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U.S. Releases Most But Not All of JFK Assassination Files; CNN: Trump Wanted Gag Order Lifted on FBI Informant. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to take months to put this million- piece puzzle together.

[05:59:23] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a level of detail about covert action which we're getting now which we didn't have before.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If all those files are not released, the president will have a promise that he did not keep with the American people.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The uranium sale to Russia, that's Watergate, modern age.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump asked the DOJ to lift a gag order on an FBI informant investigating Russian attempts to gain influence in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House never should have injected itself into this decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Podesta and Wasserman Schultz denying knowledge of paying the firm behind dossier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody knew. Somebody had to know.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, October 27, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off this morning. John Berman joins me.

Oh, my gosh.


CAMEROTA: There's so much -- there's so much intrigue, and you as a student of history, are going to dive into this, because we're following two big stories for you.

The U.S. government releasing most, but not all, of the classified documents on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The never-before-seen records breathe new life into conspiracy theories, and they add to the mystery of what really happened on that fateful day in 1963.

One of the documents ends on a cliff hanger. Was Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, an agent of the CIA?

BERMAN: I will note, Chris Cuomo not here today, mysteriously, the morning after this release.

CAMEROTA: Coincidence?

BERMAN: Another major development overnight, sources tell CNN President Trump himself pressed the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an FBI informant. Now, that informant is a key player in the FBI investigation into Russian efforts to gain influence in the U.S. uranium industry during the Obama administration.

Republican lawmakers want to know the circumstances surrounding the sale of a uranium mining company to a Russian energy agency. But it is highly unusual, and you will hear some people say highly inappropriate for a president to get this involved in an investigation.

We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with the JFK intrigue. CNN's Brianna Keilar live in Washington with the new information in the files -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Interesting information for sure, John. But also disappointingly incomplete. These 2,800 of the final remaining JFK documents are likely to only feed this conspiracy theory affliction that their release was meant to tamp down. Because thousands were still kept secret after 11th hour appeals from the FBI and the CIA.


KEILAR (voice-over): For decades, conspiracy theories have questioned whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President John F. Kennedy in Dallas nearly 54 years ago.

In a newly-released memo, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover expressed concern that Americans wouldn't believe he was the lone gunman: "The thing I am concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin."

The declassified document shedding new light on Oswald's contacts with Russia and Cuba. One document reveals the CIA intercepted a call on Oswald made to a KGB officer at the Russian embassy in Moscow less than two months before Oswald shot Kennedy.

The memo's author says, "Oswald spoke in broken Russia. The FBI documenting a separate conversation about Oswald between two Cubans. One man saying Oswald, quote, "must have been a good shot." A Cuban intelligence officer replying, "Oh, he was quite good." Asked why he said that, the officer replied, "I knew him."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The CIA and the FBI in particular had a lot of information before the assassination to suggest that this man, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a danger.

KEILAR: Another suspenseful cliff hanger: whether Oswald worked for the CIA. In a 1975 deposition, Richard Helms, the deputy CIA director under Kennedy was asked if Lee Harvey Oswald was a CIA agent or an agent before the document suddenly ends without an answer.

Even Kennedy successor Lyndon B. Johnson is said to have entertained another theory to explain the assassination. According to Helms, Johnson claimed that Kennedy was killed as payback for the assassination of Vietnam's president and this was just justice. Even though Helms said there was no evidence of this claim in agency records.

But a memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to the White House three years after Kennedy was killed details reaction inside the Soviet Union, including conspiracy theories of their own. Namely, that Johnson himself was behind Kennedy's death. The source saying the USSR believed there was some well-organized conspiracy on the part of the ultra-right in the United States to affect a coup.

The documents also revealed the FBI received a direct warning before Oswald's own murder during a jail transfer just days after Kennedy's assassination. A day before Oswald was killed, Hoover says the FBI office in Dallas received a phone call "from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald" and shared that information with the Dallas police chief, who "assured us adequate protection would be given. However, this was not done."

Oswald's killer, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, maintained he acted alone and denied making the call.

And more may be coming. A White House official telling CNN the president was unhappy with the level of redactions requested by intelligence agencies, saying they were not meeting the spirit of the law. Trump writing in a memo, "I have no choice today but to accept those redactions rather than allow potentially irreversible harm to our nation's security."


[06:05:05] KEILAR: Intelligence agencies have actually had 25 years to comply with this 1992 law that governs the release of these documents, and yet they missed this deadline. They were sending requests for redactions even as late as late yesterday. President Trump has given them 180 more days to review their reasons for requesting information be withheld. So more documents may yet see the light, John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, Brianna. It is just all so scintillating, to tell you the truth. Thank you very much for the reporting. Let's bring in CNN political analyst Julian Selzer and CNN

presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. Great to have both of you. Listen, this is your -- this is your livelihood.

Julian, I'll start with you. What do you find most intriguing about what's been revealed?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: One thing is this memo about how the FBI had information that there was an effort to kill Oswald and who was worried about having this information after it happens.

Another is familiar to historians and many people who lived through the '70s. All the different activities that the CIA was involved in, trying to kill Castro, operations overseas, involving espionage monitoring Martin Luther King as late as 1967.

And finally, the cliffhanger memo, suggesting the connections between the CIA and Oswald, will be front and center. Although it's an incomplete document. It doesn't prove anything. But it will certainly lead to questions.

BERMAN: It is a heck of a cliff hanger, though. You know, Doug, let me read this to you. This is Richard Helms, who was the director of the CIA in the '70s being questioned. And the question to him is this. Is there 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, dot, dot, dot. No answer. The rest not released. Not yet. I mean, talk about intrigue right there, though.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: There is no question about it. That's only going to fuel more conspiracy theories. Really, that's what's going to happen out of all this. People are going to pick a puzzle piece here and another one there, and they're going to inflate them with a new theory on what happened.

Overall, though, we didn't learn a whole lot from this. To me it's a bit of a document dump going on here. We're acting like, God. They had decades to do this, and they almost didn't. Well, maybe they did have decades to sanitize this group of documents, just like you're seeing there with Richard Helms on where did it go to? Did somebody suddenly pull the mike on him? Or is somebody out there at CIA, "Erase that. Hide that from the public." And will the answer to that ever...

CAMEROTA: Yes. Well, why would they do that if it -- if it weren't true? I mean, what's your theory on why it just stops right there, about whether he was acting as a CIA agent?

BRINKLEY: Well, the theory would be it was getting to -- maybe it was too convoluted an answer Helms gave. That he once did a little bit of farm work for us but not at this -- you know, he may have gone on a little bit about some of Oswald's having done big things for the CIA over the years. And they may have decided that that would look incriminating. Or he may have said yes, just a plain out yes. He did work with us. That's the whodunnit aspect. The fact that it's not there allows all of us to fill in the blank, and it's why so many people keep returning to the Kennedy assassination.

BERMAN: What Joe said to me is the fact that major officials in the Intelligence Committee knew how complicated this was going to be and how the answers would be so unsatisfying from the very beginning.

J. Edgar Hoover, the director at the FBI, on November 24, 1963, two days -- two days after Kennedy was killed, this is what he said. He goes, "The thing that I am concerned about is that -- and so is deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin."

Two days later, Professor Julian, he thinks that it's going to be difficult to convince America that Oswald is a lone assassin, which by the way, has to be before he knew for sure that Oswald was the lone assassin.

ZELIZER: You have to remember the context of this period. This is the height of the Cold War. Instantly, LBJ is scrambling to figure out what happened. And there's all kinds of theories out there. Did the Soviets do it? Did Cuba do it? There's concerns here we see this in the documents that the right wing in America which was in Dallas that time was also responsible.

So part of the effort was to find out what happened. But part of it was to contain what the response would be. We learned in one document that the Soviets are very worried that some general is going to unleash on the Soviets after this happened. So that's part of the scramble that you're seeing.

The president is assassinated at the height of the Cold War. And they don't only want to find out what happened. They want to contain the damage.

CAMEROTA: Doug, here's another intriguing part that Julian had first referred to. And that is that somehow the FBI knew that Oswald was going to be killed. Here's the little excerpt from that, from J. Edgar Hoover, November 24.

[06:10:06] "There's nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead. We received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald."

What's your thinking behind that line?

BRINKLEY: That to me is the most important document to come to light so far. One thing that becomes abundantly clear, if you look at a lot of these, is we remind ourselves that the FBI and CIA didn't collaborate together very well, for starters. You know, neither did Navy and Army in the 1950s, by the way.

But it comes shining through these documents. But in this case, Hoover actually comes out to be kind of the interesting good guy, oddly. You have never have said that about J. Edgar Hoover before. He's, I think, perplexed about what happened in Dallas. He seems shocked that they had warning. They had told Dallas police that he seems to not know particularly with the killing of Ruby how that could possibly happen.

And so, again, it creates, I think, more suspicions, these new documents, about CIA than it does the FBI.

BERMAN: Guys, there's a lot that wasn't released, though there was a lot that was released. Some of the things that we have not yet received, a huge file. A 338-page file on the head of the CIA office in Dallas. Why does that matter? Because he was in charge of Dallas. Just what Doug Brinkley was talking about right there. There's so much that went on around that assassination. Nothing on him, there's a dossier on a Dallas man who met Jack Ruby before Ruby killed Oswald.

There's files on anti-Castro Cuban exiles. Secret Service, in records destroyed from 1963 records. Army and Navy intelligence files, and part of the CIA report on Oswald. This is what we don't have, Professor. That's some pretty big information.

ZELIZER: It is big information, although we need to remember part of what happened in this was the CIA didn't give all its information as soon as the Warren Commission started, because they didn't want to reveal all the different operations they were involved in in that period. Not necessarily as an effort to protect Oswald.

So there's more information. My guess is a lot of that is going to be more of efforts to kill Castro, for example. Information, which before the mid-70s, America had no idea that this was what our government did. So my guess is there will be more of that, which won't be a total surprise. But obviously, more information out there fuels the conspiracy theories and lets everyone say we're missing that one document that proves there's a smoking gun that he was involved in something bigger.

BERMAN: All right. More to come in April. This discussion will continue throughout the morning, guys. Thanks so much.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

BERMAN: Now to our other big story of the morning. Sources tell CNN President Trump directed his senior staff to have the Justice Department lift a gag order on an FBI informant so the informant could speak to Congress about Russia's Obama-era uranium deals.

CNN's Jessica Schneider live in Washington with the details on this -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Democrats are crying foul on this. In fact, Congressman Adam Schiff tweeting overnight that he plans to pursue a probe and calling the president's personal intervention to pursue a political opponent, quote, "beyond disturbing."

Two sources tell CNN that President Trump directed his senior staff to facilitate the Justice Department's full cooperation with Congress to lift that gag order.

That's when White House counsel Don McGahn relayed the president's message to the Justice Department. And by Wednesday night, that gag order was lifted, paving the way to allow the informant to speak with Congress.

Now, of course, the Justice Department has strict rules allowing anyone in matters especially when it involves the president's political opponents. Now, it was earlier this week when the president called allegations of corruption in the uranium deal approved when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state "Watergate of the modern age."

And Republicans have been raising questions about reports that Russians channeled millions of dollars into the Clinton Foundation at the same time the deal was being approved to sell a uranium mining company to the Russians. And with recent reports that the FBI was actually simultaneously investigating a subsidiary of that Russian company. Republicans have now opened an investigation.

And as part of that investigation, they wanted to talk to an informant who says he has more details on corruption. And now, of course, sources say the president did play a hand in paving the way to lift the gag order on the informant. At this point, the White House has referred all questions on this to the Justice Department.

But right now, John and Alisyn, the Justice Department declining to comment. But a lot of criticism coming about what the president played a hand in.

CAMEROTA: Well, we're going to have Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, on later to ask her about all of this stuff. Jessica, thank you for that reporting. So is that about transparency or is it political payback? Our panel dissects it, next.


[06:18:36] BERMAN: New details about President Trump's role in a new congressional investigation into the Obama-era uranium deal with Russia. CNN has learned that President Trump himself was involved in the Justice Department, lifting a gag order allowing an FBI informant to testify. We want to bring in our panel right now. CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN political analyst John Avlon.

Jeffrey, I want to start with you here.


BERMAN: You will say -- and I think you will say it is inappropriate for a president to weigh in and get this involved with an investigation.

TOOBIN: I will say that.

BERMAN: However, it's not illegal. I mean, there's nowhere in the Constitution that says the president shall not be involved in a Justice Department investigation.

TOOBIN: Absolutely not. However, still in the aftermath of Watergate, Richard Nixon ordered investigations of people and by the IRS, the government established policies so that, in individual enforcement investigations, there are specific procedures to be followed between the executive branch, the White House, and the investigative agencies.

It is unclear whether these policies were followed precisely or not. The White House counsel was supposed to be involved in the White House counsel appears to have been involved in this process.

But the idea that the president of the United States is deciding who is subject to a gag order in an old investigation is just something that's totally inappropriate.

BERMAN: There's some irony here, because listen to the president here. I want to play some sound of the president talking about this. He says it's like Watergate. Listen.


[06:20:04] TRUMP: Well, I think the uranium sale to Russia and the way it was done is so underhanded with tremendous amounts of money being passed. I actually think that's Watergate, modern age.


BERMAN: To Jeffrey, so you're saying the comparison might be that the executive branch or the president's office is getting involved with an investigation.

TOOBIN: Yes. And another part of this story is the symbiosis between the Trump White House and FOX News. Because this is a story that has been pushed, pushed, pushed in recent weeks by FOX News. Even though it was settled in 2015. I mean, it's an old story. Everybody knows what happened. But because FOX is using it to distract attention from stories they don't want to cover, that's why the president is suddenly...

CAMEROTA: Look, the president often goes from FOX talking points. We know that. But I don't know that you're right that everybody knows what happened. I don't know that most Americans do know about uranium one and what happened here. So I think that revisiting it, in other words, even Hillary Clinton was asked about it again.

TOOBIN: She was asked about it because of FOX News.

CAMEROTA: Of course, of course. But let's just listen to how she explains this. Listen.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I would say it's the same baloney they've been peddling for years. And there's been no -- no credible evidence by everyone. In fact, it's been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a transparent attempt to deflect and distract from folks who don't want to deal, for partisan purposes, with the Russia investigation. And so this is a just a counter narrative. And it has been pushed by FOX. And it has, therefore, also been embraced by the White House.

And then the president trots out this completely historically literate metaphor being the equivalent of Watergate. And really, I think what might happen is the question of White House involvement in some of these sources, because as Jeff pointed out, this is more than simply frowned upon by recent tradition. This is enforced by policy. And there are procedures that probably this White House didn't take into effect.

But, you know, the close relationship in terms of messaging between FOX and the White House and really an attempt to change the conversation, to create the illusion of a counternarrative or something equivalently serious to our country is flimsy. It's pathetic. Let's call it what it is. And let's...

BERMAN: There's a new element in the Hill reporting. There are some new elements in the Hill reporting, which is that the FBI had been doing an investigation, didn't necessarily -- we don't know if they passed on the information to the State Department and the various agencies, where they were proving uranium.

AVLON: One of nine -- that's an important point. Nine agencies approved this. This wasn't Hillary Clinton unilaterally doing something as a favor to the Clinton Foundation.

CAMEROTA: It is still confusing, just to say that, you know, all of it is confusing in terms of Russia is good, the president thinks. It would be good to have good relationships with Russia. We have gone overboard with saying Russia is bad. But now Russia is bad with this deal. I mean, that's what the president is saying, basically. And this needs to be looked into. The messaging is confusing about how to see this.

TOOBIN: The messaging is confusing, but this is a great example of the power of the bully pulpit that the president has. Is that when the president of the United States says anything is as bad as Watergate, all of us, more or less, are obliged to cover it, because he's the president of the United States, and what he says is important.

Even though this matter of this uranium was investigated when it came out in this "Clinton Cash" book in 2015. Nobody found anything untoward in terms of the behavior by Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton, you may remember, is now a private citizen in Chappaqua, New York. Why anything about her is particularly relevant today. I mean, it just -- it is much more politics than anything.

AVLON: And hating Hillary Clinton is the only thing that keeps the Republican coalition together at this point.

BERMAN: And also, in looking at my watch here and my calendar, you know, we're also nearly a year after this election. And the election continues to be litigated every single day. And there is new information about the Clinton team also, which is not

uninteresting. It isn't new. It has to do with the funding of the so-called dossier, the Christopher Steele investigative report. You know, we now have learned that it was, you know, a lawyer for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign that paid for this research. And CNN reporting overnight that campaign chair John Podesta and former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz were asked, "Did you know who paid for this?" You know, they were asked that by congressional investigation, and apparently, our reporting is they said no.

TOOBIN: It's my reporting, too, that they said -- they said no. And you know, I think this has been poorly handled by what's left of the Clinton campaign, because there's nothing wrong with funding opposition research. I mean, this is what campaigns do.

This -- this GPS investigation was funded first by Republican opponents of Trump, then picked up by the Clinton campaign. But they simply should have said, yes, or whoever it was in the Clinton campaign who approved it, should have said, "Yes, we paid for it."

The problem is, this has been piously denied by the Clinton camp, and that creates the appearance of hypocrisy. But don't forget that we have known for a long time that this appears to have been paid for in two traunches.

[06:25:11] First, by an anti-Trump Republican. Maybe a campaign during the primary. Maybe donors associated with the campaign. Maybe a third. And then picked up by the Democrats. So the idea this is a revelation is false. And the idea that somehow it's solely on the Democrats is also false.

BERMAN: Steele did not come on until after the Democrats started paying. The timeline there is important. Christopher Steele did not start investigating.

Jeffrey, legal counsel, I just want to make clear. We don't know. It's not impossible that campaign chair John Podesta didn't know who was paying for this. We don't know. But if they did know and they told congressional investigators they did not, there's a legal issue.

TOOBIN: False statements to a congressional committee are a -- are a crime. But there really is no evidence that they did know. Someone clearly did know within the Clinton campaign.

CAMEROTA: Right. But you're saying someone would be going rogue and paying all this money for this opposition research without the campaign managers or the DNC head knowing?

TOOBIN: Well, absolutely -- I mean, this is -- these sorts of decisions are often made at a lower level than that. I mean, it is not necessarily -- I mean, he was the campaign chairman. He wasn't the campaign manager. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was completely on the outs with everybody. It's not at all surprising.

BERMAN: ... Eisen (ph) hasn't testified yet. It's very possible that Robby.

TOOBIN: Robby Mook.

AVLON: When there's opposition research, the candidate rarely knows. Certainly, the campaign chairman wouldn't know, but the campaign manager usually would.

CAMEROTA: We'll get Robby Mook on.

Thank you, gentlemen. Coming up on NEW DAY, we will discuss all of this with President Trump's counselor, Kellyanne Conway.

BERMAN: Right. Exclusive CNN reporting on the Niger ambush. Arwa Damon talks to a Nigerian soldier, one of the first on the scene after the attack that killed four U.S. soldiers. We have a live report from Niger next.