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THE SITUATION ROOM

Nikki Haley Speaks Out; Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Trump Administration Tries to Shift Focus to Clinton on Russia Investigation; JFK Document Delay May Be Attempt to Protect Sources; Sources: U.S. Troops Split Up During Niger Ambush; Trump Pushes for Release of Remaining Clinton E-mails; Haley Says She Wouldn't Take Secretary of State Job. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Are Republicans now trying to turn the tables?

Haley's promise. In an exclusive interview, President Trump's United Nations embassy speaks about rumors of another shakeup in the administration. Nikki Haley talks to us about embattled Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Would she take his job if President Trump forces him out?

And protecting old sources. Intriguing new information about the JFK assassination in thousands of newly declassified documents, and an even more intriguing decision to withhold thousands more at the very last minute. Are intelligence agencies trying to keep a shroud of secrecy over the identities of Russian and Cuban sources from decades ago?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: There is breaking news tonight, new efforts by President Trump and the White House to shift the investigative spotlight from the president and his campaign to Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

Sources now telling CNN that the president has made clear to the State Department that he wants any Clinton e-mails still in its possession to be released as soon as possible. He has also called on the Justice Department to lift a gag order on a key FBI informant for a new congressional investigation involving Hillary Clinton.

The White House is echoing allegations by Mr. Trump that Clinton colluded with Russia during the presidential race. They have seized on new revelations that a law firm working for Clinton's campaign and the Democratic Party partially paid for opposition research that led to that infamous dossier on Trump-Russia ties.

Also, a CNN exclusive. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks out about speculation that President Trump will replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and offer Haley the position. She tells us she wants to stay in New York at the United Nations and she would not take the job.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour, with our guests, including the former general counsel for the director of national intelligence, Bob Litt, and Congressman Adam Kinzinger of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are all standing by.

But, first, let's get straight to the breaking news, President Trump pushing for the release of the State Department's remaining Hillary Clinton e-mails.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is working the story for us.

Gloria, you're getting new information from your sources.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I am, Wolf.

President Donald Trump has made it very clear to the State Department he wants to accelerate the release of any remaining Hillary Clinton e- mails in its possession as soon as possible. We have this story from three sources.

Now, this latest move as you know, Wolf, to the State Department comes on the heels of the president lifting the gag order on an FBI informant in another investigation of Uranium One.

And what do both of these things have in common? What they have in common is Hillary Clinton. People who work for the president say, of course, this is not politically motivated, that all he wants to do is be transparent, he wants his government to be very responsive to the courts and to the congressional branch of government.

But, of course, Wolf, you have to wonder whether this is a White House that is trying to deflect what is a Russia investigation focused on them back to their public enemy number one, Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: And the e-mails that the president apparently now wants in your exclusive reporting, the State Department to release, are those from Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server that may not necessarily yet have been released or from dot.gov Hillary Clinton e-mails?

BORGER: No. The State Department still has 40,000 pages of records that have become the focus of a freedom of information request and they have already processed 32,000 pages of the records.

So this has gone to court. Judicial Watch is the organization that has made the freedom of information request. And the federal judge has ordered the State Department to produce 500 pages of Clinton records per month.

With that timeline, it could take years to get to get these records. And the president has said, you know what, I think you ought to get it out there and I think you ought to get it out there quickly. And people who work for the president say the president is within protocol. He is able to tell the State Department what he wants, get his message there.

And it's my guess they will probably comply, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, he is the president of the United States, and the State Department reports to the president of the United States.

BORGER: And we have reached out to the State Department on this, and we have not received any comment at this point.

[18:05:00]

BLITZER: This comes on the heels of that other story you broke yesterday that the president was sort of influencing, trying to influence the Department of Justice to go ahead and lift that gag order on that FBI informant.

BORGER: Right.

And so what you see is a White House right now that is saying, look, we just want to be transparent here. This is about getting all the information out there that we could. They say in the gag order they're responding to a request from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, who has said to them, please do this.

There are others. And we have heard from Adam Schiff today and others saying that that is not appropriate for the president to intervene in any way, shape or form, even putting him thumb on the scale in one way or another, in what the Justice Department should or should not be doing.

They maintain this is completely within bounds because the president went through his White House counsel to people at the Justice Department letting his opinion be known.

BLITZER: So you see a connection between influencing the State Department on one issue, the Clinton e-mails and influencing the Justice Department?

BORGER: I see a White House that is fighting back. And I see a White House that wants to change the topic of conversation in the media.

And I think that this is a president who, as we know, is quite frustrated with the Russia investigation's focus on him and his campaign. And I think that I can imagine the president saying to people, well, look, we have all of this other stuff out there that involves Hillary Clinton, and involves the Democrats.

He called the uranium issue a -- the biggest problem since Watergate, you know, the biggest political bombshell since Watergate. So it's clear he wants to change the direction of the conversation.

BLITZER: That's excellent exclusive reporting two days in a row, Gloria Borger. Stick around. We have got more to discuss. Don't go too far away.

I quickly want to go to the White House right now, where officials are clearly trying to turn the tables on questions of collusion.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.

Jim, the president himself is now accusing Hillary Clinton directly of colluding with Russia.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf.

The White House now appears to be putting its full weight behind an effort to investigate Hillary Clinton for any possible role in a uranium business deal involving the Russians that happened during the Obama administration.

The president is accusing Hillary Clinton of collusion with the Russians without any evidence coming forward.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House is pointing to what it believes to be evidence of Russian collusion, but not with President Trump.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we are seeing now that if there was any collusion with Russia it was between the DNC and the Clintons and certainly not our campaign.

ACOSTA: Apparently latching on to reports of the rising cost of special counsel Bob Mueller's investigation, the president insisted on Twitter that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump.

The collusion, the president insisted, was with Hillary Clinton. That charge comes just days after it was revealed the Clinton campaign and the Democrats helped fund research that led to the so-called Russian dossier of opposition research aimed at tend candidate Trump.

But up until this point, the White House has yet to offer any evidence of Clinton collusion with the Russians.

ACOSTA (on camera): How about evidence of collusion and Hillary...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Mike.

ACOSTA: Sarah, no, the President made a charge that Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russians.

SANDERS: I think I have addressed that pretty thoroughly.

Mike, go ahead.

ACOSTA: So, you're saying that Hillary Clinton...

SANDERS: I'm saying that I'm calling on your colleague.

ACOSTA: OK, well, you didn't really address that question.

(voice-over): The White House accusations also follow Republican calls for an investigation into the sale of the Uranium One mining company to the Russians during the Obama administration.

One top West Wing official says President Trump pressed for a gag order to be lifted on an informant in the probe so the truth can come out.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: He believes, as many others do, frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows.

ACOSTA: Before the 2016 campaign, conservatives were pushing the Uranium One story as evidence of Clinton corruption, but proof of the former secretary of state's involvement never came.

QUESTION: Do you have any evidence that she actually intervened in this issue?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we don't have direct evidence, but it warrants further investigation because again, George, this is part of the broader pattern.

ACOSTA: Democrats are questioning why the president personally intervened into the Uranium One probe, suspecting he simply is trying to distract from his own Russia questions.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Now, the question is, is this being done I good faith? And it is very hard to reach a conclusion that this is done in good faith, that we have now suddenly, six or seven years after the fact, decided we have got to do another investigation of Hillary Clinton to try to prove that Hillary Clinton interfered in this decision to grant this uranium sale.

ACOSTA: Just days ago, again without offering any evidence, the president said the Uranium One amounted to another Watergate.

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

ACOSTA: For the president, it's a return to a familiar tactic employed throughout the campaign. When accused of wrongdoing, point the finger at your opponent.

[18:10:02]

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you would be in jail.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now, the press secretary did not exactly echo what White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said about the president's involvement in the Uranium One investigation.

Sarah Sanders says she was not aware of any -- quote -- "specific involvement" of the president, just that he -- quote -- "pushed for transparency."

And as for allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Wolf, we should point congressional investigators and the special counsel's office, they have not reached their own conclusions in that investigation, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim, the White House press secretary also asked today about the multiple women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment.

Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Obviously, sexual harassment has been in the news. At least 16 women accused the president of sexually harassing them throughout the course of the campaign.

Last week, during a press conference in the Rose Garden, the president called these accusations fake news.

Is the official White House position that all of these women are lying?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: yes. We have been clear on that from the beginning. And the president has spoken on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She goes yes. So, that means she is accusing all 16 of those women, Jim, of lying.

The White House maintains that the women say that the president harassed them are simply lying. And that's generating a lot of commotion, especially given the current environment around the country.

ACOSTA: That is right, Wolf.

And the White House obviously has the ability, the president has the ability to prove that these women are lying. The president said before he was sworn into office that he would sue those accusers who accused him of sexual harassment during the campaign. He never brought those lawsuits forward.

Obviously, Wolf, if he were to bring those lawsuits forward, those women could be deposed in that kind of investigation. But, Wolf, the opposite would also be true. The president could also potentially be deposed in that kind of an investigation. So, as of this point, the president has not brought those lawsuits forward. He has not been able up until this point to prove those women -- that they were lying. And the White House press secretary echoed the president's accusation earlier today again without offering any proof -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us, the former general counsel for the director of national intelligence, Bob Litt. He's also a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department.

Bob, thanks very much for joining us.

ROBERT LITT, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise. You served during the Obama administration as the general counsel for the DNI, right?

LITT: Correct.

BLITZER: OK.

Let's talk about your reaction to this tweet from the president today. This is what he tweeted. "It is now commonly agreed after many months of costly looking that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with H.C.," Hillary Clinton.

Could this tweet, as some are now suggesting, be seen as trying to influence the investigation of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the investigations going on in Congress?

LITT: Well, I don't know what the president was trying to do with the tweet. I do know that Bob Mueller is impervious to that kind of influence.

As you know, he's a person of incredible integrity, ability. He's a complete straight shooter. And I'm sure he's not paying any attention to what the president is tweeting.

BLITZER: What does say that the president is raising the cost of this investigation, when presumably he and his advisers know that this budget is safe from congressional review, the budget of the special counsel?

LITT: Well, again, I don't know what the president is trying to do.

It seems clear that they are looking for opportunities to try to discredit Director Mueller before his investigation is done.

BLITZER: The Trump tweet followed -- Trump's aligned super PAC, I should say, followed the president's tweet today an e-mail asking if the special counsel, Robert Mueller, should resign, echoing the president's accusation of collusion.

Is all of this simply designed, based on your experience, designed to try to undermine the special counsel investigation?

LITT: I guess I would prefer not to comment on what the president's motivations are. I think his actions speak for themselves.

BLITZER: He defeated Hillary Clinton, as we know, in the election. He is the president of the United States. So how do you explain this current effort to go back to the decision back in 2010 to allow this uranium deal with the Russians to go forward?

The latest, the president now suggesting repeatedly and his supporters suggesting this was -- this was part of collusion with the Russians?

LITT: I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what happened in that case.

This was an acquisition that was presented to something called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which contains representatives of nine agencies, only one of which is the State Department. The secretary of state has no participation in it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The State Department does.

LITT: The State Department does, but at a much lower level.

BLITZER: But she was the secretary of state.

LITT: She was, but the person who does participate said, without contradiction, that she had no role in this.

This is an entity that is charged with determining whether acquisition of U.S. businesses by foreign entities present a threat to national security.

[18:15:00]

And the committee unanimously determined that it did not.

BLITZER: Because the allegation is that this was pay for play. The Russians had a huge speaking fee that they gave Bill Clinton. He went over to Moscow, supposedly got a half a million dollars. There was money going from the Russians into the Clinton Foundation, and the accusation is it looks unseemly.

LITT: So, it's not clear to me how a speaking fee paid to Bill Clinton is going to influence the determination of the Department of Justice, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, all the nine agencies that participate in CFIUS.

BLITZER: Let's get to that controversial dossier that all of us have now seen by now. It was reported on back in January. The new revelations of the Clinton campaign, the DNC funding of the

Russia dossier, you write this: "The dossier played absolutely no role in the coordinated intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in our election.

And you argue: "The Russian efforts to influence our election are an important crisis for our democracy. The salacious allegations in the dossier are a mere sideshow that should not distract from a comprehensive investigation of that crisis."

Because the Republicans right now are seizing on that dossier they're saying the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign paid for.

LITT: Right.

And everybody should go back and re-read the intelligence assessment that was released in January of this year. It's a very powerful document.

And it concludes -- and this was a conclusion of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the director of national intelligence. It concludes that President Putin of Russia ordered a campaign of interference with the United States election in order to hurt Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump.

And that was the scope of what the intelligence agencies looked at. They did not look at and they made no findings on relations between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And that is what the dossier was all about.

And they were very clear. And Director Clapper said this back in January, that the dossier played absolutely no role in the findings that the intelligence community made.

And I think that's a very serious thing that the Russians were able to intervene in our election that way. And I think what has come out since the election has only reinforced those findings.

BLITZER: And those findings from the intelligence community you say were not based at all on the dossier?

LITT: Not in any way.

BLITZER: And you were the general counsel for the director of national intelligence.

Do you believe there was, though, collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

LITT: I don't have a basis to know that. That is what Director Mueller is looking into.

BLITZER: And he's going to continue that investigation, by no means over.

LITT: Yes. BLITZER: Thank you so much, Bob Litt, for joining us.

LITT: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will have you back.

Just ahead, there's more breaking news we're following. Sources now say U.S. troops were separated during that deadly ambush in Niger. We have new details on how the battle unfolded.

And while newly released documents provide new details about the Kennedy assassination, are others being kept secret to protect foreign sources from a half-a-century ago?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:39]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, new information emerging about the deadly ambush of U.S. troops in Niger by local ISIS- affiliated forces.

Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working the story for us. He's joining us now from the Pentagon.

Jim, you're learning new details from your sources about how this battle unfolded.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is right, a confusing battle, we're learning.

In the midst of the firefight, this deadly ambush, this U.S. team split up into two groups, one of those groups continuing on foot after their vehicle was destroyed in an attempt to counterattack, to do an end-run around those enemy forces.

Adding to the confusion, they lost communication for a time between those troops. These are going to present many more questions to investigators.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, new details on the ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead.

During a complex firefight with ISIS-affiliated fighters, the U.S. teams separated in two groups in an attempt to counterattack, with some U.S. soldiers leaving their vehicle to proceed on foot, multiple sources briefed on the investigation tell CNN.

At least one vehicle had been disabled in the initial ambush. At one point, U.S. forces tried to outflank their attackers. As the battle continued, one group of American soldiers lost communication with the second group that included the four Americans killed in action, one source familiar with the investigative report said. It is not clear how communications were lost. Initial information conveyed to the White House stated that a total of four soldiers were missing in action, before the military updated the status to one missing and three killed in action.

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It clearly changed. And it clearly was dynamic and they were clearly trying to adopt new postures as it was all going on. And we don't know yet even all the questions that have to be answered.

SCIUTTO: Despite being outnumbered, the U.S.-Nigerian force managed to kill some 20 militant in the firefight.

Yet, more than three weeks after the attack, members of Congress and military leaders are still waiting for many answers. In particular, they want to know how Sergeant La David Johnson remained missing for some 48 hours.

Today, 6,000 U.S. soldiers are deployed to more than 50 countries across Africa, as the threat from terror groups grows there. Still, U.S. lawmakers want to know more details about the overall U.S. mission and the dangers to U.S. forces on the ground.

[18:25:07]

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I'm very concerned about what military missions we're doing, particularly where Congress has not specifically authorized the use of our military. There are legitimate questions as to what our military goal is all about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: One issue that could have hampered the response to that firefight on the ground is that U.S. drones based in Niger do not have permission to carry weapons to fire.

So that first drone that arrived within an hour after the firefight began, it was able to observe, but not intervene. And right now that has added greater urgency to requests here from the U.S. side from the Nigerians to arm those drones going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, lots of disturbing questions still need to be answered. Jim Sciutto reporting for us, thank you very much. Let's dig deeper right now. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger is Illinois is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

Let's get to these serious questions about the mission of these American soldiers, the intelligence that they had, the equipment they were relying on, how the evacuation, the search were carried out.

You served in Iraq and Afghanistan. How do you explain the apparent blunders that took place?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, look, I think people need to understand first off in combat, you know, we watch movies, and we look at all of this just well-coordinated everything in combat.

Combat is utter chaos. Now, I have never been in ground combat, so I want to be very clear on that. But it is nothing but utter chaos. Decisions are made when your body is in condition red, when you're at your height of your primal instincts.

And officers and leaders are consistently trying to make the right decision in that moment. Throw into the mix that the Green Berets, who are built and basically trained to operate in austere environments, helping to build partner nations to do the fighting that Americans demand that we do, that be done.

So if we're going to blunt ISIS, it's much better we train Nigerians to do that than we have to send more and more American troops.

I'll tell you, one thing that is impressive in Jim's reporting, too, is the fact when they are overwhelmed, when American forces are overwhelmed, they did not run, which they easily could have done.

They tried to outflank the enemy, and that is what is unique about Americans, is when they are outnumbered and attacked, Americans attack back and attack hard. And I think it's a beautiful thing, even with this tragic outcome that came out of this.

BLITZER: Yes, four soldiers were killed.

What is so worrisome, though, this was clearly a dangerous area, but the intelligence didn't let them know how dangerous it was. They didn't go in with body armor. Their vehicles did not have armor. That looks like a major intelligence mistake.

KINZINGER: Yes, it does.

And I think that when we get the after-action report fully from the Pentagon and from the administration in terms of what happened, I hope they look at this and say, what were we missing in terms of intelligence? What didn't we know?

To have combat soldiers out -- and it's OK in certain environments to be in a T-shirt and a baseball cap, because they want to kind of blend in. You don't want to have a powerful presence of M-1 tanks or whatever. That is not what the Green Berets do.

But, obviously, they did not see this threat in the near horizon. So, I think in every tragedy, we have to try to figure out what went wrong to make sure -- because, look, Wolf, people don't like to necessarily admit this, but we're in the middle of what I'm calling a low-grade basically World War III.

We have troops in a lot of places engaging an enemy that we gave permission, we being Congress, to the administration to do back in 2001 after 9/11. And this is going to go on for the rest of my lifetime, I hate to say it.

And we have got to have the best people and train partner nations to do what the American people are hoping we don't have to do. BLITZER: Well, if this is a new version, a new low-grade version of

World War III, as you point out, Congress -- as you point out, shouldn't Congress be pushing much harder now for a new -- for legislation, new authorization for the use of military force?

Sounds like a whole new battle is about to take place.

KINZINGER: Well, it's not a whole new battle.

I think this is the battle that has been continuing since 9/11. I have my own authorization of the use of military force. I would love to debate this and get it done.

What I get concerned about, though, Wolf, is I have seen people present AUMFs, as they're called, authorizations, that have timetable limits, troop limits, and basically attempt to make Congress the commander in chief.

Our job is to declare, according to the Constitution, that a state of war exists and then to give our military the resources to execute that state of war, but not to make specific command decisions.

I see senators and congressmen saying, we need to know exactly how many troops are in every country and what missions they're doing and everything else. That's not the role of Congress.

We can't have 500 commanders in chief. We can only have one, whether you like this commander in chief or not. I said the same thing when prosecute was commander in chief, and I'm a Republican. We have to have one person making that decision.

So I'm all for a new AUMF. But when people in these AUMF debates try to become commander in chief in Congress, that's when I think we're going to do danger not just to the whole fight against terrorism but to, frankly, our troops that need every aspect of everything they can to win this war.

[18:30:18] BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger, thanks so much for joining us.

KINZINGER: Any time, Wolf. See you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, there's breaking news. Changing the subject? President Trump wants the State Department to promptly release any remaining Hillary Clinton e-mails, and he's pushing hard to lift the gag order on an FBI informant for a GOP-led investigation tied to Hillary Clinton.

Plus, as declassified files shed new light on the assassination of President Kennedy, are other documents being held to protect foreign sources from decades ago?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:30] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, President Trump pushing hard for the release of the State Department's remaining Hillary Clinton e-mails. Let's dig deeper with our specialists and analysts, and Gloria Borger,

the president beat Hillary Clinton. He is the president of the United States.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But he's now, all these months later, he's accusing her of collusion. He directed the Justice Department to drop that gag order that deals with what happened when she was secretary of state on the uranium deal. You're reporting he now wants the State Department to release all of the e-mails that have still not been released. What is the goal of all of this?

BORGER: Well, look, if you -- if you talk to people close to the president, they will tell you that -- that his stated goal is transparency. The question, of course, becomes can this -- is it about Hillary Clinton? Because the issues that he seems to be focusing in on seem to be related to Hillary Clinton. He wants to find out whether she had any involvement in this Uranium One deal, which she has said she hasn't. So maybe this informant would be able to shine a light on it. He's been asked to testify by Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And insofar as the State Department and their backlog of FOIA requests, they have a 13,000 FOIA requests right now that are on backlog. So it's a larger problem.

The president initially raised this issue I'm told, regarding Hillary Clinton and he was told well, it's even worse than that. It's clear that the president is quite interested in changing the subject, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, he apparently is trying to do that.

The president tweeted this, Ryan Lizza, this morning. "It is now commonly agreed, after many months of costly looking, that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump, was collusion with H.C." Hillary Clinton.

Break that down for us, because there are some legal experts suggesting that that was not necessarily appropriate for the president to do.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, not appropriate, because the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is exactly into this issue of whether there was either collusion between Trump or associates of Trump and Russian state actors; and also whether he obstructed justice by taking certain actions since he's been president, including firing the FBI director, James Comey.

And the tweet is just -- it's just not true, Wolf. And I think it's -- you know, it's important to remember here what the intelligence community has told us about this issue of the relationship between Russia and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Even let's just assume this issue of the uranium deal was some kind of pay-to-play deal with the Clintons and Putin. That has been -- there's no evidence of that. But let's just assume that's true for a second.

Everything that happened since then, since 2010, has been Putin growing very sour on Hillary Clinton, despising her personally for her role, or what he believed her role was in the protests -- protests against his regime in late 2011. And then, as the intelligence community unanimously put out in January, the Russian campaign in 2016 was specifically to discredit Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump. Those are the facts as we know it.

Well, we don't know if there is any collusion, relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia. But I think it's important to -- every time Trump puts out one of these sort of gas-lighting tweets, I think it's important, you know, as we say here at CNN, to call the apple an apple when it's being called a banana. And that's my take on that.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, do you see a coordinated effort here to try to undermine the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigation?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think so, but I think it's more complicated than what we see.

Look, Robert Mueller is not going to resign. He's not going to be undermined. I've worked for him. He's going to do this as long as it takes. He's not going to take forever. That's not his personality type. But he's going to -- he's going to look under every rock.

I think this story is more treacherous than that, though. What's happening here is the American people don't trust the Congress. They often don't trust the executive branch, the presidency, whether it's Obama or Trump. They do trust the rule of law. And they do trust the FBI.

I think the set-up here is anticipating that if there is ever a charge, if Robert Mueller ever walks up to a microphone and says the White House is somehow involved, these folks are going to say, "He's wrong. This is a Democratic plant, and we're opposing him."

BORGER: Can I just say, this -- this super PAC e-mail shows that there is no coordination, and I'll tell you why. Well, first of all, it would be illegal. But secondly, that the super PAC is saying should Mueller resign? And the people inside the White House are saying, "No, no, we want to be nice to Mueller."

[18:40:06] BLITZER: We're showing that super PAC e-mail. This is a pro-Trump super PAC.

BORGER: Right. And...

BLITZER: "Release the e-mail," with a question, "Should Robert Mueller resign?"

BORGER: And the -- and the -- the people inside the White House are saying, "We are cooperating with Mueller. We want to do everything we can to get him all the documents he needs."

And so I guarantee you they're not going to be happy to see this, because it's not the tone they want to set in dealing with the special counsel right now.

BLITZER: Rebecca, how do you see the timing of all of this?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly his investigation, Mueller's investigation is accelerating. It's intensifying as you would expect, because he's been spending now months on this; and he's beginning to interview some of the key players, for example, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, who left the White House recently and getting closer to the president's personal orbit.

So it makes sense that they would want to spin this in their favor, intensify their attacks against Mueller, or their defense of the president, and also muddy the water with this Hillary Clinton issue.

And to just go back to the president's tweet for one moment, saying that Hillary Clinton clearly colluded with Russia, not his campaign, it reminds me of that moment in the debate, Wolf, where Hillary Clinton accused the president of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin and Russia, and he said, "No, I'm not a puppet. You're the puppet."

It really does have echoes of that for me right now.

BLITZER: Yes. This debate is going to continue, and we'll see what unfolds.

Everybody stand by. Just ahead, we're getting some new information about the JFK assassination. Information contained in thousands of newly declassified documents. Why were thousands more withheld at the very last minute?

Plus, our exclusive interview with President Trump's United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley. She's speaking out about another possible shakeup in the Trump administration and a potential new role for her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:37] BLITZER: There is intriguing new information pertaining to the assassination of President Kennedy and thousands of newly released declassified documents. But just as intriguing is the last-minute decision to withhold thousands of more documents, at least for now.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, there is still a lot of interests, what's in those documents that were not released and why at the last minute the president and others decided to hold them?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Huge interest, Wolf. There is still enough doubt, enough mystery and intrigue surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy that the release of government documents on the assassination was heavily hyped by President Trump and by the media. Tonight, even with the debate rages over some files being withheld, there is fascinating new information we're learning on Kennedy's murder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Tantalizing new details in the newly released Kennedy assassination files. A CIA document reveals Lee Harvey Oswald spoke in broken Russia to a KGB agent in Mexico City, less than two months before the assassination. But it may have been only to get help with a passport or visa.

Another JFK file, an Oswald proficiency with a rifle. It details a conversation between two Cuban intelligence officers in 1967. One says, quote, Oswald must have been a good shot. The other agent named Abreu replied, oh, he was quite good. Asked how he knew this, Abreu replied, I knew him.

ERIC O'NEILL, NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGIST, CARBON BLACK: The angle would have been hey, the Cubans were behind Oswald assassinating the president, but it's much more likely that it was something more simple, someone boasting to another person, oh, I knew him four years ago. This is four years after the assassination.

TODD: In another file, former CIA director Richard Helms is deposed and asked, quote, is there any information involved in the assassination of President Kennedy, which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent? The file cuts off before Helms answers. His response remaining sealed 54 years after the death of the president.

It leaves us wanting more and fuels criticism of the intelligence agencies. Analysts say some agencies are notorious for over- classifying.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Often, you will find in a research file newspaper clippings that have already been published marked secret. Now, how could newspaper clippings that have been published be a state secret? But it's just easier for government agencies to do that. Then they don't have to respond under the law to a lot of requests that they get.

TODD: But veteran intelligence operatives say there are good reasons why some of the JFK files should never be released.

O'NEILL: Some of the things in there may be assets or sources overseas that are feeding our intelligence engine.

TODD: Eric O'Neill is a former FBI counterintelligence officer who helped capture Russian mole Robert Hansen.

O'Neill was played by Ryan Philippe in the spy thriller, "Breach". He says even with a case as old as the Kennedy assassination, valuable informants could be compromised.

O'NEILL: There could be assets who are still alive. There are sources that were put in place back then that are still being used. There could be sources that began recruiting back then that are finally materialized. There can also be the families of assets who are no longer useful but could be put in danger if this information came out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:50:02] TODD: Eric O'Neill acknowledges that not releasing some intelligence documents on the Kennedy assassination, even if that's for good reason to protect valuable sources might provide fodder or conspiracy theories. He says even in about six months time when more documents may be released, some of those files will be heavily redacted and that will again make the Kennedy conspiracy theorists cry foul -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But the withholding, Brian, of these documents, isn't just to protect human intelligence assets and that are families, right? There's more to it than that.

TODD: Certainly is, Wolf. The CIA told us that some of the documents withheld have to do with important intelligence partnerships that they may have and what specific methods they use to collect intelligence. Eric O'Neill says a lot of those collection methods even from way back in Kennedy's era are still valuable and you can't let them into the hands of America's enemies.

BLITZER: Fascinating information. Brian Todd reporting, thank you.

Straight ahead, could the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations become President Trump's next secretary of state? Nikki Haley talks to us about another possible administration shake up. It's a CNN exclusive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:48] BLITZER: Now, a CNN exclusive. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is speaking out about speculation that President Trump may want her to replace Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state.

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is traveling with Ambassador Haley in Africa right now where they sat down for an exclusive interview.

Elise, Haley told you flat-out she doesn't want job.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Well, she told me she's very happy where she is, away from the drama of Washington, but able to serve the country that she loves. Ambassador Haley sat down with me for an extensive interview after a three-nation tour of Africa that gave her a firsthand view to some of the region's most brutal conflicts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: You know, it's so important that everybody not just talk about the Middle East and how we have to be careful of the Middle East. You know, you see the actions that the administration has taken and the least is all because we want to deal with the situation there so we don't have to deal with it in the United States. It is the same thing for Africa. LABOTT (voice-over): Nikki Haley on her toughest diplomatic mission

to date, going head to head with African strong men in South Sudan and Congo.

HALEY: I know what being a politician is like and I know they're capable of and what they're not capable of. And so, when they start to talk about what they don't control, I remind them they do.

LABOTT: And warning the violation and humanitarian misery they're causing in their countries could produce the next terrorist haven to launch attacks against the U.S. after the ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers. In Syria, a new U.N. report found President Assad repeatedly used chemical weapons, sarin and mustard gas, against his people.

HALEY: That is the most unconscionable act a dictator can do.

LABOTT (on camera): When is the U.S. going to step up? They say that it's time for him to go. And make sure he goes.

HALEY: The United States has been very clear. There is no future for Syria with Assad.

LABOTT: When does the future start by getting rid of Assad?

HALEY: Well, first of all, you've got Russia holding their hand. So, it's not as easy as saying we're going to go and we're going to take Assad out. You've got Russia holding their hand, basically allowing this to happen. You've got Iran supporting the situation.

LABOTT (voice-over): Haley says now that the U.S. has destroyed ISIS and Syria, the U.S. has its eye on Assad.

HALEY: We're not done. This is still playing out. This is all still happening.

LABOTT: So you see U.S. actions that could effectively push Assad out.

HALEY: I think you can, it's not that we are going to push Assad out, but we're not going to let chemical weapons happen. We're not going to get Iran take over. We're not going to allow any of those things to happen. Those are all strategically planned on how we can go forward, but the overall message in that is, we are not going to stand by a cruel dictator that uses chemical weapons on his own people.

LABOTT: With Congress debating the future of Iran's nuclear deal, Haley wants the U.N. to act against Iran's ballistic missile program that can deliver a nuke.

HALEY: If we'll sanction North Korea for that, why are you allowing Iran to get a pass? We've seen that. We know what happens. We've played this game before. We're not going to do it again.

LABOTT: President Trump considered Haley to be his secretary of state before sending her to the U.N. Now with rumors Rex Tillerson is considering an early exit, Haley once again says she's happy where she is, away from the drama of Washington.

(on camera): What if the president came to you and said, you know what, Nikki, you said no once. I need you to serve.

HALEY: The president is not going to come to me and say that.

LABOTT: Maybe. What if he does?

HALEY: We have a secretary of state. And --

LABOTT: What if he comes to you? What if Secretary Tillerson says, I've had enough, I've done what I need to do, and the president says, Nikki, I need you.

HALEY: I've made it very clear that I'm happy in New York.

LABOTT: You wouldn't take it?

HALEY: I would not take it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: Well, Wolf, she said she wouldn't take it, but she has a very good gig doing what she's doing, traveling the world on behalf of President Trump. Ambassador Haley gave a vigorous defense of President Trump in the face of criticism from Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, saying that's what, you know, the Republican Party does. We debate. And I was debated when I was governor of South Carolina.

And she also gave a vigorous defense of the president when it came to issues like Charlottesville, the NFL and Puerto Rico. She said, you know, every time he does something, he gets criticized for it. He has flaws like everyone else, but he's a good man and cares about the American people, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Elise Labott, reporting for us. Thank you very much.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.