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CNN: Trump Wanted Gag Order Lifted on FBI Informant; Trump Likens Obama-Era Uranium Deal to Watergate; Trump: JFK Files "Are Being Carefully Released". Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:20]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York, 10:00 a.m. Top of the hour.

We begin with the White House defending President Trump's involvement in persuading the Justice Department to tear up a gag order on an undercover FBI informant. Two sources tell CNN the White House was a powerful force behind this week's decision by the DOJ to lift that gag order and allow this informant to cooperate with congressional probes of this deal involving U.S. uranium sales in 2010.

Now, this is a big deal, was at the time, because the buyer of that uranium, the Russian Atomic Energy Agency. But also that year, all of these U.S. government agencies approved the sale of uranium. The controversy now centers on the State Department headed then by Hillary Clinton and a bit of information that was not available publicly at the time, new reporting from the Hill that namely the FBI had begun investigating Russian bribery and kickbacks in the U.S. nuclear sector.

How does this all come together? I am glad we have our Jessica Schneider here to help us put the pieces together. So we'll get to those pieces in a moment, but first of all, the defense from the White House this morning, explain its significance, Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. Kellyanne Conway speaking out about it, saying yes, the president did play a role in lifting that gag order, but Kellyanne Conway says it's because the president wanted that FBI informant to be able to free to speak out. Now that explanation from the White House, it comes after our Gloria Borger reported last night that President Trump directed his senior staff to lift a gag order on an FBI informant who says that he wants to tell what he knows about what he calls corruption surrounding that 2010 uranium deal. After that, White House counsel Don McGahn relayed the president's message to the Justice Department and it was Wednesday night that the gag order was lifted.

So, here's where some people Democrats in particular, they're crying foul. The Justice Department does have strict rules limiting any White House involvement in criminal law enforcement matters, especially when it involves the president's political opponents, in this case, Hillary Clinton. Well, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, she defended the president's intervention this morning. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: He believes, as many others do frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows. But this was made, let me repeat, the judiciary chairman in the United States Senate, Chuck Grassley made this request to the Justice Department last week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: And that is true, Senator Grassley did send that letter to the Justice Department last week, asking them to lift this gag order, but now we know that the president played a role in the lifting of this. We have reached out to the Justice Department, Poppy, about the president's role in this, but right now they are not commenting.

HARLOW: OK. So, also you had Hillary Clinton responding to questions about this, just a few days ago, and she says this has been litigated. This is done. This is over. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I would say it's the same baloney they've been peddling for years and there's been no credible evidence by anyone. In fact, it's been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Is that fully the case, Jessica?

SCHNEIDER: Well, really, Poppy, there are actually, you know, two -- at least two outstanding questions here. So first, was Hillary Clinton or any of the other agency heads involved in OK-ing this uranium deal in 2010? Were they aware that there was a simultaneous FBI investigation into the same Russian company that won approvals? That's the first question.

And second, Republicans right now are raising questions about reports that Russians funneled millions of dollars into the Clinton Foundation at the exact same time that this deal to benefit a Russian agency was actually being approved in 2010. Once again, raising some allegations or questions of pay-to-play and because of both of these outstanding questions, if not more, several committees now are investigating all of this on the Hill. And, of course, with this recent development that FBI informant has now been given the green light to talk to Congress. Poppy?

HARLOW: Jessica Schneider, thank you for the reporting very much. We'll stay on this.

Joining me now, CNN political commentator, Patti Solis Doyle, CNN senior political commentator, former Republican senator, Rick Santorum and Nancy Koehn, historian at Harvard Business School, also the author of a book I am in the middle of, "Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times." It's a long read, Nancy. It's taking me a while but it is fascinating. Thank you all for being here.

Senator Santorum, let me begin with you. I just want you to respond to some criticism that we just got of the president making a pretty unprecedented since the Nixon era push to get this gag order lifted by the Justice Department to have this informant, you know, be able to speak. Here is how Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, sees it.

[10:05:01] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There are reports within the last 24 hours that the president weighed in with the Justice Department and said lift the gag order, or in other words, let's let this informant speak. Let's push this investigation forward. That's the kind of thing you do in a tin pot regime that is on the road to democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Senator?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Does he want the information or not? I mean, look, this is a guy, Adam Schiff is out there talking about how much he needs to have people talking, get information and try to get information, and yet, if it's information that might not be well to benefit his party. All of a sudden he's going to object to the administration trying to get that information to the Congress.

This is why people get frustrated. You know, because it just -- it just looks so blatantly partisan that you know, if you want the information, then if the administration is helping you, that's fine. If you don't want it, if it hurts you, then if the administration is helping you, it's bad. This is the clear partisanship that we're seeing here that frustrates the American public. Look, Donald Trump has every right as president of the United States to advise the Justice Department as to his opinion on these things. He is the president of the United States. I don't have a problem with this at all. It's about providing more information, not less. And I think that's a good thing.

HARLOW: He may legally have the right, Patti Solis-Doyle, but since Watergate, since the Nixon era, there are sort of strict guidelines, if not laws, or guidelines, from the Justice Department, on why the White House should not be involved in criminal law enforcement matters when it comes to the Department of Justice. How do you see it?

PATTI SOLIS-DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, this is unprecedented, but it's unprecedented not since Nixon, but since Donald Trump, you know, just a few months ago when he fired James Comey because of his investigation into Russia, potential Russia collusion. Look, you don't have to be a brain surgeon to understand that these things that the Trump administration is doing and Congress people on the Hill, by opening these investigations, is purely political.

They're doing two things. They are, one, they're going back to what has worked for them in the past now that they have no real legislative accomplishments and that the president's approval ratings are in the mid-30s, and that there's a Republican civil war. They're doing two things. They're going back to, you know, attacking Hillary because that locks her up mentality still works for the Trump base.

And two, they're trying to muddy the waters of this Russian investigation. They're basically trying to link Hillary to this Uranium One deal and to this dossier by saying look, look, look, don't look at the fact that the Trump campaign reached out to "WikiLeaks." Look over here, Hillary Clinton did it too. Hillary Clinton, you know, was working with the Russians too.

The problem with this strategy is, one, Hillary Clinton lost. She's not the president. She's not on the ballot. She will probably never be on a ballot again. So I don't know if that's going to work in the mid- terms. And two, I mean, I don't know, but I imagine that Mueller will complete his investigation well before the 2018 mid-terms and the muddied waters will be very cleared up by then.

HARLOW: Nancy, to you, the historian, the nonpartisan historian on this panel. Here is what the president said this week about the Uranium One deal, likening it to Watergate. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the uranium sale to Russia and the way it was done, so under handed with tremendous amounts of money being passed. I actually think that's Watergate modern age.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: OK. He's -- we're not going to debate over whether it is that or not but he's bringing this to the floor with those comments. You have examples of presidents through history like President Lincoln, like President Kennedy, who benefited from doing nothing, saying nothing, at critical times.

NANCY KOEHN, HISTORIAN, HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL: I mean this is another example of the tennis ball of reactivity and politics that is going through leadership. We have pressing challenges and problems and we want proactive, strategic, thoughtful leadership with integrity and wisdom and forbearance. Can -- President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, Abraham Lincoln at the center of the perfect storm in the civil war, Harry Truman in 1945, each of these leaders teach us that forbearance, gathering lots of information, and turning that information into knowledge and understanding, before one speaks and fires another very incendiary salvo across the bow of the American citizenry and our system of governance is never -- is always good policy and the opposite. What we're seeing now in all kinds of political quarters, particularly at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is not helping the governance the presidency or the citizenry of this nation. HARLOW: But Nancy, you also argue that, you know, a leopard can change his spots. I don't think anyone expects that of President Trump at this point. But President Lincoln, case in point, right, I mean going from really sort of popping off, to not.

[10:10:12] KOEHN: Absolutely. And the presidency and all kinds of crises have forged people, forged leaders into extraordinary individuals with worthy missions and great impact. Goodness and the public interest at their -- at the heart of what they're doing. We wait -- all of us, from whatever political party, whatever state. We wait and hold our breath and hope that the presidency can be that for President Trump. We don't see anything like that kind of crucible making a great difference now in his leadership.

HARLOW: Senator Santorum, on this leadership question, I'm sure you saw the new polling from Fox News. The president's approval rating has fallen overall, 42 to 38 percent from last month to this month. What's even more intriguing is it's fallen among some of his core members of the base, white men with no college degree, 68 percent approval last month, 56 percent now. Is there a lesson at all in that in what Nancy is saying?

SANTORUM: Look, I mean, I've said this many times on this program, is that Donald Trump's demeanor is -- doesn't benefit him, you know, in governing this country. I mean, I understand it may benefit him in some political circles. But I think his -- short fuse and his combativeness particularly with a -- with the widow of a soldier killed in Niger, that hurt him. Even among his -- even among his base.

And, you know, how many times I've looked at the camera and tried to talk to the president and say that to the extent that he can limit that activity, and focus on the actual positive things his administration is doing on the regulatory side and judiciary and other areas, and the progress that they're making on the tax bill, all those things, are going to be much better.

Look, you have presidents who have had bad character in the past. Go back to Bill Clinton. The American public looked aside. They said, you what, yes, we don't like the things that he's doing, but, you know, he's governing effectively and we're going to stick with him. Donald Trump is going to have the same effect but he has got to start delivering things and in my opinion tone down the others.

HARLOW: Just case in point his latest tweet that we have is about Hillary Clinton and collusion and Russia when he could tweet about these numbers, U.S. economic growth great in the last quarter, 3 percent, instead of the -

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Look -- here's what I say about that, Poppy - I think part of it is, no offense to CNN and to other news stations is there's a preoccupation in the news cycle to really go after Donald Trump and whether it's the Russian investigation or other things. And so, he is preoccupied in battling the day-to-day here in Washington, D.C., with the - HARLOW: Wow.

SANTORUM: -- with the news networks.

HARLOW: You should watch this show every morning.

SANTORUM: I don't think he should be doing that but that's part of what he's doing.

HARLOW: You should watch this show almost every morning, 9:30 a.m. It's about another record for the stock market, growth numbers, tune in on Monday for that.

Quickly, before we go, Patti Solis Doyle, I just have to get you on this, on the dossier, the Trump-Russia dossier, DNC, Clinton team paid for it. Now we know new reporting that John Podesta, the campaign chairman, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who ran the DNC, told congressional investigators in the last few weeks, they had no idea that it was paid for by them. Is that plausible? I mean, you ran the Clinton camp the last time around but not this time, but plausible?

DOYLE: Yes, plausible. I think, you know, Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the time was pretty much being kept out of things during that period and John was the chair. You know, when I ran it in '08 our chair was Terry McAuliffe and he really spent his time raising money, schmoozing donors, schmoozing elected officials. He wasn't involved in the day- to-day operations. As the campaign manager, I would have known about it. So, I think -

HARLOW: So, where is Robbie Mook?

DOYLE: Yes. I'm sure and especially with Robbie who, you know, kept such an iron fist on the budget, very well, you know, appropriately. So, I think the, who knew probably falls along the lines of the campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, that kind of person.

HARLOW: All right. We'll see if we can get him on, ask him these questions. Thank you all. Have a nice weekend, nice to have you all on. We appreciate it.

Ahead for us, the president says he hopes to get all of those JFK assassination files out to the public but could that include a document that ends in a cliffhanger about Lee Harvey Oswald? Was he a CIA agent?

Plus, Steve Bannon's war on the GOP establishment is exposing new divisions among big-time Republican donors. We'll talk to one of those donors live here on set.

And happening now, she accused Harvey Weinstein of rape, actress Rose McGowan, making her first public appearance since that. What will she say, ahead?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:19:17] HARLOW: This morning, we have thousands of newly released documents about the assassination of President Kennedy, but many of them just lead to more questions than answers. Why? Because many are being held back for now despite the law mandating that they be released.

This morning, the president writes, "JFK files are being carefully released. In the end there will be great transparency. It is my hope to get just about everything to the public!"

With me now, CNN senior Washington correspondent, Brianna Keilar and author of "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK," Gerald Posner, nice to have you here.

All right, Bri, you know these inside now. So let's tick through the fascinating revelations and the big questions in them, namely the huge cliffhanger that we're left with this morning, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinates the president, CIA agent?

[10:20:03] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. So there is a deposition in these documents where it is asked of -- at the time the then deputy CIA director if Lee Harvey Oswald is a CIA agent or an agent, some sort of specified agent. And then it's very unsatisfying because there is no answer to this. So what this will do, of course, is fuel some of these conspiracy theories that this was somehow an inside job or that he had some sort of affiliation actually with the CIA.

HARLOW: Your book is called "Case Closed" on all this, maybe not so much "Case Closed," maybe we're going to have to write a book too because now we have all this information. What do you think?

GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, "CASE CLOSED: LEE HARVEY OSWALD AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK": It would be great, Poppy, if I could write book two but actually the problem is that a lot -- this file release has been terrible by the national archives. They've had 25 years to prepare for this. The answer by the way on the CIA is page two is missing but the answer from helms is no. And he's on the record on other cases in saying it more than that.

I talked to Belin, who's the attorney for the Warren commission before he died many times. He was always amazed at how strong the CIA was in denying any association with Oswald. So, CIA agent, no, CIA asset, no. The question is whether the CIA knew that he might be dangerous from Mexico City but that's what these documents do. They make good news people and reporters like yourself and Brianna question those things because they don't provide it in any context.

So, the archives dump it out and then they remove the redactions from some of the earlier files that were released 10 or 15 years ago without telling you what's new. So there's a whole recycling I see in the European Press of old news stories today. They were told 15 or 20 years ago but they do sound good.

HARLOW: Look, I don't envy anyone who is staying up all night going through these and Brianna has had to learn them inside and out.

So, Bri, about he brings up Mexico City, this trip, we know Lee Harvey Oswald took, right, before he assassinated the president. But he made a really important phone call while he was there.

KEILAR: He did to a KGB officer at the Russian embassy there and the CIA intercepted this and what they heard was Oswald speaking in broken Russian. The thought was this may have had to do with obtaining visas for perhaps visas other identification for him, maybe for his wife.

POSNER: You know, Poppy and Brianna, they knew back in the day and again, this is even something I talk about in the book, Oswald met with a fella called Kostikov who was the KGB agent responsible for assassinations in the western hemisphere. When the assassination took place of the president here, Belis went off in the CIA Headquarters that he had met with a guy who was responsible for killing people for the Russians.

They concluded in the end, no connection. And that Russian mentioned the document Kostikov has his own biography out. The aide who was with him, another KGB agent, wrote a book in the '90s. So, again, the files are released. The archives almost do a disservice. They hold them back for years with the CIA and the FBI. And then they almost do a diversion by releasing this dump of material without any context for it and holding back still most of the documents that we think are interesting. They've only given 2 percent here of the files that are really the ones that have never been seen before and they're mixing in with this files that have been partially released decades ago and it's -

HARLOW: Should be -

POSNER: -- creating what I call a confusion.

HARLOW: To be clear it was up to the president, you know, at the urging and advising of those in his national security team what -- yes, all of them could have been released.

POSNER: No, no. Yes, but the president could only do one thing. When they make the appeal, which they did and the FBI and the CIA do this so well, because they are versed at holding on the documents. They come in at the last hour, 25 years. When did they make the appeals? On the last day, they made them yesterday.

So, the White House could have said, oh OK, release them all. We're not going to review them, but the proper process is to actually see any of those objections are real. Donald Trump could have said give them all out but he didn't in this case.

HARLOW: So, Brianna, can you go through for us, and we have a full screen to show here. What's missing? Because Gerald brings up, there's a lot of stuff missing.

KEILAR: There are a lot of things missing and some of it we don't know exactly but there is a large -- you see this as a 338 page file. What we know on the head of the CIA office in Dallas. The issue here is that in total this is thousands and thousands and thousands of pages, but they put out 2800 records. So there's still a few hundred that are left. You've got a dossier on a Dallas man who met Jack Ruby who killed Lee Harvey Oswald before the shooting, files on anti-Castro Cuban exiles, secret service destroyed 1963 records, and then Intel files and part of the CIA report on Oswald.

HARLOW: Yes, some really big things.

POSNER: And one of the things, for instance, people have been looking for whether Oswald might have met a CIA officer beforehand, was there a contact with the CIA, they've been looking for names. Those names aren't in there. So they're somewhere in the files possibly, Brianna, they're somewhere in the files, Poppy, but they haven't been released yet.

[10:25:05] So, this is a very frustrating release. It looks good on the surface but the more I went through them the more disappointed I was in terms of new information.

HARLOW: All right. I think I need to read your book, Gerald. Thank you for being here. Brianna, thank you for pouring through all of them for us.

The battle is on for Republican donors at the center of it all, Steve Bannon versus the GOP establishment, Mitch McConnell. We're going to talk to one of the big money donors who sat down with Steve Bannon last night. What did he say? Ahead

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:30:00] HARLOW: It's Republican versus Republican. Steve Bannon versus the so-called establishment and the big money donors who have backed those candidates before, Dan Eberhart is one of the, a big money Republican donor. He's given to McConnell, Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, just to name a few. But no more he says.