Return to Transcripts main page

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Nigerian Soldier: U.S. Killed In Niger Had No Flak Jackets Were Wearing T-Shirts, Baseball Caps And Driving AXAs; U.S. Convoy Split Up As ISIS Fighters Ambushed Them In Niger; New Details About Firm Used By Trump Campaign That Asked WikiLeaks For Clinton E-mails. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 26, 2017 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: "OutFront" next, breaking news, disturbing new details about the deadly Niger ambush. A source at the scene says the U.S. soldiers wore t-shirts and baseball caps with just one machine gun to face 50 ISIS fighters.

Plus, why was a company hired by Trump reaching out to WikiLeaks which, of course, is embed with the Russians? Tonight, new information on what Cambridge Analytica did for Trump.

And more breaking news this hour, Trump promised all of the JFK files tonight. A sudden hold up, though, what doesn't the government want you to know? Let's go "OutFront."

Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. "OutFront" tonight, the breaks news. We are learning stunning new detail about the ISIS ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers, the biggest combat loss of President Trump's term.

A Nigerian soldier who was among the first on the scene describing a vicious fire fight without number (ph) American troops standing back- to-back with Nigerians holding off an attack from all sides. The troops were not ready for combat.

Our Arwa Damon reporting tonight that they were not wearing flak jackets or helmets, they were wearing t-shirts and baseball caps. As for heavy weapons, just one machine gun. And remember, one defense official tells CNN the ISIS fighters were heavily armed with mortars, heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenade.

We're also learning tonight that the U.S. unit became separated on the ground. Arwa Damon's source says that he saw two of the American soldiers dead by gun shot wounds in the backseat of their vehicle, another American soldier lying dead under a nearby brush.

This is a very disturbing picture of American troops sent into harm's way with no warning from intelligence on the ground. As for the Pentagon, more than three weeks after the ambush in a press briefing late today, it offered no details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So again, as the chairman said earlier this week, all of these questions are fair questions, but it is under investigation. So we will have more details when we have them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Arwa Damon broke the story. She's "OutFront" tonight in Niger on the ground near the scene of the attack talking to those soldiers who were there.

And Arwa, your reporting tonight is very shocking and very disturbing, but very important to understand exactly what happened in that ambush.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And if we just look at the terrain, Erin, it's hard to imagine if there was any place where any of these soldiers could actually take cover and really try to defend themselves against this assaults.

Now, according to the soldier who we spoke to, when he arrived on the scene, he was speaking to a number of the wounded Nigerian soldiers who told him that the assault started out with the assailants using around eight vehicles, and then a fire fight broke out. That is when two vehicles were split from the rest of the convoy.

And then he was told that dozens of other fighters arrived on motorcycles and that is the point at which the casualties began to get fairly severe. When this soldier arrived on scene along with the three U.S. soldiers who were killed, he also says that he saw the bodies of three Nigerian soldiers who were further in the brush.

And he said that he did not interestingly see any bodies of the attackers, but just streaks of blood. He also noticed that it seemed as if some of the brush was still smoldering. Villagers then telling his unit that the attackers, as they were fleeing, had actually set some of the landscape on fire to create a smoke screen to allow them to then escape.

Now, his unit and another unit overnight at location, overnight more U.S. soldiers arrived with night vision capabilities, still trying to look for the body of Sergeant La David Johnson. They did not find him until the very next day.

And he was describing the sense of being out there and his surprise at what had taken place because, Erin, he said that the unit, the Green Beret's along with their Nigerian counterparts, had actually arrived at his base the day before the attack happened.

When he later and his unit received the phone call to go out and respond to this, he was surprised because he said that when they arrived at his location the day before, they were a light convoy. And what he means by that was that they didn't have a lot of manpower or a lot of fire power.

And his own unit that regularly patrols this very volatile zone, he was saying normally goes out with about 80 to 100 soldiers and it gives you an idea perhaps of what kind of miscalculation may have taken place.

Now, he has been working, operating in this area for about the last five years, rotating in and out of it. And over the course of the last two year, they've seen a significant shift in the threats they were facing what used to be banditry then becoming some pretty serious, severe terrorism threat.

[19:05:09] And he was expressing his surprise, too, that the U.S. didn't have more of its assets in the air given the sensitivity of the mission that we now know these soldiers run trying to collect intelligence against that high value target.

And he also went on to say, you know, "We've seen the sacrifice that America is making here in Niger. Terror is now in Niger. When is the United States going to realize that their tactics on the ground here are not working?" He sees, from what he's saying, he really genuinely feels that the U.S. needs to reassess its approach to Niger and to how it's handling terrorism in the region, Erin.

BURNETT: And Arwa, just to be clear here, he is also telling you in terms of, you know, when you say a light convoy, I think just what seems very stunning about your reporting that they were wearing t- shirts and baseball caps. That is the environment that they expected to be operating in.

DAMON: It's the environment, yes, Erin, that they expected to be operating in and it's also the posture that they would taken this kind of an environment given what was their assessment of the risk, but also because they do want to maintain a lower profile than they would in other areas.

They're not going to be moving around the way that we see them in Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria with armored vehicles that you actually can't physically drive across some of the sands in these deserts or wearing their heavy body armor, but what the soldier was wondering about.

What we've heard from another of other sources is how did the U.S. assess the threat to be so low at the point where they actually departed, because from his experience, this is an area where Nigerians regularly come under attack.

In fact, just last weekend, 13 Nigerians were killed in another fire fight that took place within the same zone. And they've been seeing this increasing terror threat within that zone. We've seen increasing indications that this ISIS break away unit is really making end roads into this area.

BURNETT: All right. Arwa Damon, thank you very much for that incredible reporting on the ground.

I want to go now to Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He is a member of the House Arm Services Committee, so he was briefed on the Niger ambush today.

So, Congressman, let me ask you. Arwa Damon reporting the U.S. soldiers had just one heavy machine gun, no flak vests, they were wearing t-shirts, they were wearing baseball caps. None of this came up in your briefing today, is my understanding. What's your reaction to that?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, ATTENDED NIGER BRIEFING TODAY: Well, my reaction to that is twofold. First of all, this is a terrible tragedy, the loss of American life and the loss of Nigerian soldiers. It's tragic and, yes, indeed, it is a very dangerous part of the world. We've known that, that's why we're there along with some 4,000 French soldiers in that area to try to deal with this terrorism.

With regard to the briefing, sometimes we treated like mushrooms. We're kept in the dark and your report on the ground from Niger is in many ways much more detailed than we received this morning.

BURNETT: Is that frustrating to you? I mean, would you have expected to hear what you just heard from Arwa Damon reporting, you know, what she heard from Nigerians?

GARAMENDI: Well, here's what our job. We're not on the ground commanders. We're certainly not the colonel or the captain in charge of these particular operations. Our job is to understand what is going on in the region, to make an assessment as to what our goals, what our objectives are in a broad way, and then to put in place the proper policies.

For example, do we have an authorization use force in this area or not, very big question. But in addition to that, what kind of resources are needed given the task that we have asked these soldiers to do. That's our job. The Pentagon has not been forthcoming.

BURNETT: And it has not been forthcoming. I mean, let's just take the issue of body armor, right?

GARAMENDI: Yes.

BURNETT: Arwa's reporting they had no flak vests on. They had baseball caps and t-shirts. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs was asked whether troops had body armor on Monday. This is a very basic question, because most of the American soldiers who were there survived were Nigerians who were there survived, right? So there's a lot of people to say exactly what happened. Here's how he answered that question when he was asked directly.

GARAMENDI: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quick follow up on whether or not the troops were wearing body armor, the U.S. forces?

JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Yes. I don't personally know how the soldiers that day were equipped, if they were wearing body armor.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Do you think the Pentagon does not know this information?

GARAMENDI: Well, I'm not surprised. I'm really not surprised that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is not directly involved. Obviously, the investigations are underway. Your reporter there in the region has access and frankly, much better access than we do here, because we -- all of our information is filtered through the Pentagon, through the studies, which do take three to six months and generally by the time it's completed, we're on to the next crisis.

[19:10:08] But this is a very serious issue. In that the question arises as to what is our mission in this part of Africa. Keep in mind that we're talking about a stretch of Africa that really is longer than the entire breadth of the United States some 4,000 miles in which these violent extreme organizations operate. So we need to be very, very clear about what is our objective in this area, how are we going to carry that out.

BURNETT: Look, clearly --

GARAMENDI: Sure.

BURNETT: -- the intelligence was off. Clearly, the level of protection they would have had would have been extremely different, right, and that is a tragedy.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: So I wanted to ask you one other thing, Congressman.

GARAMENDI: Sure.

BURNETT: What Arwa was learning was that this group was very small, OK? Relative, when the Nigerians go out and patrol this area, they take 80 to 100 men. OK. Just to be clear, the unit that we are talking about here had 12 American troops and 30 Nigerian forces. So you're talking half of the smallest unit size that the Nigerians would take to go into the same area because of how they would assess the risk. What do you make of that? Where do you think that this mistake was made?

GARAMENDI: Well, that's going to be determined, but we do know this. We know that the original mission was in a different location to go after a high value target. This has been reported over and over again. When that didn't happen, then it appears as though the mission broke into pieces.

One piece came back through this village and it was clearly smaller than would be normal in the area and quite obviously and tragically, not prepared for the violence that does and has occurred in that area.

So, yes, there is a serious mistake made somewhere along the line. Was it an intelligence failure, an operational failure, a command failure? That will all be determined. But what's really important here are the lessons learned going forward. What is it that we -- first of all, why are we there? What do we need to accomplish? What's it going to take to accomplish? That's our job here, making sure that the military has the resources it needs to carry out the policies that we and the President are putting in place.

Now, clearly, there was a mistake made perhaps on the ground, perhaps also in the intelligence gathering mechanisms and the support that might have been (INAUDIBLE), that should have been necessary would there be any kind of a fire fight or incident.

BURNETT: All right. Congressman, I appreciate your time. I think your analogies sometimes are -- like you're like mushrooms kept in the dark by the Pentagon, a very powerful one. Thank you very much, Sir.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, new details about what a data company was doing for Donald Trump's campaign. That company reaching out to WikiLeaks for Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

Plus breaking news this hour, secret documents about the assassination of JFK, some of them not being made public tonight with this big announcement. Why the 11th hour backtracking? And also, the President addressing the opioid epidemic, but what does his announcement actually do?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:57] BURNETT: Tonight, newly found video throwing cold water on a Trump campaign statement. The Trump campaign claimed in a formal statement that it did not rely on a data company that reached out to Putin ally on WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

So let's start with this new video tonight. It was posted today by "The Guardian." And in it, you're going to see a senior executive from Cambridge Analytica, that's the data firm, giving a speech, answering questions about the many ways the company was integral in helping Trump win the White House. Here is just a taste.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOLLY SCHWEICKERT, HEAD OF DIGITAL, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: We started working with the Trump campaign in about June of 2016. When it became obvious that a sophisticated data apparatus would be needed by ensuring that every campaign stop was driven by data and reflecting what was currently being seen in the field, he was able to use his travel time most effectively.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Every campaign stop driven by data, that's pretty incredible. So the data from Cambridge Analytica was actually driving where Trump went to campaign, the rallies.

Now, the reason Cambridge Analytica had deep role in the Trump campaign matters is because the company CEO reached out to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who again, is close to Vladimir Putin, asking for help in obtaining Hillary Clinton's 30,000 e-mails.

It also matters because of the statement from the Trump campaign, which they just put out, trying to down play their relationship with Cambridge Analytica despite the fact that they paid the firm $6 million in fees. They're down playing it because they don't want to be linked to Russia. Here's part of the statement.

"We as a campaign made the choice to rely on the voter data of the Republican National Committee to help elect President Donald J. Trump. Any claims that voter data from nay other source played a key role in the victory are false."

Manu Raju was "OutFront." And Manu, obviously, we know now the links between the Trump campaign and this data company, Cambridge Analytica, were deep and important. Steve Bannon was involved. Jared Kushner brought the firm in. You're learning tonight that House investigators are very focused on this link and Russia as well.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, no question about it. In fact, they're asking Cambridge Analytica to provide them more documents. They expect people from that organization to actually come and meet with the House Intelligence Committee in the coming weeks.

One senior Democrat on the committee pointed out that Donald Trump, candidate Trump, said a lot of nice things about WikiLeaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM HIMES, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The President, you know, could not say enough good things about WikiLeaks and Assange during the campaign. You had this attempted contact from Cambridge Analytica.

WikiLeaks was used by the Russians. It's not clear whether that was witting or unwitting, but WikiLeaks was used as part of the effort by the Russians and now this Cambridge Analytica thing emerges. So needless to say, Cambridge Analytica is a crew we're going to need to talk to, to understand exactly how robust that communication was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: I also talked to Congressman Peter King of New York, the Republican. He said, certainly, the committee should continue to look into this matter, but the same time, he and other Republicans on this committee say that so far they have not come across any evidence of collusion. They're saying wrap up this investigation rather assume by the end of the year. Democrats are saying, we need to investigate further, including Cambridge Analytica to learn about any other possible contacts of connections, Erin.

[19:20:08] BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Manu.

And "OutFront" now, Juliette Kayyem, former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama, Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigative Correspondent for Yahoo! News, and Issie Lapowsky, Senior Writer for Wired.

Issie, you've been breaking a lot of news on the story. You've been digging on it all day. You know, you hear the Cambridge Analytica executive talking about how much they did for the Trump campaign. We know they paid them $6 million and there were very close ties between the campaign and the company. But the statement for the Trump campaign seems to be saying the exact opposite. Is that statement misleading?

ISSIE LAPOWSKY, SENIOR POLITICS AND NATIONAL AFFAIRS WRITER, WIRED: I think it can be very easily misunderstood and this is really a matter of semantics. What they're playing is not really susceptible thing, but here's what happened. The RNC was providing the raw data, the information about who voters were, where are they live, what they like, all of that raw data that the RNC collects in states across the country and has been doing for years.

Cambridge Analytica was working inside the Trump campaign and analyzing that data. So Cambridge is (INAUDIBLE) to a lot of people is we have all this data points in all these Americans and we can use it to figure out exactly who they want to vote for.

Well, it turns out, you know, they spoke to Brad Parscale, Trump's digital director today, they weren't relying on Cambridge's data, they were relying on the RNC's data. But Cambridge had 13 staffers inside the San Antonio office who were using the RNC's data to say, "Yes, where should we send Trump on the campaign trail? Who should we target with ads? Who might be an influential donor?"

So, you know, Brad Parscale nor, you know, Cambridge's team at the time are denying the fact that they were working with the Trump campaign and that they were influential, but that statement very carefully worded said we relied on RNC data.

And I think there's a clear reason why, you know, the Trump campaign would want to distance themselves from Cambridge Analytica is in fact Alexander Nix, CEO (INAUDIBLE) so you can understand their thinking there. But I think it was carefully worded so as not to completely dismiss Cambridge.

BURNETT: Which, you know, Michael, is pretty interesting, because it's a pattern for Trump and those close in. When there's a scandal surrounding someone link to Russian, right, they immediately try to distance themselves. Even in some cases when it's patently false like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I know Mr. Manafort -- I haven't spoken to him along time, but I know him. He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time, relatively short period of time.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: General Flynn was a volunteer of a campaign and now obviously, there's been discussion of Paul Manafort who played a very limited role for very limited amount of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I mean, just to state the obvious here, Michael, Paul Manafort was the chairman of the campaign.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: Right.

BURNETT: General Michael Flynn, of course, was the National Security Adviser at the White House.

ISIKOFF: Right.

BURNETT: But this is a pattern.

ISIKOFF: It certainly is a pattern, because of what I find actually most interesting about this new development with Mr. Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, who sometimes in the summer reaches out to Julian Assange at WikiLeaks and says, "Can you provide the missing Hillary Clinton e-mails?"

Where did he get the idea that WikiLeaks might have these e-mails? Well, on August 6th, and we don't know exactly when this e-mail was sent from Nix to Assange, but on August 6th, R.T. runs a story saying it up that --

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF": -- Russian propaganda station saying headlined, "Does WikiLeaks had the e-mails that could put Hillary Clinton in jail?" So here you have one of -- and there are several of these examples of where R.T.'s Russian state propaganda gets into the bloodstream and in some ways is manipulating the Trump campaign. They're acting on stories they're seeing in R.T.

Just a couple of weeks later, there's another example where Manafort at a press conference calls attention to what he says was a terrorist attack on a U.S. Air Base in Turkey. The only news organization that had reported that was R.T., it was a bogus story. There was no terrorist attack.

But, you know, this -- you know, there are these series of examples where Russian state propaganda was making its way into the bloodstream and in some ways, manipulating the highest officials in the Trump campaign.

BURNETT: Which is pretty stunning in and off itself. I mean -- and Juliette, the story is also important because -- and this is a crucial thing. The intelligence community is black and white about something. That is WikiLeaks and Julian Assange deep ties to Russia, OK? So here's Trump's own CIA director on WikiLeaks and Obama's director of National Intelligence on WikiLeaks just last night. Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: You know, one case where I completely agree with Director Pompeo about how his characterization of WikiLeaks as a non-nation state hostile intelligence service and that's what they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[19:25:04] BURNETT: Juliette, given that, how surprised are you that a data analytic company so central to the Trump campaign reached out directly to Julian Assange to get dirt on Hillary Clinton?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, I'm not surprised in the sense that Cambridge Analytica says they've always been sort of this odd, unknown entity that had a crucial role in the Trump campaign, but also tentacles elsewhere.

And just quickly on Michael's point, this isn't what we call in government a principle to principle call, right? It is the CEO to Julian Assange. This is not a staffer to some random person who posts on WikiLeaks. These are the two principles communicating over information that is, you know, essentially information that the Russians would have wanted out.

And I want to also say that there's nothing -- any person reading the newspapers would have known well before August and certainly in early 2016 the extent to which Julian Assange was an agent, a tool, a willing participant with the Russians to not only harm our election and infiltrate our election, but as we've seen since Trump was elected in France and Germany and elsewhere. This was not super secret information. You can look back to Michael's article from a year before.

(CROSSTALK)

KAYYEM: So just to make it clear, he knew what he was doing.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much to all of you. I appreciate it.

And next, the breaking news, an unexpected hold off in the release of the JFK files. So what doesn't the government want you to see, the story breaking hour? And Republican voters siding with the President over their own Republican senators, is this Trump's GOP now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't want to hang out with him while (ph) these things are getting shaken up. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:30:13] BURNETT: Breaking news: a sudden hold up this hour in the release of the secret files about President Kennedy's assassination. A delay short only fueled conspiracy theories even more.

So, today was actually the deadline. You know, 25 years ago, they said today is the day and whoever is president is going to make this decision and President Trump himself said that he was going to release the documents. He had said that.

And then there was a delay later in the day. And then around 5:30 in the afternoon, the statement comes out and only getting 2,800 records that are going to come out. The others are secret for now. They're delaying it again for at least another 180 days.

The big question of course is why?

OUTFRONT now, Farris Rookstool III, JFK historian and former FBI analyst who was involved with the FBI's assassination investigation after 1963. He was also the custodian of the record for the JFK assassination records. You have seen these in your capacity. You've seen these documents, that some of which we're getting, and some of which we're not, Farris, which is crucial.

And also with me is Bob Baer, joining tonight, who hosted the History Channel's "JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald", also a former CIA operative.

OK. You both know a lot about this.

Let's just start though with this big question. What does the CIA or FBI, they're the ones who had to go to the president and lobby to have some of these documents withheld, which he has acquiesced to temporarily at least, Bob. What is it they don't want us to see?

ROBERT BAER, HOSTED HISTORY CHANNEL'S "JFK DECLASSIFIED: TRACKING OF OSWALD": Well, Erin, it's political sensitivity is what's in these documents. To redact a document, they've had 25 years after all, but it just takes a couple of minutes per document, taking names out, if there's a liaison service, they don't want out. They redact that. Sites of cables.

It's political sensitivities and from my interpretation, it's what happened in Mexico City eight weeks before when Oswald was down there and met with the KGB and met with Cuban intelligence and he met with a KGB officer who was head of Department 13, head of assassinations.

I was just in Moscow and interviewed one of those KGB officers who was there and he said that the Russian met Oswald for 20 minutes and that just throws open all shorts of questions, and indeed withholding this stuff is just going to add to the crazy theories and they're everywhere. But that meeting in Mexico City is sort of key and I would like to see that stuff. Put my mind to rest. BURNETT: So, Farris, you, I mean, you know, I want to get back to the

theory you're talking about here, Bob. But, Farris, you spent nine years and you read 500,000 pages of classified documents, FBI documents about this assassination. I mean, that is a stunning amount, 500,000 pages. Now, the president is saying he has no choice but to keep some of these redacted. Again, it's a delay of 180 days. We'll see. But I mean, he bowed to the wishes of the intelligence community here.

What documents do you think he's talking about that they don't want out there?

FARRIS ROOKSTOOL III, INVOLVED IN THE FBI'S JFK ASSASSINATION INVESTIGATION: Well, according to the National Archives, the National Archives has indicated that they have indeed released 88 percent of the documents in their entirety. Again, another 11 percent of these documents were partial redactions, but in fact released.

The 1 percent that we're talking about is like Bob said and I was involved with the first face-to-face meeting with the KGB to discuss Mexico City on behalf of the FBI, and the individual he's talking about is Colonel Oleg Nechiporenko and Valery Kostikov.

And what these records may or may not pertain to, the bureau from what I understand from the conference call today, the FBI was one of the agencies, the principal agencies, that was wanting these documents held back. The CIA pretty much had no problem with a lot of the entities, but the FBI in these documents and again, these could be sources and methods, but again, like Bob said and I have agreed all along, they've had 25 years to work these things out.

BURNETT: Yes.

And, Farris, what about what Bob is talking about? You're talking about this meeting in Mexico City as well with the KGB and Oswald, right? You're talking about the same meeting.

Do you -- do you agree with him? I mean, most people hear that, right, and that does fuel a conspiracy theory. Who wouldn't hear that and think that?

ROOKSTOOL: Exactly. You know, in Bob's documentary, it backed up the same thing that Oleg Nechiporenko told me back when I did this interview with him. That is pretty much that Valery Kostikov who, of course, is mentioned throughout some of these documents and classified documents have been since released.

[19:35:03] He is focused on because of his position when in fact, all this was was a 20-minute casual, very -- almost informal, but highly emotional Oswald meeting with the KGB. So, Kostikov, I hate to say it, is getting thrown under the bus just out of conspiratorial minds, thinking that aha, we have an assassin who is meeting several weeks with the KGB who has an assassination role in the western hemisphere.

BURNETT: Bob, do you think that the documents that we're not getting will provide a real answer to this question that you all are debating? BAER: I think they will. I think they will fill a story out. The Russians when they met Oswald said he's too crazy to deal with. He pulled a pistol out during the meeting, waved it around. The KGB officer had the to take it away from him. He was clearly talking about murder and he may have been trying to kill Khrushchev at one time when he was in Russia.

But the interesting thing to me was the Cubans who picked up Oswald at that point, and met the Cubans, possibly after the meeting in the consulate in Mexico City. And the main witness in this investigation had been tortured by the Mexicans, so her testimony isn't exactly reliable. There's big pieces of this that I'd like to fill in. And I think we need to put to bed these really crazy conspiracy theories and the way to do it is get documents out.

BURNETT: All right. And the documents, I want everyone to know, they literally have just dropped. So we're going to start going through them and share what we can as we get them later this hour. I said, literally just breaking.

Farris, before we go though and we start going through those, a poll in the 50th anniversary of JFK's death showed more than 60 percent of Americans believe that Oswald did not act alone, right? There's all kinds of theories, right? Donald Trump threw that one out there about Ted Cruz's father, which seems to be patently absurd.

Is there anything in the documents you remember that you've read the half a million pages that would indicate Oswald had help?

ROOKSTOOL: No, but you have government agencies doing unthinkable. The Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the FBI -- can speak personally from the FBI with the destruction of the Oswald note. Rookstool came to the FBI in 10 days prior to the assassination and dropped off a note at the FBI and, of course, it was destroyed on November 24th after Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby.

Anytime you have sanitation clean up after action, perfection where you're trying to make your agency look perfect, where you've made mistakes, that right there takes away from the credibility of the organization and will impugn its reputation throughout history.

BURNETT: All right.

And I just want to show everyone these documents as we're going through them right now, because they literally have just come out. They're handwritten notes in some cases. These are the documents we're getting, first time anyone in the American public has seen these in the light of day, since the assassination investigation. These are what they are. And a lot of them are handwritten notes, written by individuals.

I mean, this is pretty incredible stuff. And as I said, we're just starting to go through these right now, the 2,800 records that we do have that are breaking tonight. We want to share them with you.

Thanks so much to both of you. ROOKSTOOL: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, a new Fox News poll reveals that Trump's approval rating is sinking, taking a beating with his base. This from Fox News.

And it took him more than two months to do it, but President Trump did act today and he addressed the opioid epidemic in this nation. Dr. Gupta is here with what he thinks about Trump's pledge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.

(APPLAUSE)

(EDN VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:42:47] BURENTT: Tonight, President Trump doubling down on his claim that there are no divisions in the GOP despite his very public clashes with senators, including Senator Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, tweeting, quote: Do not understood estimate the unity within the Republican Party!

And earlier today, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Americans don't care about the intraparty fighting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't think the American people care about that. You know what the American people want to see us do? Solve their problems. I don't think the American people want to see us up here yelling at each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So what do voters think in Flake's home state of Arizona?

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An hour outside of Phoenix lies Casa Grande, Arizona, in Pinal County, a Republican stronghold, where during the lunch rush at the Amigo Ricardo, Lanny Johnston doesn't weep for Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.

LANNY JOHNSTON, PINAL COUNTY RESIDENT: He's standing up for the core of the FGOP. I think it's the old core, the old Republican beliefs.

LAH: Welcome to the new GOP, Trump's GOP. Johnston says he was a registered Democrat just like Roger Thayer. They both voted for Trump. Thayer supports Flake. ROGER THAYER, PINAL COUNTY RESIDENT: You know, he's been a great man.

LAH: But --

(on camera): Do you pick McCain and Flake over Trump?

THAYER: No. If Trump would shut his mouth and do his job, I think a lot of things would be a lot better.

LAH (voice-over): President Trump carried Arizona by 3.5 percentage points. In Pinal County, he beat Clinton by double digits, nearly 20 percent, but what about the moderates? They're in Maricopa County where Trump won by just three points.

Gilbert, Arizona, is a quaint corner of Maricopa County.

At the Virgie's (ph) Coffee Roast House, every Republican here is aware of the rift between the senators and the president, from John McCain' deciding vote against a Trump-backed health care repeal and replace plan to Flake's impassioned call to fellow Republicans.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I'm aware that there's a segment of my party who believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.

[19:45:06] LAH (on camera): What did you think of that speech?

JIM SCHAEFER, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: I don't remember it in detail, but I'll say this, that he's one of the first fatalities.

ROBYN HANSEN, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: I think it was timely. I think actually both of our senators, we need to have some change in our state. We need some leadership that really looks at the constituents within our state.

SEAN PEARSON, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: You know, he's probably not going to win the next election and so he's getting out early and making his jabs on his way out.

LAH (voice-over): Registered Republican Sean Pearson says he's glad Flake is on his way out. He didn't vote for Trump, but says this turmoil is healthy for the GOP if it means his party will change.

PEARSON: I like that there's shifting and moving and there's change happening. Like I said, I don't like necessarily Trump's personality. Some of his, I think I like him as a person m I wouldn't want to hang out with him, but I love that things are getting shaken up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: So overall, we didn't experience outright vitriol of the voters towards Flake. They simply felt that Trump is the future, Flake and McCain the past. The biggest supporters that we ran into for Flake, Democrats. So, does this mean this state will flip blue? Well, Arizona Democrats released a statement that this is a GOP civil war, that exposes riffs between the GOP here in Arizona.

But, Erin, we spoke with the Arizona GOP and they reminded us that this state has always had tough primary, tough GOP primaries and the GOP still wins in the general.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.

Interesting Democrats liking Jeff Flake, I suppose for his speech. And keep many mind, he did vote with the president 90 percent of the time, thus far.

OUTFRONT now, former Republican senator and presidential candidate, Rick Santorum.

Senator, great to have you with us.

You just saw that piece and throughout the day, virtually no one that she spoke with was supporting Jeff Flake. Obviously, he is a conservative. I just mentioned his voting record.

But I want to mention to you, this new Fox poll. The president's approval rating, according to Fox News, 38 percent and the big drop was with his base. They were saying a 12-point drop among whites without a college degree, eight-point with white evangelicals.

Is that significant to you?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That minor dip doesn't concern me too much, but the overall number, under 40 percent, you know, overall is not a good number. I think what you heard even from his supporters is that the kind of behavior that he exhibits on Twitter and some of the personal jabs he's taken, I think the personal jabs between the Gold Star mother, excuse me, bride and him, that doesn't help him. It doesn't help the cause.

I agree with him there's unity in the Republican Party, but there's certainly not unity in the way he is behaving every day. But there's certainly unity behind what he's trying to do and whether it's tax reform or the regulatory reform. So, in the sense, there is unity. It's just they don't like his style. That's that what Jeff Flake was really pointing out.

BURNETT: Right. And unity, Jeff Flake's voting record certainly behind the president, 90 percent.

SANTORUM: Yes.

BURNETT: I mean, that would indicate this union.

SANTORUM: Pretty good, yes.

BURNETT: But to your point, Senator Flake stood up on principle for what he believes. He believes your character and person matter to be president of the United States. Here's just a quick bit of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And to that point, of course, Senator Trump has shown a flagrant disregard for decency. Here are just a few examples.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You got to see this guy, ah, I don't know what I said, I don't remember. He's going, I don't remember.

Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. This was a very obnoxious guy who is a trouble marker who is looking to make trouble.

You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Do you agree with Senator Flake, Senator Santorum, when it comes to his character and his person that he is debasing the office of the presidency?

SANTORUM: Look, I mean, the issue of character, it's not the first time the issue of character has come up with the issue of the president. We go back a few presidents ago and Bill Clinton, that was the argument Republicans are making, that character was a big issue and the character counts. And we heard from the other side say, no, no, it's just what you do in office. That's what really matters.

So, in a sense, you know, different completely different stories, but very similar attacks, that this is an issue of character, and that the president was debasing the office by his behavior.

[19:50:02] Now, you know, Bill Clinton is now seen as one of most popular post-presidents afterwards. Why? Because he had a successful run as president and then the economy was strong and lot of good things happened under his presidency.

So, I think the American public is frankly willing to overlook character and focus in on what's being accomplished in the office. I'm not saying it's a good or a bad thing, I'm saying that that's -- looks like what the American public is interested in.

BURNETT: And certainly is a fair and well-put point. Thank you as always, Senator.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, Donald Trump pledging today to do something about the opioid crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: An astonishing 90 percent of the heroin in America comes from south of the border where we will be building a wall which will greatly help in this problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Will it greatly help? Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to the border to look at this specific issue and he's OUTFRONT.

And the breaking news, JFK files just released, 2,800 records, as I said. We are going through them right now here at CNN. We're going to tell you what's inside at these first crucial bits coming up this hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Today, President Trump declaring the opioid epidemic public health problem. In an unusually personal and impassioned speech, Trump sounding hopeful this is the beginning of the end of the opioid crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.

(APPLAUSE)

I had a brother Fred, great guy, best looking guy, best personality, much better than mine, but he had a problem. He had a problem with alcohol. And he would tell me, don't drink, don't drink. And to this day I've never had a drink.

Illegal drug use is not a victimless crime. There is nothing admirable, positive or socially desirable about it.

[19:55:04] There is nothing desirable about drugs. They're bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is with me now.

And, Sanjay, look, this week, you've done an incredible look, your investigation inside the fight against the opioid epidemic, looking for solutions. What does the president's announcement today do?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he's declared a public health emergency and I think he's given it a lot of attention. I mean, despite how much you and I talk about this, Erin, I think there are people who still waking up today hearing the news and saying, I had no idea this was as big a problem as I'm now hearing, number one cause of unintentional death, kills more people than car accidents and homicides put together.

Some people are hearing this and paying attention first time. So, that's part of I think what it accomplished. What it did not accomplish, it's not new federal dollars, new money being spent on this. And I think that's disappointing to a lot of people hoping to fund solutions-based programs. It's also a 90-day emergency as opposed to national emergencies which are year-long. He can renew after that, but it's 90 days.

He singled out new regulation around doctors' prescribing habits, pharmacies in terms of how many pills they can dole out, he even called one particular opioid an evil opioid, that should lose its FDA approval. These are some of the things he sort of telegraphed. But he's awaiting for a commission report next week to give more details on what this emergency will mean.

BURNETT: So, that's pretty important that you lay out what it does and does not do. And in light of the reporting on solutions, right? And you talked about herb that could be antidote, the safe spaces, you also talked about the wall. And he said that the wall is going to help today.

And I want to play something that stood out in light of your reporting about that that he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: An astonishing 90 percent of the heroin in America comes from south of the border where we will be building a wall which will greatly help in this problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Sanjay, you went to the border, talked specifically about whether a wall would stop heroin and other opioids from coming in.

GUPTA: What you hear Erin is that many of the people say heroin and many things, they're coming across the border, they're coming in through legalized ports of entry. They're in deep concealment in vehicles typically. That's what's happening and it's a totally different sort of war on drugs, because when you start to look at opioids like fentanyl, for example, such a small amount, hundred times more powerful than morphine can create a million pills in this country. So, it's easy to get across normal ports of entry or even the mail.

I asked the acting drug czar, Richard Baum, about this issue, about the wall and about the mail. I want you to listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: When it comes to this issue about the wall and border security versus mail, is there one that worries you more?

RICHARD BAUM, ACTING DRUG CZAR: You know, they're both important. So I mean I'll look at whole supply challenge, just doing a better job at tightening our security. We want to reduce the drug supply that's coming into the country. And right now, fentanyl coming through in small packages in the mail is a huge threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: There's a million pieces of mail as you know every day coming in with really no electronic surveillance. We don't know where it came from, how many countries they may have visited beforehand and we don't exactly what's in it. That's the big problem really when it comes to this fentanyl and the opioid crisis.

BURNETT: Lot of better ways to spend money to combat it than putting up wall of steel or whatever material they're looking at in their prototypes.

Thanks so much, Sanjay.

GUPTA: You got it.

BURNETT: Incredible report this week.

And the breaking news now, the first look coming in at thousands of documents just released tied to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The National Archives releasing the records nearly 54 years after Kennedy was assassinated as he rode through Dallas.

Tom Foreman starting to go through them.

And, Tom, what are the first thing you're seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're seeing a lot of paper, Erin. Take a look at this. This is one of the files is 14 pages, handwritten. These are notes about some guy's military service. That's why it's going to be so monumental digging through these 2,800 pages, not counting ones they're still holding on to for several months to review again.

We have found a letter sent to Robert Kennedy when he was the attorney general warning him about a book coming out that would talk about him having an affair with Marilyn Monroe. So, that's one of the little things there, all sorts of tidbits in here. But there's so much that people are going to look for. But I'm telling you, Erin, if you think about it, 2,800 records, this is just one of them, handwritten.

It is going to be a long time before even the best researchers can dig through all of this. We have a whole team on the case.

BURNETT: Wow. And it's incredible, just point about the affair with Marilyn Monroe, the other pieces of information that are going to come out on this as well.

FOREMAN: Yes. BURNETT: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

As we come through these, let's hand it off now to "AC360".