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American Prisoner Released from Venezuela; North Korea Destroys Nuclear Test Site; Summit between U.S. and North Korea May Still Occur; Teacher Subdues School Shooter in Indiana; NBA Player Criticizes Milwaukee Police for Incident Caught on Camera; NFL Announces New Rule Requiring Personnel to Stand During National Anthem; Robert Kennedy Jr. Claims Second Shooter Involved in His Father's Assassination. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired May 26, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- to Venezuela to marry his then-girlfriend Thamara. They planned to return to the United States with her two daughters and start a life together. Days after their wedding, the Venezuelan police started conducting door-to-door searches and claimed to have found a weapon in their house. But the couple claims they were framed. CNN's Boris Sanchez joins us now live from the White House. So Boris, what more can we expect from the president tonight?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it's uncertain exactly what message the president will send tonight. However, my colleague, Jeff Zeleny, has just learned the president has asked officials at the White House to prepare the West Wing for an address tonight at 7:00 p.m., approximately 7:00 p.m., to the nation. That is around the time that Joshua Holt is expected to arrive here at the White House.
Really it's a remarkable story and a bit unexpected. As you noted, he was arrested in Venezuela back in June of 2016, accused of stockpiling weapons. He pleaded throughout his prison time for his release, including one dramatic video that he posted to Facebook in May in the middle of a prison riot. Watch some of what he broadcast to the world pleading for his own release. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSHUA HOLT: I just want to ask and plead once again to my government, to my people, to my senators, and to everyone in the United States to please not leave me alone here. Please come and save my wife, myself, and the people that need help here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Really the most interesting thing about this, Fred, is the timing. Just about a week ago Venezuela held an election and they reelected dictator Nicolas Maduro to another six-year term, something that officials here at the White House and on Capitol Hill called a sham. It also reinvigorated speculation about possible imposed sanctions on Venezuela from the administration.
Shortly after the election, Maduro expelled two American diplomats from Venezuela. Just a few days later, the United States expelled two Venezuelan diplomats from the United States. And suddenly there's the release of this prisoner. Perhaps it's an act of good faith from the Venezuelan government at a time when tensions are extremely high between these two countries, Fred.
WHITFIELD: And then what's the latest that you're hearing on this possible summit with North Korea?
SANCHEZ: Another dramatic front in foreign policy. Just yesterday there was a meeting between the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in. We were told that the two of them discussed their opinions about the still possible summit with Kim Jong-un and President Trump in Singapore set for June 12th. We are still waiting to find out more exactly about what they discussed, but there really was a shift in tone from the United States within just 48 hours from Wednesday when you had President Trump putting out this open letter pulling the United States out of a summit with Kim Jong-un, to just yesterday when he said that it was still a possibility and that there were encouraging signs coming from the North Koreans.
Tensions ramped up pretty quickly before the president put out the letter with the North Koreans essentially skipping out on a planned meeting with American officials set to determine logistics for the meeting between the two leaders. Suddenly the president seems to have heard some sort of promising indications coming from the North Koreans. We're still working to get clarity on specifically what he heard. But this meeting between the North and South certainly is a promising sign, a hopeful one moving forward.
Quickly, Fred, we also heard from Press Secretary Sarah Sanders this morning who says the White House advance team is still planning to leave for Singapore this week to try to organize logistics for the planned summit, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Boris Sanchez, thanks so much, at the White House.
So what's it like to journey 18 plus hours into the middle of nowhere deep into North Korea's mountains? CNN's Will Ripley was one of the few in the world to go there and witness North Korea's so-called destruction of its nuclear test site. Here is his experience.
WILL RIPLEY, CN, CORRESPONDENT: From the moment I landed in Wonsan, I knew this story was unlike any other. Eighteen trips to North Korea, and this country still keeps me guessing. For more than 24 hours, we didn't even know if our trip to the Punggye-ri nuclear site would happen. The rhetoric with the U.S. was really heating up. Only when we boarded the bus did we know it was a go. We rode for more than 12 hours on a North Korean luxury train. It was surreal. A 10-course banquet with all the blinds closed and strict orders not to film outside.
We also couldn't film on the drive to the nuclear site. Arriving at Punggye-ri was surreal. The buildings were log cabins, almost like a summer camp. It was definitely not what I expected. We had to carry our gear and hike for what felt like ages up steep ravines to get to observation posts built specifically for us. We visited tunnel after tunnel, the same tunnels North Korea has used to conduct six nuclear tests since 2006, all of them full of explosives, football-sized bags strung with wires.
[14:05:03] We even had lunch provided by the North Koreans -- ham and cumber sandwiches -- surrounded by buildings that would be blown up just hours later.
The explosions were huge, earthshaking. They sent rocks and debris flying. We found some of it scattered later hundreds of feet away. I can only imagine what it felt like during those nuclear tests.
It was totally impossible to verify if what we were seeing, if all those dramatic explosions actually made the nuclear site unusable as the North Koreans claimed. For the nuclear officials onsite, there was almost a sense of sadness, watching more than a decade of hard work go up in smoke.
Will Ripley, CNN at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, North Korea.
WHITFIELD: Will Ripley, thank you so much for that.
Let's bring in now CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a CNN national security analyst and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Good to see you both. So Elise, what are you hearing from the U.S. State Department in terms of whether there is real optimism to potentially get this summit back on track?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Fred, I think that there is a real willingness and a desire and an expectation that this summit will get back on track eventually. I'm not sure if anybody thinks except for President Trump that June 12th is really still a good idea, because the same problems remain, that the U.S. doesn't at this point have super clarity about what the agenda would be. Obviously Kim Jong-un meeting with President Moon of South Korea and the statement that the North Koreans put out show the desire and the willingness, but I'm not sure if the U.S. really knows that the commitment to denuclearize, to put all the things that the U.S. needs to see on the table.
And that in the end is really what President Trump, why he canceled the summit in the first place. Not really because of the rhetoric but because there wasn't that clarity about seriousness of purpose on the North Korean side.
WHITFIELD: And so what are the indicators, if any, that there is a renewed sense of seriousness, if that's what the White House was interpreting or the State Department interpreting on the collapse of the last set of plans?
LABOTT: I'm not sure that there is yet. There's a lot of hoopla. There's again a thought of theatrics about the statement and about the meeting. But until negotiators can meet and talk about what the agenda would be, and we know that the advance team is still going up to set up the logistics, but we forget, Fred, that these things really usually happen from the bottom up, and negotiators could meet for weeks or even months before the two leaders get together for that photo-op and the signing ceremony and the handshake.
But I still think negotiators will need to get together. That could be at the Secretary Pompeo level or possibly other top officials from the National Security Council with some of Kim Jong-un's aides. I don't think that that knowledge about whether this summit would be successful is still there.
WHITFIELD: And, Gayle, the Japanese prime minister weighing in, saying there's a real urgency in trying to get a deal done between these two. What happens in the region if there is no deal? Is there a giant potential feeling of defeat or is it going to be like more of the same?
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think you have cliffhangers meeting North Korean diplomacy. This is the cliffhangers that have really characterized so much of what we've seen since the Trump administration began, which is a lot of suspense about what comes next. And I think when President Trump promised a pretty unpredictable foreign policy, I think it's met a very predictable set of stops and starts when it comes to North Korea.
And very few people, I think you've watched this for a long time, are surprised to see the cliffhanger. The question is how this story ends, because you do have the Japanese prime minister on Facebook talking about we still think this matters very much, and we want to be involved. So it's almost like everyone is using this pause to go back into the discussions and say here's what we want if and when we can get this back on track.
So I would not say that many people think that this is entirely DOA. I think a lot of people think that there is a possibility at resuscitation, but I do think that the cliffhanger was in many ways expected, and we'll all wait and see how serious folks are when they come back to the table and when that might be.
WHITFIELD: When you see the photographs, the pictures of the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un together, hugging even, handshaking from those overnight talks, does that, Gayle, in your view, I guess underscore the importance of South Korea's role in this and that perhaps South Korea is the real linchpin here, key in helping to make this happen?
[14:10:11] LEMMON: It's interesting, because South Korea was always central to this conversation, but so is China, which has 80 percent of trade with North Korea. And South Korea has wanted this. They have wanted this from the start. Go back to the incredible Olympics coverage of when this opening of the door began.
And I think what's fascinating about this meeting is, A, no one expected it, and, B, they have a phone line. This was absolutely no reason now that the phone line is working that the two men needed to meet in person other than because they knew cameras would be there and to show the seriousness that they had or the seriousness that they place on having this meeting. And I do think that the symbolism here when the actual politics of denuclearization and what exactly, both the terms denuclearization and the five letters, Libya, mean to each side, I think the symbolism here in many ways almost trumps the politics.
WHITFIELD: Elise Labott, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, thanks to both of you. Thank you, ladies.
Still ahead, NBA player Sterling Brown says he felt defenseless when police tased and arrested him back in January, and now he's demanding accountability from Milwaukee police.
[14:15:33] WHITFIELD: NBA player Sterling Brown says he felt defenseless when police tased and arrested him back in January, and now he's demanding accountability from the Milwaukee police department which has already suspended three officers without pay. CNN correspondent Ryan Young reports.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown is speaking out for the first time since his arrest in January and the release of this body cam video Wednesday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taser, taser, taser.
YOUNG: The video showing how the incident escalated from a parking violation to Milwaukee police officers pulling the NBA rookie to the ground and tasing him.
STERLING BROWN, NBA PLAYER: I get mad every time I watch it, you know, because I was defenseless pretty much.
YOUNG: In an interview with ABC News, Brown, the son of a retired police officer, says at first he didn't want the footage to be released because he saw it as a personal matter, but now believes he can be a voice for victims of police misconduct.
BROWN: I mean this happens from coast to coast. It's something that's being shown more now that technology has advanced, and it's something that's been happening for years. And people's stories have not been told, people's stories have not been heard. And I feel like me doing this helps a lot.
YOUNG: The body cam video shows Brown's car double parked against two handicaps spaces in a Walgreens parking lot. The officer approaches and asks for Brown's I.D. A back and forth ensues after the young basketball player is told to back up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up. Are you obstructing me? I just told you to back up. YOUNG: Then the officer calls for reinforcements. Around eight
minutes into the video, one of the officers yells for Brown to get his hands out of his pockets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your hands out of your pockets now! Take your hands out of your pockets.
YOUNG: Four officers then grab Brown and wrestle him to the ground and tase him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taser, taser, taser.
YOUNG: You can hear Brown grunting. The encounter resulted in Brown's arrest, but the basketball player was never charged. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett calls the video disturbing.
MAYOR TOM BARRETT, MILWAUKEE: No citizen should be treated this way. The actions I saw also demand accountability.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry this incident escalated to this level. Our department conducted an investigation into the incident which revealed members acted inappropriately and those members were recently disciplined.
YOUNG: The Bucks also released a statement saying in part, the abuse and intimidation that Sterling experienced at the hands of Milwaukee police was shameful and inexcusable. Brown has said he plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the city's police force with the hopes of preventing situations like this in the future.
BROWN: Really just hold officers accountable, hold future officers accountable, and have the city make a commitment to people in the community saying that they're going to try to change some of the ideas and thoughts and policies and try to help as many people in the community not get involved in a situation like this.
YOUNG: Ryan Young, CNN, Milwaukee.
WHITFIELD: Thanks so much to Ryan Young.
And it was provoked mostly like incidents similar to that, the Sterling Brown case, that sparked the rise of NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem. And now the president is praising the NFL after it announced the organization will now require players on the field to stand during the anthem or face a fine. To discuss, I want to bring in Shaun Harper. He is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania where he also serves as executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. Shaun, good to see you.
SHAUN HARPER, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: It's great seeing you, Fred.
WHITFIELD: So President Trump says players who don't stand maybe shouldn't be in the country. And this comes at the same time that you heard the NFL with its policy and its penalty to players who kneel. Overall, what's your reaction?
HARPER: I think that the statements from the president are the most un-American things that I've heard him say in this whole situation. To suggest that people should not be in the country who exercise their first amendment rights to protest racism and police brutality, it's just unpresidential, it is un-American, and it's just flat-out racist.
WHITFIELD: So your sentiments caught my attention in "The Washington Post" where you wrote and then you remind based on information coming from the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport that 95 percent of NFL franchise owners and 75 percent of head coaches are white, and that blacks own majority stakes in none of the 32 teams, 70 percent of NFL players are black. And then you write this new policy clearly signals white control of black players' bodies and rights to kneel in peaceful protest against police brutality and other racial issues during the National Anthem. Put differently, a majority of white overseers created and will enforce a policy restricting black players' freedoms of expression. Do you believe this policy is here to stay ahead of the start of the NFL regular season, or do you believe there will be some modifications?
HARPER: I do not think this policy is going to hold up. I am confident that the 70 percent of black men who make up these teams will stand up for their First Amendment rights, and that they will realize that they hold the power in the NFL. There will be no NFL if there are not black players on these teams because they comprise such a disproportionate share of the teams. So I really want these guys to come together and flex their collective muscle and their collective impact to stand up for themselves and for the rights of others whose speech is oppressed in myriad ways across the country.
WHITFIELD: So this was the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, about this decision. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: We want people to be respectful to the National Anthem. We want people to stand. That's all personnel. And make sure that they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That's something that we think we owe. We've been very sensitive in making sure that we give players choices, but we do believe that that moment is an important moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So was this a unilateral decision, because as a part of collective bargaining, was the players union supposed to be part of any kind of change in policy?
HARPER: Yes, absolutely. Harvard Law Professor Benjamin Sachs wrote a brilliant analysis of this in which he makes the important point that when there is an employees union, that the union absolutely must be consulted before there are changes made in the conditions of employment for those employees. So I think that Professor Sachs is exactly right about that.
The other thing that concerns me is given the racial demographics that I wrote about in "The Washington Post" piece, that 94 percent of the owners are white and 75 percent of the head coaches are white, that shouldn't black men also have a say in this policy and its enforcement? I am afraid that earlier this week a bunch of white guys got together and decided that they were going to suppress the speech and the expression of 70 percent of black players on these teams, and I think that that is absolutely absurd.
The players should have had much more of a say, and I don't think it's too late for them or for those of us who watch the NFL to also have a say. We saw this past season through a series of hash tags that brought us together, blackout NFL, I stand with Kap, I stand with Kaepernick, black Americans and others that care about racial justice coming together to say we're not going to watch any NFL games. So I'm hoping that we continue to peacefully protest the NFL in that way as watchers of the games.
WHITFIELD: Shaun Harper, thank you so much.
Harvard Law Professor Benjamin Saks Thanks, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Up next, he's being hailed as a hero. An Indiana teacher tackling an armed student when shots ring out at a middle school. We'll tell you why his students say he saved lives.
[14:29:03] WHITFIELD: President Trump now praising an Indiana teacher for stopping a school shooting. Trump tweeting this morning "Thanks to very brave teacher and hero Jason Seaman of Noblesville, Indiana, for his heroic act in saving so many precious young lives. His quick and automatic action is being talked about all over the world."
Jason Seaman was wounded as he tackled the young shooter at Noblesville West Middle School. Students are understandably shaken. And today Jason seaman is listed in good condition. The other victim, 13-year-old Ella Whistler, is in critical but stable condition according to her family. CNN correspondent Dianne Gallagher is following this story for us. And Dianne, this was an incredibly brave act by an individual, this teacher, and the kids recognize his bravery.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's really aside from trying to come to grips with what happened at their middle school, that's almost everything that we are hearing from these kids here talking about 29-year-old Jason Seaman.
[14:30:02] He was a science teacher, and this shooting happened in his classroom. According to the students, they were taking a test, and the shooter asked to be excused. When he came back into the classroom, the students say that he had two guns, two handguns, one in each hand, and began shooting. They say that their teacher thought quickly. He grabbed a basketball, he threw it at the shooter, trying to stop him, at the same time running toward him and using his body to disarm that shooter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He walked in and he just had the gun in his hand and started waving it around. He took about like four to five, maybe six shots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he started shooting at Mr. Seaman. And everybody started screaming and freaking out. And Mr. Seaman ran up and tackled him and secured him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then he started screaming to call 911 and get out. And we realized that he got him to the ground and the gun was out of his hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GALLAGHER: Jason Seaman is still in the hospital. According to a post from his mother on Facebook, he was shot three times. He is recovering, in the abdomen, the hip, and the forearm. He did release a statement, Fred, basically saying I want to thank first responders and also telling the kids that I do this for you, and I want to thank all of you and I love you. Most people who know him say they're not surprised by this at all, that he is a good person and they think this is something that he would do. He was a college football player. He used his body, they say, to save his students.
WHITFIELD: Wow. And not to undermine anything he did, but that does exhibit the heart of so many teachers.
GALLAGHER: To automatically do something like that and think about that, of course it's a shame they have to think about it at all.
WHITFIELD: He's an amazing hero. Thank you so much, Dianne, appreciate it.
Still ahead, the North Korea summit and the tumultuous back and forth over whether it will happen and what was really behind President Trump calling it off. We'll talk about that, next.
[14:37:24] WHITFIELD: All right, there appears to be a glimmer of hope that the summit between the President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un may take place after all. The president tweeting a short time ago, however, "The failing "New York Times" quotes a senior White House official who doesn't exist as saying even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12th would be impossible given the lack of time and the amount of planning need. Wrong again. Use real people, not phony sources." But according to CNN reporting, this official, a real person, a real source, said this in a background briefing on Thursday.
In the meantime, the White House says its advance team is heading to Singapore as previously scheduled. I want to bring in Jack Kingston, he is a former Georgia congressman and senior advisor to the Trump campaign. He is now a CNN political commentator. And Nina Turner is a former state senator from Ohio and CNN political commentator. Good to see you both.
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good to be here.
WHITFIELD: Jack, you first. With this summit still up in the air, perhaps it's on again, do you think President Trump and Kim Jong-un will be able to come to some kind of agreement at least to meet?
KINGSTON: I think they will. You know, the president has been focused on North Korea not just in the last several months, but it was one of his first diplomatic foreign policy decisions to start putting pressure on them. And they have had steady diplomatic pressure and economic pressure. So when we were in the position last summer of a lot of rhetoric going back and forth, everybody says this is horrible, this is disastrous, but I think it was paving the way for an ultimate summit. I hope that it will be June 12th, but I'm OK if it's later. I do think it's going to happen, though.
WHITFIELD: So, Nina, is this strategy, was there a misunderstanding, were there certain requirements that weren't met as to why it was off and now potentially on again?
NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we don't quite know, Fredricka, because the president makes these snap decisions that many times don't make a whole lot of sense. The most important thing is hopefully the president is stepping back from this. Hopefully he's talking with our allies in the international community. This could be the opportunity to really do this and to do this right.
It certainly is encouraging what is happening between President Moon, who really has been the leader over there trying to make things happen between North and South Korea. You know, them signing the treaty, the Korean War, the peace treaty, the Korean War that happened in 1953 that there had never been a peace treaty signed, so there's some good signs over there especially because of the leadership of President Moon.
[14:40:00] But it is our hope and it should be anybody's hope who cares about peace that our president will get this right and not play games with this. This is serious business in terms of dealing with a country that is led by a president such as Kim Jong-un and the nuclear capabilities that they have.
KINGSTON: I did want to say that there were reasons that President Trump acted to cancel the summit. One was that when they exploded four of the tunnels, two of them were actually reusable, so they were exploded but not permanently exploded. Also, Kim Jong-un denounced a routine military training exercise as a provocative act of war, which was not true. They insulted President Trump, which is not helpful, not constructive.
But the other thing and people haven't discussed it, is the logistics team went to Singapore as planned to sit down with the North Koreans on just the normal logistics, and the North Koreans did not show up. Our team sat there for three days without the North Koreans being there. I think the president wanted to accepted a signal is that, look, we're not going to play games about this. This is a serious deal.
WHITFIELD: So the insults have been going back and forth, so that certainly can't be the breaking point. But David Sanger wrote in "The New York Times" saying this, and I'm quoting now, that "Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had one vision, what they called complete verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. But it was a one-sided affair. Never once did they raise the likelihood that the United States would have to give something up too."
So, Nina, was this something, an element, a realization perhaps, and then the White House said we're going to call this off because right now we -- perhaps we didn't do all of our research or homework and now we've got to reset?
TURNER: Yes, and that's why we should be concerned. Listen, the relationship is fragile. It always has been. So that is why it's incumbent upon President Trump not to play games with this because the people that lead him and advise him to make sure that we are doing the right thing and not making snap decisions and not pulling back and pulling back in.
There are some people in the international community that are really concerned about this on again, off again. This is real business, the business of peace, the business of diplomacy. All of these things are real. They have real consequences. And the United States should lead. We should lead in a way that is diplomatic and we should lead in a way that is strategic and not make snap decisions.
WHITFIELD: The president used the word "game," that everyone is playing a game so to speak.
TURNER: Well, he's playing the game. He's the one that's playing the game, that's the problem. And so we really need the president and his advisers to take this seriously. The world depends on it. And so I'm really glad to see, again, President Moon stepping up and being the adult in the room.
KINGSTON: Fredricka, I think there is a legitimate question for North Korea is, OK, what is the future of the United States troop strength in South Korea if we do denuclearize and you still have these troops there who we don't trust, what will our future be like. So I think that is what their issue is, and it's something that both sides are going to have to really face and say, OK, if you denuclearize, are we willing as a country to send our folks home. And I don't know that we're there yet.
WHITFIELD: Are all of those things to consider or discussions to have but perhaps not in the public stage, perhaps those are discussions or things you work out before it's publicized that there could be a meeting, Jack?
KINGSTON: I think that, if you think about today's social media environment, not just today. It was when Reagan in 1986 walked out of Reykjavik, there were a lot of armchair quarterbacks on both sides who said right thing, wrong thing. And it's almost like going to a football game. I am glad that, say, the University of Georgia Coach Kirby Smart doesn't listen to all the fans. As meaningful as we are and as great experts that we are sitting in the gallery, I don't think he should listen to us. And I think the president has to be very close with his information and with his advisers on this and not listen to the noise on any side.
WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Jack, Nina, thank you so much.
KINGSTON: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: And this just in to CNN. The fourth man to walk on the moon, Alan Bean, has passed away at the age of 86. A look at this iconic photo from NASA. Bean was the last surviving member of the Apollo 12 team. His family says Bean suddenly fell ill after traveling two weeks ago. He died at Houston Methodist Hospital today. His death leaves only four other astronauts alive today that have stepped foot on the moon.
And we'll be right back.
[14:49:19] WHITFIELD: For decades, theories over who killed Robert Kennedy have puzzled investigators and legal analysts. Now a new report in "The Washington Post" quotes one of his sons questioning whether the man convicted for the shooting is actually responsible. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he met with Sirhan Sirhan who has spent the last 50 years behind bars for the 1968 murder of the Democratic presidential candidate. Now after years of his own research, Kennedy believes a second gunman is to blame.
In "The Post" story, Kennedy is quoted as saying, quote, "I went there because I was curious and disturbed by what I had seen in the evidence. I was disturbed that the wrong person might have been convicted of killing my father.
[14:50:03] My father was the chief law enforcement officer in the country. I think it would have disturbed him if somebody was put in jail for a crime they didn't commit," end quote.
Here with me to discuss now, CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali. So Tim, is there evidence to suggest a second shooter? And what do these thoughts from Robert Kennedy Jr. say to you?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENT HISTORIAN: Well, Fred, I think it's always important to show respect to families of those who were political figures, families of political figures who were felled by violence. The King family, for example, has questioned the official account of James Earl Ray's assassination of their father. And so RFK Jr. has actually been raising questions for a number of years.
The challenge for anybody trying to figure out whether a conspiracy is behind a political assassination is to put together the evidence and to try to find a link between a conspiracy and the ultimate action. The challenge for those studying the RFK assassination is Sirhan Sirhan, who went to jail for the assassination, confessed to it. There were notebooks that he wrote before the assassination in which he wrote that he wanted to kill Robert Kennedy and he wanted to kill Robert Kennedy on the anniversary of the Six-Day War. Sirhan Sirhan is from Palestine, the Palestinian Mandate, and he was very much against Robert Kennedy's support for Israel at the time of the Six-Day War.
We also -- the assassination took place in a very crowded area. This wasn't like 1963 with John F. Kennedy being shot from far away. There were a lot of eyewitnesses. Two of them, Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier are still very much alive. They tackled Sirhan Sirhan because they thought he shot the fatal shot. And by the way, Sirhan Sirhan certainly did shoot somebody because his gun was used. So the issue --
WHITFIELD: Robert Kennedy Jr. is talking about a second person.
NAFTALI: You would have to say that there was a mystery person who just disappeared. Sirhan Sirhan has not explained what conspiracy was behind him. In fact his defenders say that he was in some kind of a trance, that he didn't even know what he was doing.
WHITFIELD: Do you think this case would be reopened?
NAFTALI: Well, if -- look, I'm a historian and I'm always an open- minded skeptic about these things. If there's good, new evidence, yes, you must. If there isn't, then we have to move on. My point here is conspiracies have to be plausible, and you've got to be able to walk through from beginning to end. That's why the JFK assassination conspiracies all fall apart. You can't get from the conspiracy to Dallas effectively. I don't know about this case, but there are a lot of very stubborn facts that make it look like Sirhan Sirhan was the lone gunman.
WHITFIELD: All right, Tim Naftali, we'll leave it right there.
And of course the assassination of Bobby Kennedy took place in 1968, which was a year that changed America forever. CNN's new two-night original series event, "1968" explores the icons and the milestones of that pivotal year. Here is CNN's Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Outrage over racially charged deaths, violent clashes between police and the African-American community.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All black men don't have to die!
FOREMAN: And demands for fair, equal treatment, all part of a struggle for social justice now. But that modern movement owes much to the 1960s when a great many similar scenes unfolded. Throughout that decade, friction had been building over integration, voter rights, and disparities in education, work, and housing opportunities.
MALCOLM X: Freedom comes to us either by ballots or by bullets. FOREMAN: The slaying of Malcolm X, the appearance of the Black
Panthers, and a rising sense of African-America identity saw in 1968 the landmark book "Soul on Ice" appear. U.S. Olympic sprinters raised their fists against racial inequality, and it all came to a head --
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.
FOREMAN: When the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis triggered an outpouring of grief.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three persons have been treated for injuries, among them several policemen and firemen.
FOREMAN: Protests ripped through dozens of cities. The nation's capital, Washington, D.C., exploded into four days of fury.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At one point early in the evening, more than 100 fires were burning, some of them in an area just 20 blocks from the White House.
[14:55:05] FOREMAN: Today a monument to the slain civil rights leader stands near the very spot where he led marches and prayed for nonviolent change, not far from the Smithsonian's new African-American history museum.
They are both tributes to the past, but also for many civil rights advocates, they are reminders too that the passionate calls for change in 1968 are echoing still.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
WHITFIELD: And don't miss "1968" tomorrow, 9:00 p.m. eastern, right here on CNN.
And thanks for being with me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The next hour of the CNN Newsroom starts right after this.