingly at all, both the ministry of foreign affairs and the defense ministry having no comment to CNN on that reporting. That says that Chinese planes, bombers are on high alert, bombers that can unload cruise missiles in the Chinese theater and elsewhere, that's not surprising at all. They very rarely comment on military matters to the press or to anyone else publicly.

But you did see those statements from President Trump saying that China is applying the pressure on North Korea, diplomatically, and through trade. There is very unusual turn here from the days of President Obama that you get such outright praise from a U.S. president of the Chinese, and it's definitely a 180-degree turn from what Trump was saying weeks past. The Chinese have put stricter measures on stopping coal imports from North Korea and really pushing those U.N. sanctions.

But many here feel that China won't do everything they can to collapse that Pyongyang regime, because they feel that could strengthen the U.S. hand in the region. And that's something that China definitely doesn't want -- Dave.

BRIGGS: David, everything they could -- that presumably means oil. Any speculation they would cut off oil from North Korea?

MCKENZIE: Well, there have been hints that might be the next step should there be a nuclear test, which experts say could happen at any time. You know, the Chinese and North Korea have been allies for sometime, for many years, in fact. And in the past, that relationship was stronger, more direct, but now you've had Kim Jong-un really ignoring the pleas from China and Chinese leadership to stop the nuclear program.

It would be a slap in the face if he were to go ahead with that nuclear test and that could be the next option, to cut off or at least curtail some of the oil going into North Korea. And that would really hurt both the military and the government operations in North Korea. China will have to see if it wants to take that step.

BRIGGS: All right. Some good stuff there from David McKenzie live in Beijing -- thank you.

KOSIK: An American charity worker locked up in Egypt for three years is back on U.S. soil. And "The Washington Post" is reporting the Trump administration worked quietly with President Abdel Fattah al- Sisi to free Aya Hijazi, the 30-year-old was cleared on any wrongdoing on Sunday. The Obama administration had previously pressed for the release, but it wasn't until Mr. Trump met with President al-Sisi earlier this month that things turned around. Mr. Trump praised al-Sisi's leadership and offered the U.S.

government's backing. "The Post" Hijazi and her brother will head to the White House to meet with Mr. Trump.

BRIGGS: All right. It's going from bad to worse in Venezuela. Anti- government protests getting increasingly violent, even a maternity hospital coming under attack. We are live in Caracas.


BRIGGS: The turmoil in Venezuela spiraling out of control this morning. Opposition groups to President Nicolas Maduro, planning to follow Thursday's mass demonstrations with more sit-ins and marches. They blame Maduro for a staggering economic crisis and now the Maduro government is blaming the opposition for hiring armed bands to attack a women's and children's hospital.

Stefano Pozzebon joined us live from Caracas with the very latest. Good morning to you.


Yes, you're right, the situation here is getting tenser and tenser. You really don't have the feeling of anything stopping anytime soon.

As you say, Dave, the Foreign Minister Rodriguez tweeted and denounced that the opposition hired bands attacked a children's and women's hospital in a very popular neighborhood here in Caracas called El Valle. This is yet another sign of a crisis that doesn't want to turn down, doesn't feel like it's going to turn down, and it's now spreading. Those in middle class neighborhoods and more popular areas.

So it will be interesting to see how today and tomorrow's marches that have been announced already will play out, and if the situation can get to a breakthrough.

BRIGGS: All right. Keep us to date, Stefano.

[04:25:02] Dire situation there in Caracas, thank you.

KOSIK: Breaking overnight in Germany, prosecutors arresting a suspect in a bomb attack on a soccer team earlier this month. The alleged attacker is said to be a 28-year-old German Russian who may have carried out the bombing for gambling reasons. Investigators now dismissing a possible Islamic terror link to the bomb attack that injured one player.

BRIGGS: Are Republicans making a mistake with another health care push just weeks after flaming out on their first try? Well, it depends on who you ask. That's next.


KOSIK: Can Republicans actually get a health care deal done in the next week? There is optimism, and there's skepticism in the party. Are they trying to satisfy their base or are they actually bridging their internal gap?

BRIGGS: Time will tell.

And in one of the crazier coincidences you'll ever see, a federal judge attacked by Donald Trump over his Mexican heritage will now hear a case involving the president's policies on Mexico.