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U.S. Releases Most But Not All of JFK Assassination Files; Trump Wanted Gag Lifted on FBI Informant; Nigerian Soldier: U.S. Convoy Separated During Ambush. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired October 27, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are all of these little nuggets coming up. Some of which are very interesting. Some of which are just confusing.
[07:00:08] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are more plots than you can shake a stick at.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president saying that he's lifted a veil on all this, and the veil is still in place, courtesy of the federal government.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump wanted the DOJ to lift a gag order on an FBI informant investigating Russian attempts to gain influence into U.S. uranium.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are rules that specifically are designed to prohibit any interference from the White House.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: If the FBI looks political, it's is terrible for law enforcement. It's terrible for the country.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Did Wasserman Schultz deny knowledge of paying the firm behind the Trump dossier? But now we have to find out who in the campaign knew or should have known.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no shame in this. Opposition research says campaign work 101.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris is off this morning. John Berman joins me. Great to have you.
BERMAN: It's suspicious. I will say it's suspicious.
CAMEROTA: We'll tell you what's suspicious, coming up. So we're following two big stories. The U.S. government releasing most not all of the classified documents on President John F. Kennedy's assassination. The files adding to the mystery and suspicion of what really happened on that fateful day and breathing new life into decades of conspiracy theories. One of the documents ends on on a big cliffhanger. Was Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, an agent of the CIA?
BERMAN: And Chris Cuomo is not here.
Also this morning, sources tell CNN that President Trump himself pressed the Justice Department to lift the gag order on an FBI informant. That informant, a key player in the FBI investigation into Russian efforts to gain influence into the U.S. uranium industry during the Obama administration. It is very unusual. And you'll hear people say it is very inappropriate for a president to get this involved in an investigation.
We have this all covered for you. A lot of developments overnight. Let's begin with CNN's Brianna Keilar, live in Washington on the new JFK files -- Brianna.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting stuff, guys. Also, disappointingly incomplete. These 2,800 remaining documents are likely to only feed the conspiracy theories that the release was meant to tamp down. Because thousands were still kept secret after 11th hour appeals from the FBI and 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 Deputy Attorney 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 Oswald made to a KGB officer at the Russian embassy in Mexico 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."
PHILIP SHENON, AUTHOR, "A CRUEL AND SHOCKING ACT": 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, in some way, 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."
[07:05:02] 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."
KEILAR: But here's what's head scratching about all of this. Intelligence agencies have had 25 years to comply with the 1992 law that governs the release of these documents, and yet they missed the deadline and were sending requests for redactions even late yesterday.
President Trump has given them now 180 more days to re-review their reasons for requesting information be withheld. So still, we may see more documents being put forward that we get to read.
CAMEROTA: Yes. The re-reviewing. From the re-reviewing. The Department of Redundancy Department.
All right. Thank you very much, Brianna.
So now to our other big stories. Sources tell CNN that 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 deal.
CNN's Jessica Schneider is live in Washington with more. What do we know, Jessica?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, two sources telling CNN that President Trump played a hand in getting this gag order lifted. Also an informant who claims he has details on corruption and that uranium deal approved in 2010 can talk to Congress.
So after the president issued his order to a senior staff, we know that White House Counsel Don McGahn then relayed the president's message to the Justice Department. And it was by Wednesday night that that gag order was lifted.
Now, of course, the Justice Department, it does have strict rules limiting any White House involvement in criminal law enforcement matters, especially when it involves the president's political opponents.
It was just earlier this week when the president called allegations of corruption in that uranium deal that was approved when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state the "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 simultaneously investigating a subsidiary of that Russian company, Republicans have now opened an investigation. They announced it earlier this week.
But of course, with these revelations that the president played a hand in lifting this gag order, Democrats are now crying foul about the president's reported intervention. In fact, Congressman Adam Schiff tweeted overnight that it is beyond disturbing that he will -- and he plans to launch a probe.
Now, you know, Alisyn and John, the White House has referred all questions on this to the Justice Department, but the Justice Department right now declining to comment -- Alisyn and John.
CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica, thank you very much. We'll ask Kellyanne Conway all about that, as well.
We have a lot to discuss. So let's start with the declassified JFK files. We have CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN Politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza. Great to see both of you.
Jeffrey, the JFK files really intriguing. What jumps out at you?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's just -- it's shameful that the CIA and the other intelligence agencies did not get their act together and release all those documents. I mean, the idea that there is something to be protected at this point, I find not credible. And also the fact that this was this last-minute rush for a 25-year deadline. But you know--
CAMEROTA: Hold on. You think that it was the CIA not getting stuff together, not the president sort of slow rolling a big reveal? TOOBIN: No. I think this -- you know, I'm prepared to blame the
Trump administration for -- the Trump White House for a lot of things. But I mean, this is on the CIA. This is -- they are their documents. They're -- they're the ones who should know that -- you know, how this procedure should have worked. And also, they're not -- they should not be protecting hundreds of pages of documents more than 50 years after this assassination.
BERMAN: And the president agrees with you. I think we have the statement from the president. You can put it on your screen. I can read it out loud, what the president said about this. It was in Brianna's piece. Do we have that statement?
No. OK. Is it coming? All right.
CAMEROTA: I wish I could help you. I don't have it either.
BERMAN: I was told we have it. It's OK. It's another conspiracy here, Chris Cillizza. One that has not been answered -- there it is. "Executive departments and agencies have proposed to me that certain information should continue to be redacted because of national security, law enforcement and foreign affairs concerns. I have no choice today but to accept those redactions rather than allow potentially irreversible harm to our nation's security." That's the Jeffrey Toobin theory here, that they should have known better.
And I'll say this, Chris Cillizza, to you. It is not only are the intelligence agencies perhaps stonewalling here, but they're also dropping these ridiculously intriguing new hints. There is this -- there is this memo that involves an interview with Richard Helms, who was the CIA director in the 1970s.
[07:10:02] He was asked, "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 agent," and then there's a dot, dot, dot. We don't know the answer.
Tune in to our next episode of the Kennedy assassination here.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: It made me think of, "Let me just tell you the secret of life. Aagh!" I mean, yes, there's no -- look, this has been so freighted with conspiracy theory, with you know, varying accounts of what happened that anything like that is obviously going to add to it.
And I'll echo Jeff in that, if you are a conspiracy theorist about the Kennedy assassination, stuff like that and the fact that we thought we were getting everything and at the 11th hour suddenly we're pulling certain things back for relatively national security reasons will only fuel your idea that this is a giant conspiracy theory, and just when you were about to get to the bottom of it, the government stepped back in.
TOOBIN: Can I just make one point? I think, you know, we talk about conspiracy theories. If people -- not everybody remembers the chronology of Lee Harvey Oswald's life. I mean, here was this American, former Marine, who in 1959 defects to the Soviet Union and then redefects or undefects back to the United States a couple of months before the assassination.
He goes to Mexico where he meets with American government officials, among others. He's involved in this group called Fair Play for Cuba, supporting the Cuban government, in Dallas. I mean, there is so much weirdness in this guy's life.
CAMEROTA: Maybe he was CIA--
TOOBIN: Nobody -- what most of these documents are about are not about the assassination, per se. They're about what the American government knew about his incredibly peculiar background. And the scrambling about trying to figure out who this person was and what side he was really on. I mean, it is serious.
CILLIZZA: By the way, to that end, for me probably the most interesting thing that came out is that there was a death threat phoned in to Lee Harvey Oswald the day before he was murdered. The Dallas police said, "Oh, yes, we have this under control." You know, lots of people think that Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald to silence him. Because, to Jeff's point, he did have this very odd -- certainly odd background for someone at that time.
BERMAN: We'll have much more on the Kennedy assassination in a bit.
CAMEROTA: OK. But meanwhile, speaking of FBI informants, there is a modern-day intrigue about this.
So President Trump had the gag order lifted on an FBI informant so that he could testify in front of Congress about the uranium one deal that was the Clinton-era, Obama-era deal to give this Russian nuclear agency the access and the ownership of this uranium company. So this is not illegal, Jeffrey, as we've talked about. But unusual. Anything else we need to know about the president lifting this gag order?
TOOBIN: This has been a recent FOX News obsession, that this -- this uranium deal, which was investigated two years ago and nothing untoward was found. I mean, this is clearly an attempt by the president's allies to distract attention away from the Russia investigation in terms of the Trump campaign.
And, you know, the president can control the news media narrative by calling this Watergate. But that shouldn't tell us that there is anything more to be investigated here than already was. I mean, I just -- I think this is basically a nonstory except that it's being ginned up to distract attention from a real investigation where we don't know the outcome.
BERMAN: Chris, nothing to see here?
CILLIZZA: Here's what I would say, is Trump has a pattern of doing things that we would say, things small and thing large, that other presidents, past presidents might not have done. Not a blanket, but may of them would not have done. The interviewing of specific U.S. attorneys candidates, which we learned about this week. The making very clear to his senior staff. Trump didn't reach out directly to the Justice Department. Making very clear to his senior staff he wanted this gag order lifted. These are things that, you know, are -- I don't want to say regular course of business for him. But he is a line pusher. He is someone who is very big into "This is ridiculous. I'm not going to operate because past presidents did this, that, or the other thing."
So I do think a little surprising he would be involved in it. But when you look at sort of the Trump oeuvre, largely writ. Thank you, oeuvre.
TOOBIN: Can we get TO English, Cillizza?
CILLIZZA: Yes. Just trying to flash my -- one of the best memories of all time. It is not that atypical for Trump, though I would say if you're talking about the broad sweep of the presidency, it is a little bit odd.
BERMAN: Chris Cillizza got very nice grades, by the way.
CILLIZZA: The best.
[07:15:05] BERMAN: Chris Cillizza, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much for being with us.
TOOBIN: Went to the best school.
BERMAN: Appreciate it.
All right. We have a CNN exclusive. The Nigerien soldier whose unit was first on the scene after the deadly ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers says the U.S. convoy became separated during the attack.
CNN's Arwa Damon doing excellent reporting on this. This is live in Niger with the exclusive details. And we should know we are the first network on the ground in this country where there are so many questions -- Arwa.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.
Now, when this soldier arrived on scene, he described how he saw American and Nigerian troops, the survivors, back-to-back in defensive positions. He also saw the bodies of two of the Americans who were killed in the back of a U.S. vehicle, a four-by-four, the third body lying close by, as well as the bodies of three Nigeriens who were killed, as well.
He then said that they noticed that some of the brush was smoking. There was smoke rising from it. They asked villagers about this. They said that it was the attackers who, as they were fleeing, set parts of the landscape on fire to create something of a smokescreen. He spoke to some of the wounded Nigerians, who told him that when the
attack first began, the convoy, yes, was separated. Two of the vehicles separated from the rest.
The attack initially carried out by assailants in eight vehicles. And then very quickly -- this is when it got really intense -- dozens of attackers arriving on the backs of motorcycles.
But what he did also say, which he found to be very surprising, was that he said that the Green Berets, along with their Nigerien counterparts, actually stopped at his base the day before the attack, on October 3. He didn't know why they were there.
But that after he and his unit got the orders to respond to the attack, he said he was very surprised, because the Americans and the Nigeriens were a light convoy. They didn't have sufficient manpower or fire power, given the threat that the Nigerians, he himself believed was out in this zone.
CAMEROTA: Arwa, thank you very much for being on the ground there in Niger and for all of that reporting. We will check back with you.
So President Trump promising the biggest tax cut ever. But could his plan result in millions of people actually paying more? We will ask one of the president's biggest supporters in Congress, next.
[07:21:18] Sources tell CNN that President Trump directed his senior staff to push the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an FBI informant. That informant was a key player in the FBI investigation into Russian efforts to gain influence in America's uranium industry during the Obama administration.
Joining us now is Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York to talk about this and so much more.
Good morning, Congressman.
REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Yes. Good morning, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Are you comfortable that the president would exert his influence over the FBI to have them lift a gag order on this informant?
COLLINS: Well, certainly, the president's allowed to do what he's going to do. And I know he certainly has been frustrated with much of the Russian investigation. So in doing this, he's trying to make sure that all aspects of the investigation are pursued.
So, no, I don't have any problem with that. Let the truth speak for itself.
CAMEROTA: You know -- yes. Just -- just to be clear, you know, they are supposed to operate independently, particularly when it comes to the president or any president's political opponents. And here the president is trying to get some dirt on what happened with Hillary Clinton.
COLLINS: Well, I mean, if there was someone that there was a gag order and, therefore, his part of the story was not released, to now have it released most would say we want to hear from as many possible individuals as you can. And if somebody has a gag order on them and could not speak. Then that part of the story wasn't told. I guess you could say now it will be told. And, you know, the truth is the truth. So I don't see any harm in this at all.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I guess that there's just -- it's a little confusing, because, as you may know, the Department of Justice would not allow two FBI officials to speak about James Comey's firing.
So when it's the investigation into what happened with Russia meddling and James Comey's firing, then the Justice Department won't allow them to speak. But when the president wants it to be about Hillary Clinton, then he'll lift the gag order.
COLLINS: That's his prerogative.
CAMEROTA: OK. Let's move on.
Taxes. How would you feel if state taxes and local taxes were no longer deductible under whatever the president's new plan is? I know that would really affect your constituents in New York, in particular.
COLLINS: Yes, well, Alisyn, here's the thing. You know, our tax plan is based on igniting the economic engine of growth through making the U.S. competitive with the rest of the world on corporate taxes and also unleashing the job creators of small business, the pass throughs and reducing their income taxes. They're going to reinvest that. Certainly, part of the concern has been the pay-fors. Because, you know, how do we keep our deficit--
COLLINS: -- our debt in line as we're unleashing the economic engine, which will take a little bit of a while to, you know, generate what we know is going to be the growth that ultimately is going to make a big difference in both the deficit and debt.
Those state and local income taxes certainly are a bigger deal in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California. The high-taxed states.
CAMEROTA: So would you get on board with those?
COLLINS: We have taken care of -- we have taken care of the middle and upper middle income earners by virtue of the fact we've doubled the standard deduction to $24,000. So anyone in these states that has a half-a-million-dollar house or assessed at less value, they're going to take a standard deduction anyway, unless their property taxes and their mortgage interest are more than $24,000. So you're getting into a pretty -- pretty expensive house, over half a million dollars.
[06:25:06] COLLINS: Now, I know our governor, and I know Senator Schumer are worried about the millionaires and the billionaires on Wall Street making millions of dollars who will not be allowed to deduct the millionaires tax that our governor imposed. It was supposed to sunset and did not. We're one of the highest taxed states in the nation on the millionaires and billionaires, the hedge fund folks.
This tax plan is not protecting the millionaires and billionaires that Governor Cuomo and Senator Schumer want to protect. It's not. They're going to pay more taxes, Alisyn. There's no two ways about it.
And we're protecting the middle-income earners, the upper middle income earners. And I'm confident that in my district, 98 percent of my taxpayers are going to be taking the standard deductions. So this doesn't mean anything to them.
CAMEROTA: OK. While we have you, Congressman, I do want to ask about the ethics issue that at the moment you are facing. House Ethics Committee is reviewing some business dealings that you did to see if they were appropriate. Did you share some sort of non-public information with the NIH in attempting to get them to run some clinical trials for -- let me get the name right -- Innate Immunotherapeutics, a company that you hold vast shares of?
COLLINS: Yes, well, first of all, that company has now -- our trial failed, and so that company -- I lost everything I had in it. Clearly, I didn't have an insider information that would indicate otherwise.
CAMEROTA: So you don't -- hold on just one -- I just want to be clear. So you don't have -- you had at one time 25 million to 50 million stakes in the company, and you don't have those anymore?
COLLINS: Well, no, I owned -- I owned 38 million shares that, at one time, with a lot of hype surrounding the company, was worth $30 million. Today, it's worth zero. I never sold a share.
And clearly, the indication that I would have had insider information to tell me about all the good things that were going to happen clearly was not the case, because good things didn't happen. Our trial failed.
And no, I filed all ethics requirements. I reviewed everything with ethics. Today, the -- and the three initial allegations against me were all dismissed by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which I call them the mall cops. They're not the real deal. They turned it over to the Congressional Ethics Committee that just said, "We're going to review things," but that's where it stands. I wish they had reviewed things and just ended the -- the situation. Here they didn't. That's unfortunate.
But I certainly did nothing wrong, and clearly, I had no insider information that good things were coming, because what came was the company derailed, the trail failed, I lost everything, never sold a share.
CAMEROTA: And so -- so I mean--
COLLINS: It's unfortunate we had what we thought was going to be a life-saving drug that just did not show significant difference to a placebo.
CAMEROTA: So but when the findings were that they have substantial reason to believe, the House Ethics Committee, that you did engage in some sort of insider--
COLLINS: No, that's--
CAMEROTA: -- trading or insider information. Not true?
COLLINS: No. Well, you're talking -- there's two different things. There's the Congressional Ethics Committee. I call that the real deal. They are reviewing the OCE report, the Office of Congressional Ethics. That's -- I call them the mall cops. They're not the real deal. They thought that one of my e-mails to investors may have had non-public information. That's not true. And the CEO of the company has -- has put forth an affidavit, saying there was nothing in that e- mail that was not public information.
But also, the company failed. So there was certainly no insider information that was going to make anyone money. It was just the thought that we have a life-saving drug. We truly did. I truly thought this drug was going to make a big difference for those with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. Did not work out. I lost everything. Never sold a share. And we have an affidavit that said any and all information in the e-mail they're referring to was already in the public domain.
So right now, it's unfortunate that the Congressional Ethics Committee is simply reviewing the report from the OCE. And they'll get to it at their time frame. Unfortunately, that could be two years from now.
CAMEROTA: OK. Congressman Chris Collins, thank you very much for explaining all of that.
CAMEROTA: And for being on NEW DAY.
COLLINS: All righty. OK, good to be with you, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: You, too.
Coming up in just minutes, we'll talk to President Trump's counselor, Kellyanne Conway about all this and more.
And in our next hour, John, there's more. Wait, there's more. We have New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He'll be talking about the president's opioid commission and much more with us.
BERMAN: All right. And coming up next, one of the new JFK documents released ends in a cliff hanger. Was Lee Harvey Oswald an agent of the CIA?