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JFK Conspiracy Theories; Interview with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; Secretary Kerry Heads to Geneva for Iran Talks

Aired November 22, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Two-thirds of the American people cannot tell you where they were on that day 50 years ago because they were only twinkles in their parents' eyes.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. Half-a-century after JFK was assassinated in Dallas, so many Americans cannot shake the feeling that we were lied to about who really did it. Are you among those who refuse to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman?

The politics lead. He won the office and then survived a recall with an even bigger margin of victory. Our guest is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Is this red governor from a blue state Chris Christie's worst nightmare?

And the pop culture lead. Go to your average tween's bedroom, and grab the book on the night table, preferably one with a supernatural or sci-fi, draft a script, cast gorgeous some young people, boom, box office gold. Hope you're excited about the "Hunger Games" sequel this weekend, because the formula works and it ain't going anywhere.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the national lead.

It was exactly 50 years ago today when shots echoed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Our nation went numb and we woke up to an entirely different world.


WALTER CRONKITE, NEWS ANCHOR: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.


TAPPER: Today, ceremonies are taking place across the United States and around the world to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The flag over the White House was lowered to half-staff, as across the river, the sound of "Taps" were heard AT Arlington National Cemetery, while the Eternal Flame burned at JFK's final resting place. This solemn anniversary brought the curious back in droves to the old Texas Schoolbook Depository Building and the grassy knoll now trampled by tourists' footprints. We all know the official account by now, lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald with a bolt action rifle from the sixth- floor window.

Problem is, a huge number of Americans 50 years later still are not buying it. We're releasing some brand-new CNN/ORC polls right now. Here's how much people refuse to trust the government's official account, because they think the government was involved in some cases.

A third of Americans believe the CIA had a part in the Kennedy assassination. Nearly a third of people surveyed believe the mafia played a role. Remember, this was back in the heyday of organized crime figures like Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante.

And you can't talk JFK conspiracy theories without mentioning the communists, of course -- 22 percent of people believe the Soviet Union was involved. Fewer, 20 percent, believe the Cuban government had a role to play. Though the Cubans certainly weren't happy about the CIA-assisted Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, you might be surprised by this. JFK's vice president, Lyndon Johnson, who was sworn in as president next to a widow Jackie Kennedy on Air Force One 50 years ago today, one in five Americans believe that Johnson had something to do with the assassination.

But on this day, even the conspiracy theorists would do well to use this moment to reflect on a life, not a death, and on a president who will forever be remembered as the man who took this country on a youthful and seemingly limitless stride into the 1960s.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is live at Dealey Plaza.

John, you were at the ceremony marking the very moment 50 years that we lost the president. What's the mood like in Dallas like today?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jake, for many years, this city was shamed by what happened right here in Dealey Plaza.

It was known as the city of hate and at this 50th anniversary ceremony today, Dallas tried to turn the page. It was a very respectful ceremony focusing on what you just mentioned, the hopeful aspirations, always forward and future-looking speeches, dreams and legacy of President John F. Kennedy.

I want to show you, though, if I can, this is a replication, a reproduction of "The Dallas Morning News" from the morning after. This is what the city of Dallas woke up to on the 23rd of November, "Kennedy Slain on Dallas Street." You just mentioned the conspiracy theories. Look at the headline. "Pro-Communist Charged With Act." That pro-communist, the label put on Lee Harvey Oswald.

But here in Dealey Plaza today, Jake, very little focus at all on the tragedy, the horror, the violence of that day. Instead, the city deciding to pay much more tribute to the legacy. The historian David McCullough read some from President Kennedy's speeches. On that grassy knoll that figures so prominently in many of the conspiracy theories, a new monument unveiled today containing a paragraph from the speech Jack Kennedy was on his way to deliver.

He was about a mile away here in Dealey Plaza from the Dallas Trade Mart. He was supposed to speak to a luncheon as part of his campaign swing through Texas, part of that speech, again very hopeful and forward-looking, now inscribed in a stone plaque on that grassy knoll. You can see they are breaking down now, but about 5,000 people here for the ceremony. The weather complicating things a bit, but a very solemn ceremony as this city tried to pay tribute to the president and essentially tried to, if you will, burnish its own reputation and move past some of the pain that people here say not only in the days after the assassination but for years and decades after the assassination -- Jake.

TAPPER: Chief national correspondent John King, thank you so much.

I wasn't alive the day JFK was assassinated and based on a little something I like to call math, I bet a lot of you were not either. "The Atlantic"'s The Wire has calculated that only about a third of the U.S. population was on this planet the day he died, but for two veteran journalists, that day launched their careers in many ways and forever changed their lives.

Bob Schieffer was a young reporter at "The Fort Worth Star-Telegram." Now of course he's an Emmy-winning correspondent and host of CBS' "Face the Nation." Jim Lehrer worked at "The Dallas Times Herald" and went on to launch the award-winning show "NewsHour" on PBS. Lehrer even recently writing a fictional novel about the JFK assassination. I got the opportunity to sit down with these two legendary reporters about their experiences 50 years ago.


TAPPER: Bob Schieffer and Jim Lehrer, thanks so much for coming in. It's so great to have you here on this solemn day.

Bob, you were at "The Fort Worth Star-Telegram," and, Jim, you were at "The Dallas Times Herald."

The basis of your latest novel, "Top Down," is a conversation that you had with the Secret Service agent that morning?

JIM LEHRER, AUTHOR, "TOP DOWN": Right. Had to do with the bubble top. The bubble top was up.

And the bubble top is -- was not bulletproof. It was Plexiglas, designed solely for weather situations, to keep the Kennedys from getting wet in case it rained. It had rained that morning in Dallas, so they had the bubble top up, but it cleared. A Secret Service agent made the decision to take the bubble top down.

That was in complete accordance with the orders of the president. He always wanted the bubble top down unless it was a weather emergency, because he didn't want people saying, oh, my God, there's the president under glass. So he didn't make a mistake.

But in my novel, this guy has guilt feelings because he thinks it might have saved his life if he had left -- Kennedy's life if the bubble top had stayed up.

TAPPER: Bob, you told me the story once. It's great. So, your brother is the one that told you Kennedy had been shot.

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Yes. I was asleep, because I worked the late shift. I was the night police reporter at "The Star- Telegram," so when all of this happened in Dallas, I was still asleep.

He woke me up and said, you better get up and get to the office. The president's been shot. I did. I was in a total fog. I got up, got dressed. I hadn't been assigned to cover the story. I was pretty upset about it, went down to the office and was just trying to help out answering the phones on the city desk.

And, of all things, a woman calls in and says is there anybody there who can give me a ride to Dallas? And I almost hung up the phone, and I said lady, you know, we don't run a taxi here. Besides, the president's been shot. And she says, yes, I heard it on the radio. I think my son is the one they have arrested.

So I wrote down her address very quickly. Another reporter and I went out to the west side of Fort Worth to that address. There she stood on the curb, Lee Harvey Oswald's mother. And she immediately began talking about the impact it would have on her. I mean, the president had not been dead two hours, and she was saying, no one will feel sorry for me. They will give money to my son's wife, but they will forget about the mother and I will starve to death.

For her, it was some sort -- all about money. And some of the things she said were so bizarre that I didn't even put them in the story. I thought, how would you feel if your son had been arrested for something like this? On reflection, I should have. I think we would have gotten a better picture earlier of exactly who Lee Harvey Oswald was.

TAPPER: And, Jim, you went up to Lee Harvey Oswald and questioned him.

LEHRER: Yes, at the police station. They wanted the newspeople to see that Oswald -- Oswald had been hurt a little bit on his face when he had been arrested, and they wanted to make sure that the cops weren't roughing him up.

So, he walked down the hallway and I was right there. And I said, "Did you kill the president?"

And he said, "I didn't kill anybody."

And he -- I mean, he wasn't -- there were cops on both sides of him. I'm not suggesting he just walked down the hallway. They were taking him to another office to continue the interrogation. And I wrote that down on my notebook, misspelled his name. I had it something like Len Howard Oswald, all that kind of stuff. And I did write down, "I didn't kill anybody." Now I can't find the notebook, Jake, but that's neither here nor there.

TAPPER: Did you realize at that moment that we were almost at an inflection point in the nation, that nothing would ever be the same afterwards?

SCHIEFFER: We had never seen anything like this. Television had never covered a story the way they covered this, wall to wall, but hanging over this was the uncertainty, what does this mean?

Is this the beginning of World War III? You know, Fort Worth, there was a big strategic air command base there. We knew if there was a nuclear war, we would be among the first targets for the Soviet missiles. So hanging over this great tragedy that was unfolding before our eyes was this great uncertainty about, what is going to happen next?

LEHRER: At the police station, Jake, sometime late in the day, as I say, it was a mob scene.

And I happened to just walk by, milling through the crowd like everybody, and there was a guy standing there. My recollection is, he was an FBI agent. He was just standing there. And just as I walked by, he said to me and to anybody who was listening, he said, "Things will never be the same, will they?"

And I stopped for a minute and said -- just shook my head. And I realize, that's exactly right. And it's not just the news media. It's like, everything changed. We all became aware of the fragility of it all, and we as reporters, we as Americans, we as citizens of the world.

If they could kill the president of the United States -- one guy with three rounds in 15 seconds, changed the course of history -- my God, what else could they change, what else could they do? We had lived kind of a charmed life as Americans up until then. And that charmed life ended on November 22, 1963.

TAPPER: Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer, two men for whom I have such admiration and respect, thank you so much for being here, for coming here and telling your story.


LEHRER: Thank you, Jake.


TAPPER: And we turn now to some live images, one former Massachusetts senator honoring another right now, Secretary of State John Kerry visiting President John F. Kennedy's grave site at Arlington National Cemetery before heading to a meeting in Geneva on Iran's nuclear program, happening just seconds ago. In case you missed it, tonight, you can watch the film "The Assassination of President Kennedy" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Coming up on THE LEAD: We will continue our coverage of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death. Later in the show, I will talk to one Secret Service agent in Dallas that day who for decades blamed himself for not doing more to save the man he was sworn to protect.

Plus, he's come to the defense of Chris Christie, but is he secretly hoping to run against him in 2016? Could Wisconsin's Scott Walker be Christie's biggest challenger in 2016? We will have a chat about that all coming up next.


TAPPER: The politics lead now.

He's a fast rising GOP star, a Tea Party favorite and at one point was perhaps the most controversial man in Madison, Wisconsin. That's fair, right?

Governor Scott Walker made a name for himself by taking on public employees unions and facing down crowds like this one in the state capital. The war that erupted there three years ago was credited with launching the Occupy movement in some ways. It was fought over Walker's plan to strip away unions' collective bargaining powers.

Despite the clamor and intense media coverage, Walker was victorious. He has written about the experience in his new book, "Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and A Nation's Challenge."

Governor Scott Walker joins me now.

Congratulations on the book.


TAPPER: Was that a fair description? You take issue with anything that I --

WALKER: No. The interesting thing, among many interesting things in the book, we talk about Obama/Walker voters. In the end, one of the exit polls after my recall election, there were literally one of six voters in my state who voted for me who planned to vote for Barack Obama, which politically doesn't make a lot of sense.

TAPPER: In the recall or in the first election?

WALKER: Well, in the recall they voted for me, and then they were planning a few months later in 2012 to vote for the president, which we talk about in the book, the reasons for that because in both cases, to that middle undecided voter, we made the case based on leadership and they were hungry for it.

TAPPER: Let's talk about something you have been outspoken about recently, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. You don't care for it. You think it's bad but in your home state, you are trying to do your own health care reform, Badger Care, and critics have said that you're trying to have it both ways because one of the ways you make Badger Care work is by having 80,000 people currently on Medicaid go into Obamacare.

So what do you say to critics who say you can't have it both ways, you are either for it or you're against it, but you can't be against it while you're using it?

WALKER: Well, that's just not accurate because what I point out is obviously I fought this every step of the way, ran against it twice, empowered my attorney general to join the federal lawsuit, did not take the state exchange, deferred to the federal exchange and didn't take the Medicaid expansion.

But what I did was not take the false choice offered to us out of the federal government. It was either some states took the -- took the money, the Medicaid expansion, and with it, the financial risk that now becomes even more apparent for a federal government that can't even do a Web site. Conversely, other states did take it and kind of left some of their people out in the cold.

What we did was say, for everybody living above poverty, we're going to transition them into the marketplace which includes a federal exchange option for those at the lower end of the income. And for the first time in our state's history, we cover everyone living in poverty will now be covered under Medicaid. That's just saying that's the law. If there's an alternative in the future, which I advocated for, that would be a better way of serving the people of my state.

TAPPER: Obviously, you are probably best known nationally for the showdown with the employee unions, public sector unions in Wisconsin. This in your book, "Unintimidated", this is how you describe the throngs of protesters that descended upon the capitol three years ago. Quote, "The odor of unwashed humanity wafted through the hallways. People were smoking pot inside the capitol. There were so many sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses and tents that my staff often joked about how many 'protest babies' there would be in nine months time."

Now, I know that a lot of these protesters were hostile to you and you detail the many threats you got, but that's not all the protesters. And I have to say, sometimes the tone I would hear three years ago and even in this book sounds a bit disdainful. And I wonder if looking back, you feel that there's anything you could have done different when it comes to tone and speaking to these individuals --


WALKER: There's no doubt about it. Not so much the tone for the protesters. There's probably nothing I could have done or said, particularly for those who came in from other states, because, originally, it was people from Wisconsin. First week, two weeks in, we started seeing buses in from Chicago. We saw people coming in.

And we didn't just have to guess. They had their signs, they had their banners, they had their --

TAPPER: Sure. They were from other unions in other states, right.


WALKER: -- from other places, New York, D.C., Nevada.

But for the people of my state, there's no doubt about it. I actually talk in this book. This is not a campaign book in the sense that it's all rah-rah, I'm wonderful. There are some pretty big insights about things we did wrong.

One of them was even though I talked about getting a 5 percent and 12 percent contribution from public employees during the campaign, after the election was over, I stopped talking about it. One of the mistakes I think I made was in January of 2011, I was so eager to fix things, I just went out and took action without talking about it.

Most politicians, whether in state or federal office, just talk about things but never fix them. What I learned in retrospect is you've got to do both. If I made the case, not only about how and what we're doing, most importantly, why we were doing what we're doing, which we talk about in the book. I think it would have been a different outcome.

TAPPER: You pledged 250,000 new jobs would be created by the end of your first term. You are not even up to 90,000 yet the last --

WALKER: About 100,000 per the latest --


TAPPER: But you're not going to create another 150,000 in the next year. That's a promise you're probably not going to be able to meet.

WALKER: By 2015 -- although put it in context, the reason I did that was under my predecessor Democrat, the state lost 133 -- almost 134,000 jobs. What I saw were not just jobs, not just statistics, I saw real people in real households with real families in real communities who were hurting, who were stressing out every month --

TAPPER: But you acknowledge you're probably not going to be able to make that?

WALKER: Oh, I'm still focused. My goal is by 2015, so not later this year, not later next year, but by 2015, our goal is still to help the people of the state create 250,000 jobs.

TAPPER: Can you pledge if re-elected next year, you'll serve all four years? Because there's a lot of people around you who say they want you to run for president.

WALKER: You know, my focus has been not once but twice running for governor. I'm going to run again. That's what my focus is on --

TAPPER: You can't pledge that -- WALKER: I've never made promises. I didn't make it at the state assembly, didn't make it as a county executive. What I -- my promises are not about the time I serve but what I'll do in office. And I've been very clear with it, which again is why I think there were so many people who voted for me and a few months later voted for Barack Obama, because we both made promises. Very different political views but both made promise.

TAPPER: Stick around. I know the folks from "CROSSFIRE" have some questions for you. The book is "Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and A Nation's Challenge." We're going to see you back here in "CROSSFIRE" at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

Thank you so much, Governor. Good to see you.

Coming up on THE LEAD: Secretary of State John Kerry rushes to Geneva. On what was supposed to be the last day of negotiations with Iran after decades of silence. Did these talks produce a deal? Coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now, it's time for the world lead.

It is a clear sign that an agreement could be close on Iran's nuclear program. We'd just learned Secretary of State John Kerry, who we just saw at the Kennedy gravesite a few minutes ago, is now headed to Geneva to join the negotiations.

Diplomats from key members of the U.N. Security Council have been meeting with Iranian leaders to hash out a plan that would shut down at least part of Iran's nuclear program. In return, world powers would ease up on some of the sanctions that have crippled the country's economy.

Joining me now with more on what Kerry's trip means and how soon a possible deal could be reached, our CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who is in Geneva, along with foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, right here next to me in Washington, D.C.

Jim, so John Kerry is now coming. What does that mean in terms of how close we are to a deal?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you now have the two giants of these negotiations coming here -- Kerry arriving tomorrow, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, he touched down here just a couple of hours ago.

And you really get the sense they wouldn't come unless they were close. In fact, we are hearing they are coming to close this deal, not just to show up. And it fits with the optimism I have been hearing from both sides, from the Iranian side, from Western officials all day. That said, U.S. officials telling us that there are still gaps to be narrowed, which has been their favorite phrase of these negotiations. So, you get the sense Kerry is coming to finalize closing those gaps, not just coming for the photo op.

TAPPER: Elise, can Kerry make a difference? He's not here apparently, according to Jim, he's not there just to sign on the line that is dotted. He is -- there is actually still problems.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, he certainly seems to think he has and that's often the case with John Kerry, that he likes that personal diplomacy. He thinks that he can go and he can close the deal and what aides are saying is that yes, he wouldn't be traveling if he didn't think that him sitting down, we're told he wants to go line by line with the Iranian foreign minister on the other delegations on the agreement, that he thinks it could come to a close.

And also, the foreign minister is leading the delegation, the Iranian foreign minister. If there is a deal, he wants the other foreign ministers there with him to announce it.

TAPPER: Jim, what are the real gaps right now between the two sides? Quickly, if you could.

SCIUTTO: I've been told over the course of the day, there are several but the key one really is how explicitly they delineate Iran's right to enrich. The Iranians want it written down on paper. U.S. officials have been saying for a couple weeks they don't recognize the right to enrich but maybe there's a way there can be some diplomatic ambiguity here where the Iranians claim it and, in effect the West and the U.S. don't disclaim, don't say that it's not there.

I think that's been one of the difficulties here is finding how the language of this interim agreement keeps both sides happy on that.

TAPPER: And speaking of happy, Israel not happy. They don't like this deal. What happens now with Israel and Congress and the White House?

LABOTT: OK. Well, that's one of the key reasons why they want to get a deal this weekend. Because Congress has said we'll give you a little bit of time and won't put any more sanctions against Iran but if they come back from recess in early December, no deal, they are going to start to put on sanctions.

And when it comes to Israel, there is an open rift between Israel and the U.S. Prime Minister Netanyahu says he cannot accept a deal, President Obama going ahead with the deal over his objections. So, after this deal is done, Secretary Kerry planning to definitely say he wants to be traveling to Israel to be talking about it.

TAPPER: All right. Just in time for Hanukkah.

Jim Sciutto in Geneva and Elise Labott right here -- thank you so much.

Coming up next on THE LEAD: it's essential for the success of Obamacare. Young healthy Americans need to sign up. So, are they? Plus, it's a costly Hollywood challenge, turning a huge bestselling novel into a blockbuster at the box office. So, are die-hard "Hunger Games" fans happy with this new sequel?