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JFK Secrets Revealed; Trump Influenced Lifting of Informant's Gag Order; Niger Ambush Investigation; Defense Secretary Mattis Visits Korean DMZ. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: The veil is lifted on long held secrets about the Kennedy assassination. Was Lee Harvey Oswald an agent of the CIA? The amazing cliffhanger in these troves of documents.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: An FBI informant can now testify about Russian attempts to gain influence in the U.S., but did President Trump push that through for political payback on Hillary Clinton?

Good morning everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSIK: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

KOSIK: I'm Alison Kosik, sitting in for Christine Romans.

It is Friday, October 27th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the east.

BRIGGS: Plenty of intrigue following the late night release of the JFK files by the Trump administration. Was Lee Harvey Oswald acting as an agent of the CIA? That question remaining unanswered this morning. While the White House did release over 2,800 records, roughly three hundred others were kept classified because of national security concerns. More on that in a moment.

KOSIK: OK. First, some highlights for you, like the CIA director under LBJ and Nixon suddenly cut short just before answering a critical question. In records from a 1975 deposition, Richard Helms, who was the deputy CIA director under JFK, is asked whether there is any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or an agent. The document ends suddenly there without the rest of Helm's response.

BRIGGS: So intriguing.

Also on the documents, 1975 record on the CIA's role in foreign assassinations. Attorney General Robert Kennedy telling the FBI he learned the CIA hired an intermediary to approach a mobster. That mobster was offered $150,000 to go into Cuba and kill Fidel Castro. One option, poisoning him with pills.

KOSIK: It's almost like we're reading from a movie script. BRIGGS: Spy novel.

KOSIK: OK, there's more here. There is an FBI memo from the New Orleans field office three months before the JFK assassination. And it describes monitoring the fair play for Cuba committee and says the group's activities dropped off considerably after the departure of member Lee Harvey Oswald.

BRIGGS: Also, the FBI received a telephone threat on Oswald's life the day before he was murdered. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover confirming the call was from a man talking in a calm voice, saying he was a member of a committee to kill Oswald. Hoover also on record saying Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby, denied making that call.

KOSIK: Other highlights include a Cuban intel officer claiming to know Oswald, and two months before JFK's assassination, Oswald was intercepted speaking to a KGB officer in broken Russian.

BRIGGS: And back to President Trump now. A senior administration official says last minute request from intelligence and law enforcement agencies resulted in a, quote, messy process. Leading up to the release of the Kennedy files, the White House did not receive all of the requests until yesterday. That left a scrambling to funnel all the information to the president.

KOSIK: One official says he was unhappy with the level of redactions and that's why the president has directed the agencies to further review their reasons for keeping some of the records secret and report back within 180 days. So, we really could get more information in six months, including the potential answer to that cliffhanger about whether Oswald was a CIA agent.

OK. New ethical questions facing the president and Justice Department this morning after it emerging the president personally influenced the decision to lift a gag order on an undercover informant. All of this circling back to who else? But Hillary Clinton.

The informant played a critical role in the FBI's investigation in the Russian's effort to gain influence in the U.S. Uranium industry. This all happening while Clinton was secretary of state.

BRIGGS: Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley publicly called on the Justice Department to lift the gag order blocking the informant from speaking to Congress. The Justice Department can do so but there are rules, limiting White House involvement in criminal law enforcement matters like this.

KOSIK: The informant's lawyer confirming the FBI cleared her client to speak about Moscow's effort to gain influence with the Clintons. The question now: did President Trump improperly exert his influence to punish Hillary Clinton?

CNN's Gloria Borger has more about that from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Alison and Dave, sources tell CNN that President Trump made it clear he wanted to lift the gag order against an undercover informant who played a critical role in an FBI investigation into Russian efforts to gain influence in the U.S. uranium industry.

[04:05:06] That was during the Obama administration when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

The president directed his senior staff, we're told, to, quote, facilitate the Justice Department's full cooperation in lifting the order, and sources are telling us that the White House counsel Don McGahn then relayed that message to the Justice Department.

Of course, the president has been very interested in this story for some time and the other day, he called it one the biggest stories since Watergate. His staff says he wanted to lift the gag order because he wants to be transparent.

But there's a political backdrop here and this story has been going around for a long time. The story is that the Russians paid what amounted to bribes in the eyes of some to the Clinton Foundation, to garner goodwill from Secretary Clinton to get this uranium deal done. Clinton, of course, has said she has absolutely nothing to do with the decision that she knows nothing about this.

But this is a story the president keeps talking about, and this new testimony from this informant will certainly keep the story going.


BRIGGS: So, it continues. Gloria, thanks.

A source tells CNN the president has expressed consistent frustration with the FBI and Justice Department for dragging their heels on the Russian uranium case and other matters. The White House referring all questions about the lifting of the informant's gag order to the Justice Department. Justice Department, of course, is refusing to comment.

KOSIK: That has the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff, threatening to launch yet another investigation. Congressman Schiff tweeting this: If president personally intervened with DOJ to advance case against political opponent, it's beyond disturbing. I intend to pursue a new probe.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, Twitter pulling all ads purchased by "Russian Today" and "Sputnik" after concluding both Russian news organizations attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. "RT" and "Sputnik" will be allowed to continue producing content on Twitter but they are banned from advertising on the site. Twitter, Facebook and Google executives face a public hearing on Capitol Hill next week to address the roles they inadvertently played in Russian's effort to meddle in American politics.

KOSIK: OK. The House narrowly passed a budget yesterday, and what that did is cleared the way for tax reform. This is a major victory for President Trump's tax plan, but there is still a lot of division among the GOP over the fine print of this tax plan. Now, Republicans can now fast track a tax bill, meaning it doesn't need any Democratic votes to pass.

But it's not just Democrats opposing the plan. Twenty Republicans voted against the budget measure. Eleven from the high tax states of New York and New Jersey, and those representatives -- they want to keep the state and local tax deduction. It's used mainly by middle class families in their states.

So, Representative Kevin Brady, who's going to help write the bill, he's actually one of the head writes, hinted a compromise could be on the way. Another sticking point to the tax plan: the fate of the 401(k) tax break. The bill may reduce how much tax free money workers can invest each year, but cutting both deductions winds up raising more than $1 trillion in revenue. That will help pay for sweeping tax cuts, and right now, the plan adds $2.2 trillion to the deficit.

GOP leaders are going to release the tax bill on November 1st, aiming to pass it by Thanksgiving. That's for the -- I'd say that's pretty ambitious. That leaves just 22 days to overhaul the entire U.S. tax code. I say good luck with that deadline. I mean, we haven't seen rewrite of the tax code since 1986. There's a reason it's been that long because this is really tough work.

BRIGGS: It's similar to what they did with health care. You wonder, what did they learn from the health care battle? You can't remake one sixth of the economy, in the case of health care, in a short period of time. It takes a long time to get these things done.

KOSIK: It will be amazing if they make that deadline.

BRIGGS: Well, they realize it's a political imperative, the Republicans do it, or they're done, says Lindsey Graham.

All right. Help is on the way but not as much as some people hoped for battling the opioid addiction, President Trump declaring a nationwide public health emergency to address the abuse of opioids. The order will expand access to telemedicine in rural agencies, instruct agencies to curb bureaucratic delays for dispensing grant money and shift some federal grants.

KOSIK: The president choosing not to issue a national disaster declaration, which would have triggered more federal funding to help safe -- combat the crisis. Mr. Trump, though, he got really personal in his anti-drug message, discussing how his late brother's addiction led him to never drink or smoke.

[04:10:03] He also linked his planned border wall to efforts to stem the tide of illegal drugs coming into the U.S. from Mexico.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, exclusive CNN reporting on the Niger ambush. One of the first soldiers on the scene after the attack says when he saw the unit the day before they did not have enough protection in a high risk area. We're live on the ground in Niger, next.


KOSIK: We are getting a new firsthand account of the deadly ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger earlier this month. A Nigerien soldier whose unit was first on the scene after the attack spoke exclusively to CNN. The soldier tells CNN American and Nigerien forces that they were ready to fight until the end.

BRIGGS: That same soldier also saw the Green Beret unit the day before the ambush, and says it never crossed his mind they were going on a mission, because at the time, they only had one machine gun, no flak vests, and were wearing ball caps and t-shirts.

[04:15:09] Let's go live to Niger and bring in CNN's David McKenzie with some answers on all of this.

Good morning, David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Yes, this Nigerien soldier was the first on the scene, the rapid response team that went to investigate and potentially help those soldiers in distress. He describes an extraordinary scene as he arrived at that ambush with American and Nigerien soldiers, he said back-to-back, ready to fight to the death. He said he was really amazed by the level of bravery of those surviving soldiers.

He did say that he was surprised having come across the same patrol the day before as they passed by his area of operations, saying that he believed they had pretty light cover, were wearing t-shirts and baseball caps and that they knew they were going into what he believes was a dangerous zone.

Now, we shouldn't read too much into that because often the Americans have operated in these areas with the assumption they won't come across contact. But speaking to Nigeriens here in the capital and to that source, we know there have been multiple attacks in that border region between Mali and Niger against Nigerien soldiers just this year. So, it does lead to questions as to whether the Americans and their counterparts were adequately supplied and prepared for what unfolded, which was in deadly attack that left four American soldiers dead and five Nigerien counterparts also deceased -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Still a lot of questions on that investigation.

David McKenzie live for us in Niger, thank you.

KOSIK: Overnight, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis visiting the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea. Mattis saying the U.S. goal is a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, not war. Mattis' trip coming ahead of President Trump's visit to Asia next week.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live for us in Seoul, South Korea with more.

You know, Paula, what comes to mind is we're seeing the defense secretary visit South Korea today. This is after earlier this week, a senior North Korean official issued that stern warning, saying that the world should take literally North Korea's threat to test a nuclear weapon above ground.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Certainly, it's interesting timing. The timing for Mattis, the secretary of defense, is because of his annual defense talk that they have with the South Koreans to cement the alliance. That happens on Saturday. We'll have a press conference with the two there. We'll be listening out for that.

But what happened today is he did go to the DMZ, that heavily fortified border between North and South Korea.

And one interesting moment, as he was standing there, he asked the South Korean defense minister, looking across into North Korea, how many artillery units do you think they have there? And he was surrounded by cameras. He knew they were microphones, as did the other defense minister. And he said that in my opinion, defensive operation against this many is unfeasible, saying that there had to be new concepts thought of.

Now, Mattis replied to that understood. Very interesting that he is asking effectively, would military action work, and the defense minister is saying there are quite simply too many artillery units pointing towards South Korea at this point. Now, he did mention the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson almost quoting him as he was there, saying that the goal is not war. It is the irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula -- once again siding with Tillerson when he's saying that diplomacy is the most important -- Alison.

KOSIK: OK. These words coming, of course, before the president, President Trump, visits the region next week.

All right. CNN's Paula Hancocks live for us from Seoul, thanks very much.

BRIGGS: What a crucial visit that will be for the president of the United States.

All right. Ahead, a rescue at sea, five months in the making, two women overjoyed after being tracked down. How they were found, how they survived at sea since May. Answers, next.


[04:23:47] BRIGGS: The CEO of American Airlines promising to do a better job in the area of race relations. This comes two days after the NAACP issued a travel advisor, citing a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers.

CEO Douglas Parker says American prides itself on inclusiveness and diversity. But he admits there is room for improvement, saying discrimination, exclusion and unconscious bias are enormous problems that no one has mastered and we would never suggest we have it all figured out either. Parker says he hopes to meet with leaders of the NAACP about its complaints.

BRIGGS: Here's an amazing story for you. Two women rescued after being stranded at sea for five months.

Look at this, you can see the Coast Guard rushing towards Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba of Honolulu. One of the women sees the rescue boat. She's blowing kisses, she's stretching out her arms. I mean, how excited would you be? I would be so excited, give me a shower.

Fortunately, they were both saved along with their dog who was also on the boat. It turns out the women set sail from Honolulu to Tahiti, but their boat's engine died in May and on Tuesday, a Taiwan fishing vessel found them and the crew immediately alerted officials.

[04:25:03] Luckily, the women prepared for a long trip with more than a year's worth of food on board. So, hopefully, they didn't go hungry for that longtime.

BRIGGS: What a remarkable story they have to tell. OK.

Getting his team to one game of the World Series apparently not enough for Yankees skipper Joe Girardi to keep his job. Girardi announcing his departure statement Thursday, revealing with a heavy party that the Yankees decided no the to bring him back. In his ten years as Yankees manager, Girardi won more than 900 frames including the 2009 World Series. He won't be out of work long unless he wants to be.

Meantime, the 2017 World Series resumes tonight with game 3 in Houston. Dodgers and Astros tied a game a piece and J.J. Watt expected to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Texans star raised over $30 million for hurricane relief. He's out for the rest of the football season but he will get a massive standing O.

KOSIK: You obviously follow sports.

BRIGGS: Of course.

KOSIK: Did you see Girardi's departure coming? Did this surprise you?

BRIGGS: There have been whispers about it for a couple of months now, even into the regular season. But, no, he's one of the best managers in the league.


BRIGGS: I thought they'd keep him around. Look, if he wants a job, he'll get a job. But maybe he wants some time off to see his family.

KOSIK: All right. Did President Trump help clear the way for an FBI informant to testify as payback against Hillary Clinton?

BRIGGS: And thousands of documents with long-held secrets about the Kennedy assassination. Did Lee Harvey Oswald have a CIA connection? Wild cliff-hanger, next.