Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency; Top Dems Deny Knowledge of Paying Firm Behind Trump Dossier; Sources: Ambushed Soldiers Were Split Up During Firefight. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 26, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


TAPPER: All right. Amanda and Kirsten, thank you so much. Appreciate your being here today.

[17:00:08] That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. No knowledge. The former chairs of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee have told investigators they had no knowledge of a deal to pay for opposition research on Donald Trump. But a law firm says it hired a research firm on behalf of the Democrats. Is everyone telling the truth?

Addiction emergency. With tens of thousands of Americans dying every year, President Trump declares the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. But is he shortchanging the nation on the resources necessary to fight the addiction plague?

Declassified. More than half a century after President Kennedy's assassination led to endless conspiracy theories, President Trump allows the release of thousands of secret government documents. Will they shed new light on what happened on that dark day in Dallas?

And hating America, a CNN exclusive. We'll take you inside North Korea's capitol, where burning hatred of America is the theme of propaganda plastered everywhere by the regime of Kim Jong-un. Are North Koreans being prepared for war?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Top Democrats have denied knowing anything about payments for research that led to the dossier on Donald Trump. Multiple sources say former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and former Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz both told congressional investigators they had no knowledge about a deal to pay for opposition research, but this week a law firm which represented the Democrats said it hired the researchers. One source says the revelation may lead investigators to dig deeper into that Trump dossier.

Also breaking, President Trump has just declared America's opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, saying it's time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction. Tens of thousands of Americans are dying from opioids every year, but the new declaration does not automatically open the flood gates for emergency funding, and there are still concerns about whether the president and the Congress will follow through.

And more than 50 years after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the government is now releasing thousands of secret documents which may clear up some of the persistent questions expressed by official investigators and two generations of conspiracy theorists.

A CNN exclusive. We'll go inside North Korea's capital, where Kim Jong-un's regime has launched the shocking propaganda campaign in which daily life revolves around hatred of America.

I'll speak with former defense secretary and former CIA director Leon Panetta. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with President Trump's emergency declaration on the nation's opioid crisis. Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us.

Jeff, there was a lot of passion in the announcement today. But will there be concrete steps to attack this truly terrible problem?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is the open question then evening. The president, of course, delivering or at least speak to a long-promised campaign pledge to address this drug epidemic that is ravaging many parts of the country.

But left unanswered as he signed that -- the memorandum today, will there be any more money to go with it? That's something Congress will have to decide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump declaring America's opioid crisis a public health emergency.

TRUMP: It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction. Never been this way. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.

ZELENY: In the East Room of the White House today, the president and first lady Melania Trump joining together to address a drug epidemic ravaging the country.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We are here today because of your courage. The opioid epidemic has affected more than two million Americans nationwide, and sadly, the number continues to rise. ZELENY: The president's speech was a long-promised effort to deliver

on a campaign pledge, but the memorandum he signed today does not call for new money to combat the opioid fight.

D. TRUMP: Effective today, my administration is officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law.

ZELENY: By calling the crisis a public health emergency rather than a national disaster, relief funds won't immediately be directed to the epidemic, as he suggested during these remarks in August.

[17:05:09] TRUMP: It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.

ZELENY: The White House called it a distinction without a difference. And the president said he was committed to reigning in the abuse of painkillers and heroin. He said the government would work toward finding a nonaddictive pain killer to replace opioids and launch an advertising campaign to warn children to stay off drugs.

TRUMP: If we can teach young people and people generally, not to start, it's really, really easy not to take them.

ZELENY: Craig Moss, who lost his son to a heroin overdose, supported Trump's bid for the presidency on his promises to crack down on the epidemic. Today, he said the president's pledge fell short.

CRAIG MOSS, LOST SON TO HEROIN OVERDOSE: I commend the president and the first lady for reaching out and addressing this issue and letting the struggling addicts of this country know that -- that there's something's going to be happening, but I certainly wish that he had spoken more about what he -- how he plans to attack the epidemic by not providing additional funding.

ZELENY: The president also renewed his call to build a wall on the border with Mexico to help block drugs from coming into the U.S.

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.

ZELENY: Meanwhile today, the White House is looking ahead to try to deliver on another campaign promise, cutting taxes.

"Big news. Budget just passed," the president hailed on Twitter. The House passed a new budget today, following the Senate last week, now paving the way for a full debate on tax reform.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: And Wolf, that full debate is going to happen in the coming weeks. We are going to see the first bill exactly the specifics of this tax reform pledge released next week by the House.

The president, I'm told, is going to become more involved in this to try and sell this plan. Wolf, this is the biggest priority on the president's plate here. The biggest test for what he calls a unified Republican Party. We'll see if they are unified and if they can get this tax agenda moving forward.

BLITZER: Good news for the president and the Republicans. Since the House passed the same budget as the Senate, they will only need 50 votes in the Senate to pass tax cuts, pass tax reform. They won't need 60. That's a major development today.

All right. Jeff Zeleny over at the White House, thanks very much.

There's more breaking news right now as top Democrats have denied knowing anything about those payments to affirm behind the opposition research dossier on Donald Trump. Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, who's joining us from Capitol Hill.

Manu, what do we know about what the chairman of the Clinton campaign, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, told the Senate Intelligence Committee?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, for the first time we are learning that John Podesta, the former campaign chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was the chairwoman in the Democratic National Committee, both met privately with the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. And they were asked directly about Fusion GPS and whether or not they knew of any Clinton campaign or DNC ties to that firm that produced that opposition research about the Trump dossier allegations of coordination and other issues with President Trump, his associates and Russians.

And they said they had no knowledge of any ties between the Trump campaign -- between the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and Russia. And of course, what was now come to light, that the Clinton campaign and the DNC did effectively pay Fusion GPS, that firm, in advance of that dossier being published.

But those two individuals, senior officials said they absolutely had no knowledge about this going forward. And they said they spoke truthfully about that; they really had no knowledge.

But Wolf, this really raises the stakes considerably. They have been saying this publicly they had no knowledge. But for the first time we know they said this to Congress and, of course, you can't mislead or lie to Congress in any way. You have to tell the truth. So a significant development there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Even if you're not under direct oath, you still have to tell the truth. Otherwise, that could be perjury.

Manu, CNN has reported that the law firm of Marc Elias, a Democratic attorney, retained Fusion GPS as a client as part of its representation of both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Has he been interviewed, as well? RAJU: Well, Wolf, he hasn't actually been interviewed as a witness,

but what was interesting about this issue is that we have learned that Marc Elias actually was representing John Podesta at the time of his Senate Intelligence Committee interview. So he was sitting next to John Podesta when Podesta was asked directly whether or not the Clinton campaign had ties and a contractual relationship with Fusion GPS.

[17:10:04] And Podesta said he didn't. Elias was not being interviewed, because he was the attorney. Now Elias may eventually have to come back and be interviewed as a witness. We'll have to see. That remains a possibility.

Now since then, Wolf, in the last couple of days, Elias's firm has put on a statement saying that it just only recently informed its clients, the DNC and the Clinton campaign, that it had retained Fusion GPS as its own client to investigate, to pay for this research, and that the clients, the DNC and the Clinton campaign, didn't know anything about it. But Marc Elias was in that room while John Podesta was asked a key question, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's very, very awkward indeed. I know you're working on other new developments. Stand by, Manu. We're going to get back to you very soon. Manu Raju reporting from Capitol Hill.

And joining us now, someone who wore a lot of hats here in Washington. Leon Panetta is a former defense secretary, former CIA director. He was also the White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So it's very awkward. How can both the chair of the DNC and the Clinton campaign not know about these payments?

PANETTA: Well, it's obviously something that the Intelligence Committee is going to have to -- have to look at.

You know, knowing presidential campaigns, they're big operations, and somehow the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. And that could be the case here, but I really do think that the committee is going to have to get into this, determine just exactly what happened, who knew what and when.

BLITZER: But if the lawyer who was representing the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, Marc Elias, is sitting next to John Podesta, he was asked, "Do you know about the funding?" He says no. Wouldn't it be his responsibility to at least whisper in his ear, "Yes, yes, you" -- and tell him what was going on so if he wasn't lying, John Podesta, he would be able to clarify all of that before -- before the committee in a sensitive issue like this?

PANETTA: Well, it certainly makes the situation very awkward. If you're testifying and saying you have no knowledge, and the attorney sitting next to you is one of those that knew what -- what was involved here, I think it does raise an issue that the committee is going to have to look at and determine just exactly what knew what.

But I'm going to -- I'm going to allow the committee to do that kind of investigation. I suspect that Bob Mueller is also looking at this issue in terms of the dossier and those connected to it.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure he is. The intelligence community, as you know, has confirmed many of the details of that very controversial dossier. By no means all of them, certainly not the salacious parts of that dossier. But it's generally, according to a lot of officials, a lot of it is pretty reliable. Does it even matter, when all is said and done, who funded this research?

PANETTA: Well, I think it is important at least to know, you know, who was pulling the strings here in terms of the research. Whether it's on the Trump side of the campaign, and the connections with the Russians, or whether it's on the Clinton side of the campaign, you want to know who was making decisions that involved dealing with possible foreign individuals in terms of trying to determine negative research on the opposing candidate.

But, in the end, the most important thing is to look at what the dossier says, and whether it's in any way verified. And also, to look at, obviously, the connections with the Russians and what they did.

What we can't do here is lose sight of the fundamental objective of this investigation, which is to look at what the Russians did, how did they get about it? And what can we do to prevent it from happening again?

BLITZER: Yes, that's certainly the thrust of this investigation up on Capitol Hill, as well as the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

I want your reaction to the latest revelations, Mr. Secretary, regarding Cambridge Analytica. That's the data firm working for the Trump campaign, which reached out to WikiLeaks about obtaining e-mails from Hillary Clinton's personal e-mail server. What red flags does that raise?

PANETTA: Well, again, it's one of those issues where, if somebody from the campaign was in touch with WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks was involved with the Russians in terms of determining just exactly what would or would not be revealed in terms of what they possess, again, it raises the connection issue as to just exactly how much was involved because between the Trump campaign and Russians in the form of WikiLeaks.

[17:15:07] So, it's another issue that obviously has to be looked at as part of this whole investigation into what -- what was the connection here between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, we've got to take a break, but we're getting some new information on that deadly ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers. Stand by. We'll continue our special coverage right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's breaking news. We're getting new information on the mission led U.S. troops into that deadly ambush in Niger. We're talking with former defense secretary, former CIA director Leon Panetta.

[17:20:09] Mr. Secretary, stand by. I want to get the very latest information from our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what are you learning? You're over at the Pentagon.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, both U.S. and Nigerian sources are telling my colleagues and I at CNN that, in the midst of this bloody, this deadly fire fight, that U.S. forces were split up in the confusion. It was a long fire fight. It was bloody, lasting more than an hour, confusing at times. And those forces split up, which may help explain how Sergeant La David Johnson was left behind, his body separated. He himself, his body separated from his fellow service members there.

This as U.S. senators were on the Hill today, getting a classified briefing on the Niger raid raising questions about whether those U.S. forces on the ground in Niger had all the resources they needed to protect themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, senators newly briefed on the Niger ambush are raising the alarm that the U.S. troops may not have had adequate resources to defend themselves.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I am deeply concerned that we are failed to provide our troop in harm's way with the resources they need, particularly in intelligence, recognizance and surveillance, which may be reflected in this tragic incident.

SCIUTTO: CNN has learned that U.S. and Nigerian forces killed 20 of an estimated 50 ISIS fighters who attacked, but they had no armed U.S. air support. The U.S. drone that did arrive overhead was not armed. The government of Niger has not yet given the U.S. permission to strike.

And more than three weeks after the ambush, lawmakers say it is still a mystery as to why Sergeant La David Johnson, one of the four U.S. soldiers killed, was missing for 48 hours.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D-FL), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I do not have an answer from headquarters as to why it was 48 hours until they could locate and retrieve Sergeant Johnson's body.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Why did it take 48 hours to recover Mr. Johnson's body?

SCIUTTO: The emerging timeline of the ambush paints a picture of changing missions and betrayal by local residents.

On October 3, one day before the attack, the U.S. soldiers were on a patrol with Nigerian forces who they were advising. While on that mission, the Nigerian soldiers were ordered to act as a quick reaction force, in case another Nigerian unit encountered difficulty in a planned operation to capture or kill a known ISIS leader. That mission, however, was cancelled when U.S. intelligence assets observed the terror leader leave his encampment in Niger and cross the border into neighboring Mali.

U.S. soldiers were then given a new task: to survey the encampment and collect intelligence on the leader. The next day, on their way back to their base, the troop stopped in a village near Tongo-Tongo so the Nigerian forces could replenish their supplies. As they left that village, the troops drove into the deadly ambush. Investigators now believe that residents had tipped off ISIS to their presence.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The question that I'm most interested in is how did such a well-executed attack occur? I think it clearly would have required some advanced planning, and that would have required knowledge about where our troops would be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Senator McCain on the Hill told me that this was a full, it was a detailed briefing that senators received from the military. But I'll say, having spoken to a number of senators up there, there is some frustration with the number of unanswered questions.

For instance, I asked at the Pentagon briefing today, did they -- did these soldiers, were they wearing, where they carrying body armor? And I was told they just don't know the answer to that question yet. And we are told here that it'll be some 30 days before this investigation is complete -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto at the Pentagon for us today. Thank you very much.

We're back with former defense secretary, former CIA director Leon Panetta.

Mr. Secretary, some lawmakers, as you know, they're complaining openly about the lack of answers from the Defense Department. Does the Pentagon need to be more transparent right now about what happened in Niger?

PANETTA: I think there needs to be greater transparency about the whole strategy that we're involved in right now.

I think it's the right strategy. I think we have to go after terrorists, whether it's Boko Haram or al Shabaab or ISIS, and that involves a presence in North Africa, as well as parts of the Middle East. And these are counterterrorism operations.

But I think -- I think they have to present Congress with what is the exact strategy that's involved with regards to the mission that our troops have there? And do they have the sufficient back-up they need in order to be able to protect them?

This is dangerous territory. As we saw in Niger, it's very dangerous. Any time you conduct a mission that tries to either capture or kill the leadership of ISIS or someone who's operating in that area, you're asking for trouble.

[17:25:13] And you've got to be prepared to have back-up, to have good intelligence, to have good surveillance, and to be able to not only move quickly, but know that you have -- you have back-up which will protect you in that fire fight.

So I think a lot more discussion needs to take place about the larger strategy involved with counterterrorism in that region.

BLITZER: You know, there's nearly 1,000 U.S. troops in Niger, maybe 6,000 throughout Africa right now. The French are involved in Niger, but why does it always have to be the United States that's deploying these troops in these dangerous areas to go after these terrorist operatives? What about the other European allies? They could assist, advise and assist, the Europeans, pretty well also, right?

PANETTA: Well, they can. But very frankly, their record is very mixed in terms of their abilities to really go after an enemy. And so, it's for that reason that, you know, U.S. forces take charge.

They're not there to just sit on their hands. They're there to go after the mission. And the mission here is to make sure we are going after the leadership of ISIS and the leadership of these terrorist groups and trying to do everything possible to eliminate that leadership. That's what counterterrorism is all about.

So the real question here is, obviously, what happened in this particular situation? Because there are lessons that obviously need to be learned.

But I think what needs to be done is Congress needs to sit back and sit down with the Pentagon and say, what is the larger strategy here? How do we work with the French? How do we work with others to try to make sure that we are coordinating our efforts to go after terrorists in that region?

The purpose here is to undermine terrorism and to decapitate it, but we can't do it alone. We've got to do it with others. But it has to be coordinated.

BLITZER: Yes, not exactly a vote of confidence in the other European or NATO allies if they really can't get the job done after all of these years of this terror threat.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

PANETTA: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have more on the breaking news. Half a century after President Kennedy's assassination, President Trump allows the release of thousands of secret documents. Will they answer questions raised by investigators and conspiracy theorists?

And a CNN exclusive: we'll take you inside North Korea where a propaganda campaign makes certain that daily life revolves around hatred of America.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:32:36] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: This hour's breaking news, President Trump declaring a public health emergency because of the opioid epidemic throughout the United States. He's warning the addiction crisis will get worse before it gets better, but the President says even though it will take many years, we must start in earnest right now.

Let's bring in our political specialists. And Chris Cillizza, President campaign heavily as all of us remember in fighting the opioid epidemic, was this what he announced today what he promised?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: It's certainly a lot closer to what he promised in many of the things that he's done on the campaign trail. Look, this is a way to divert some of the funds going to other places, to direct them toward opioids. I think that this is something that -- it's a huge problem in the country. We know -- I mean, gosh, just traveling around the country for the campaign in New Hampshire, it's a gigantic issue. Chris Christie there was, he's obviously spoken out about it.

So, it is not exactly what he promised, Wolf, but I would say in the realm of Trump promises, this is pretty close, and candidly, I rarely say this, an issue that I think we can all sort of have bipartisan agreement, needs to be addressed. So, if this starts the federal government turning toward it, good.

BLITZER: Yes. Critically, critically important. He could have announced it shortly after he took office back in January, the announcement today, why did he wait?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, probably a few things, Wolf, first of all, we know that the U.S. government moves a bit slowly, can be a bit unwieldy and bureaucratic, so that was likely part of it. They just need to check those boxes before they make an announcement of this magnitude, but I think it goes without saying that this White House is also not the well-oiled machine that the President and his aids sometimes represent it to be. And things don't always go as smoothly as they would hope. And so, if it's a delay, I mean, I agree Chris, better that they're moving in this direction, recognizing this problem than not. But certainly, a reflection of how this White House is a little disorganized as well.

BLITZER: In his statement today, Bianna, the President got very personal, very emotional, speaking about his older brother, his fight with alcoholism, let me play the clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. He was substantially older and I listened to him and I respected, but he would constantly tell me, don't drink. He'd also add, don't smoke. But he would say it over and over and over again. And to this day, I've never had a drink. And I have no longing for it. I have no interest in it. To this day, I've never had a cigarette, don't worry, those are only two of my good things, I don't want to tell you about the bad things. There's plenty of bad things, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bianna, we don't often hear or see the President open up that personally as he did today. That personal experience, it was a pretty powerful moment.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It was, we also don't often see the President really be self-deprecating as he was today. And it works for the President. During the campaign trail, this was one of those pivotal moments when he talked about his brother, Fred, and he talked about the impact that Fred's struggle with alcoholism had on his life and some of the choices he made. It worked for him on the campaign trail. It really, I think, worked for him today as well. It resonated, I think, with a lot of people who were there in attendance and for viewers as well. I think having Melania with them as well made this more of sort of a family-type event.

The urgency obviously still being there, but you see how this hits and affects everybody from the President on down to the millions of Americans who either suffer or have loved ones who suffer from any sort of addiction. And so, today was a pivotal moment for the President. And as Chris said, if there's one thing we can be bipartisan on, it is the struggle and the fight against opioid addiction, which continues to balloon in this country.

BLITZER: It certainly does.

CILLIZZA: I -- look, I -- he says a lot of dumb things, publicly, that he shouldn't say politically speaking and otherwise, he mishandles things that he shouldn't, he brags on himself and how smart he is. Things that just don't make -- but give him credit, to be honest. I mean, look, if you're going to criticize him for some of the things he does, self-deprecating, talking about how he -- his family that he -- first of all, talking about his family. Talking about the fact that his family wasn't perfect, talking about his brother being better-looking and more charismatic than him. Who on that list does -- Donald Trump does not do those things. So, when he does, I think he -- we -- he deserves credit for focusing on the issue, and I think he did it in a way that is very rare for him, which is he didn't brag, he didn't necessarily make it -- it was about -- yes, it was about him, which he often does, but it was about a struggle. It wasn't about -- and then, I did something amazing because I'm so smart. Give him some credit here. It's not a side of him, I'm not going to say this is going to be something that's regular because we know better, but give him credit for today.

BERG: Absolutely. We do talk so much on this program and in general about the President being a little tone deaf at times, and the Gold Star family controversy that we saw in recent weeks is a perfect example of that. But this was pitch perfect.

BLITZER: Yes, and you know, I don't know if he's going to do more of it, but he probably should, right, Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Well, there was a tinge of policy that was cleverly thrown in there as well, and that was building the wall that he had also been campaigning on, saying that 90 percent of all heroin came from south of the border. And so, that was one way in his view to fight the opioid problem and crises in this country. I didn't hear much about prescription drug addiction. Some would say, and I've seen some analysis that maybe his diagnosis for this and way to fight it is a bit oversimplistic by just saying don't just say no. And I remember going to school in the DARE Program was what was really pushed as well. Not sure how that really worked out. Definitely not well through the 80s and 90s, but when you're dealing with prescription drugs, just saying no is a bit more of a more complicated situation than just not picking up a beer or a cigarette.

BLITZER: Yes, and I agree. Everyone can agree, this is a -- this opioid epidemic is a huge crisis in this country right now. Thanks to the President, it's a high on the agenda.

Coming up, will the release of documents that have been secret for more than 50 years shed some new light on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the man who killed him?

Plus, an exclusive look at daily life in a North Korean factory, where work is fueled by hatred of the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:43:55] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the U.S. government releasing a cache of secret records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Our Senior Washington Correspondent Brianna Keilar is here with us. Intense interest, Brianna, in what these records potentially could show.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Oh, there is so much interest and that is because this is the final batch of records and the administration is leaving this until the final possible moment it seems of the last possible days determined by law to release these.

In 1992, Congress set a deadline in part to push back on conspiracy theories about President Kennedy's 1963 assassination, and that's what we're seeing today with this expected release. What are we going to see? Well, we're expecting an enormous trove of never-before-seen documents, thousands and thousands of pages. And interestingly, there will be information about Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City which happened just shortly before he killed President Kennedy in Dallas. A lot of these documents are going to have to do with that. Apparently, Oswald made it clear on this trip that he wanted to kill Kennedy and he made contact with Cuban and Soviet spies there, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, might the CIA and/or the FBI, Brianna, not want all of these documents to be released, even after all of these years?

[17:45:08] KEILAR: Possibly because one of the questions is, did the CIA know this? Did they know what had happened? Was it not passed on? Was this intelligence that wasn't passed to where it should be to let folks know that Kennedy's life was in danger and the CIA and the FBI have long held that national security interests are protected by not releasing some of these documents. So, it's very possible that they are here and what's the 11th hour, making similar appeals about this particular final batch of documents. That's really the outstanding question. Are we going to see all of the remaining documents? Are some going to remain secret, and it comes down to President Trump, Wolf, it is really his prerogative, but he's teased this on Twitter. And he's said, these documents are going to be released.

BLITZER: So, we're standing by. Presumably any moment now, they'll start releasing these documents, and we're watching very closely. Brianna Keilar, thanks for that report. You'll be busy reading all of these documents later.

Coming up, an exclusive report from inside North Korea where hatred of the United States and President Trump is a daily part of workers' lives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:48] BLITZER: Tonight, the United States is ratcheting up pressure on North Korea in response to what the U.S. calls serious human rights abuses and censorship. The U.S. Treasury Department just announced sanctions on officials of the Kim Jong-un regime as well as targeting construction entities controlled by the North Korean Workers Party. CNN's Will Ripley is on his 7th -- 16th visit to the North Korean Capital of Pyongyang. Right now, he's just got an exclusive look at how hatred of the United States colors the daily lives of North Korean workers. Will is joining us now live from Pyongyang. Tell us what you've learned.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that these sanctions are sure to enrage the North Koreans, Wolf. Seven more officials, three entities as you mentioned, specifically these sanctions over the military police targeting dissent, arresting people secretly who might go against the regime. But when we were taken to a factory hit by other sanctions over North Korea's nuclear program, we saw how firsthand dissent is not even an option.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: From the moment we arrived at this Pyongyang textile mill, anti-American propaganda greets us at nearly every turn. Outside, missiles are blowing up the U.S. Capital. Inside, a personal attack on North Korea's public enemy number one.

This propaganda banner says that the workers are motivated by their burning hatred for the United States. And in fact, it reads, "Let's tear apart the mentally deranged U.S. President Donald Trump."

The spin doesn't stop there. If the looms weren't so loud, you'd hear the patriotic music glaring over loud speakers, rousing around 8,000 workers at this sprawling model factory. U.N. sanctions added textiles to the long list of banned North Korean exports, cutting off $700 million in annual revenue for the regime, a huge blow to the economy but only a minor inconvenience, says the factory's chief engineer. He says sanctions will only make them try harder. The worker we're here to interview has been carefully chosen by our government guides. Mun Gang sun is considered a labor heroine.

What do you think about Americans and the United States, in general?

"Only hatred, it makes me shudder," she says, "After hearing the absurd remarks from Trump, saying he'll destroy our country, it makes me think you are also part of them."

Mun grew up in dormitories like this, seven women share each room, sleeping, bathing, and eating together. They live collectively until they get married. This new facility, a model for the rest of the country. It's clear not all North Korean workers live like this.

We're taken to Mun's spacious three-bedroom apartment in Pyongyang. She lives here with her husband and two children. Here, we learn why she was chosen to speak with us. Mun is a ranking member of the ruling Worker's Party of Korea. She was even a delegate at leader Kim Jong-un's party Congress. Only the most loyal, dedicated North Koreans ever reach such a prestigious post. They're rewarded with the good life by Pyongyang standards. Mun met her husband at the factory. (INAUDIBLE) served 10 years in the Korean People's Army. They hope their 4-year-old son will grow into a loyal soldier. Their 14-month- old daughter, a model worker, just like mom. They tell me they want their children to live in peace but say they are not afraid of war. Echoing the propaganda at their factory, they say North Korea will fiercely defend its right to exist at any cost.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: It was remarkable to be in their living room and they're holding their young children and also telling me that they'd rather see a nuclear war than a world without North Korea, even if it meant that they lose everything and their children don't have a future. It just goes to show you how the country is put above all else even people's own families and children here in this country. The U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is in South Korea right now meeting with his counterparts about how to counter North Korea's nuclear program. And Wolf, President Trump will be arriving here in the region in just over a week.

[17:55:13] BLITZER: Yes, they certainly will. All right. Thanks very much. Will Ripley reporting exclusively for us from Pyongyang, North Korea.

Coming up, there's breaking news, more than half a century after President Kennedy's assassination, we're standing by for the release of thousands of secret U.S. government documents. Will they answer persistent questions raised by investigators and conspiracy theorists?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)