What are the secret John F. Kennedy assassination files?

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said he will allow the public release of thousands of long-secret documents about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 54 years ago.

A White House official said later that the release of the files could be held up if national security or law enforcement agencies believe that is necessary. Unless the president formally objects to the release of the documents, they will become available to the public this Thursday.

What are the JFK assassination files?

More than 5 million pages of records related to Kennedy's murder on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, including photos, films, sound recordings and artifacts are held by the National Archives.

About 88 percent of these records have been fully available to the public since the late 1990s, and another 11 percent have been released with sensitive portions removed, the National Archives says on its website.

Still secret are the remaining 1 percent of files.

But under a 1992 law on the JFK files, all records previously withheld either in part or in full are to be released on Oct. 26, 2017, unless the president authorizes that they be withheld longer.

What did the government know and when did it know it

Professor Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, is among the scholars looking forward to the release of the remaining documents.

He told ABC News that while he doesn't expect the remaining files to answer every question, he hopes they will reveal "critical details" such as what government agencies did or did not know.

“Ever since the assassination, so many questions have risen that people want to see what the government knew and when they knew it,” Sabato said. “Unfortunately most of the government including the FBI and the CIA have been unwilling to provide the critical pieces of information.”

“What I am looking to find are critical details of parts of this story that we don’t understand,” Sabato said, noting as an example the question of whether various law enforcement and intelligence agencies knew and communicated with each other about the fact that a man who had previously defected to the Soviet Union, Lee Harvey Oswald, was working at a site on the president’s motorcade route.

“Unlike some, I don’t think we’re going to find a Rosetta stone that suddenly puts all the pieces together and identifies members of a plot, it just doesn’t happen that way,” Sabato told ABC News. “The important part is we the people have to know, it’s been 54 years since the assassination.”

“The most sensitive papers are being held until the last day,” he said. “We hope we can fill in some of the blanks and help people understand what did really happen on November 22nd.”

'The government isn't hiding anything'

The judge who headed a board that reviewed for release the huge number of assassination records said making them public lets Americans see that the government is being fully transparent about the assassination.

"As of today if we can say everything that has been found in government files has been released in full to the public, yeah, I think that goes at least partways to helping people understand that the government isn't hiding anything significant from them," said Chief Judge John Tunheim of the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, who chaired a records review board established by the 1992 law but which no longer operates.

The judge said that although the records board has been "very diligent" about finding and releasing records, "it is entirely possible something has been found since the 1990s that has been sent over to the National Archives which has cast a new light on the assassination."

Another scholar said he doubts that any of the still-classified Kennedy files would compromise national security if they were released.

“It’s hard to think the things that were in existence in the 1960s would today jeopardize national security or be too sensitive for release,” said Patrick Maney, a presidential historian and professor at Boston College.

The National Archives declined to comment and referred all inquiries to the White House.

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Petraeus: US military protects Americans' right 'to criticize us'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Retired four-star U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus said the military is "fiercely protective” of the freedoms of speech and expression “even if that includes criticizing us.”

This is a different view than that of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said it's "highly inappropriate" to debate a U.S. general.

"I think we're all fair game," Petraeus told ABC News This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview Sunday. "We in uniform protect the rights of others to criticize us, frankly."

Petraeus was responding to a remark made at a Friday media briefing, where Sanders said it would be "inappropriate" for a reporter to question a claim by White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly.

Sanders was defending Kelly’s claim that Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida -- who criticized President Trump’s response to a grieving military widow -- had taken credit for securing federal funding for an FBI building in Miami in a 2015 speech.

Video of Wilson's speech obtained by the Sun-Sentinel appeared to refute Kelly's account. When a reporter pointed this out to Sanders, the press secretary said, "If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you. But I think if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that's something highly inappropriate."

Sanders later sought to clarify her comment, telling ABC News in a statement, "Of course everyone can be questioned, but after witnessing Gen. Kelly's heartfelt and somber account [of his son's death in military combat] we should all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how best to honor fallen heroes is not appropriate."

Petraeus urged everyone to unite behind Gold Star families and “embrace them with compassion and support” instead of dragging them into “partisan politics.”

He also highlighted the danger of political division.

"Arguably, the most important threat the United States faces is not that of Russia, Iran, North Korea, or even Chinese competition, or ISIS, it's parochialism here at home,” Petraeus said. “[It] is preventing us from resolving issues that could allow us to capitalize on extraordinary opportunities.”

“We need to re-learn the word of compromise,” he said. “We need to take the volume down.”

Petraeus said he knows Kelly well and believes the White House chief of staff will figure out how to do just that.

"I have to think that this weekend he's sitting at home or in the White House trying to figure out how to turn down the volume, how to get this behind us, and how to focus on what really is important to the country over all," Petraeus said.

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Trump is promising to help pay legal costs for White House staffers in Russia probe -- President Donald Trump has promised to help cover the mounting legal costs for White House staff members caught up in the investigations of Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, a White House official told ABC News.

The official's account confirmed a report on Saturday by Axios that Trump has promised to help White House staff members pay legal costs connected with the probe of Russia's alleged election meddling and of any possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

The news of Trump's offer comes a few weeks after it was disclosed that the Republican National Committee spent about $430,000 in August covering legal costs for President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. in connection to the Russia probe.

The RNC spent more than $230,000 in August on the president's legal costs in the matter. The committee also paid nearly $200,000 on legal fees for Trump Jr.

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Trump to appear via video message as five former presidents gather for hurricane relief concert

Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images(COLLEGE STATION, Texas) -- President Donald Trump will appear via video message on Saturday night at a hurricane relief concert in a Texas college town, where five former U.S. presidents will be in attendance, the White House confirmed.

Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and Republicans George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush are coming together for the "One America Appeal" concert at Texas A&M University's Reed Arena in College Station to raise money for relief efforts from the recent hurricane devastation in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The concert features country music band Alabama, Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer Sam Moore, gospel legend Yolanda Adams as well as Texas musicians Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen.

Trump has taped a video message to be played at the fundraising event.

"President Trump was honored to be given an opportunity to participate in relief and recovery efforts. He encourages all Americans to be as generous as they can in helping storm survivors through this difficult time," the White House said in a statement obtained by ABC News on Friday.

In his video message, Trump notably thanks his predecessors for their "tremendous assistance" with supporting hurricane relief efforts.

"As we begin to rebuild, some of America's finest public servants are spearheading the One America Appeal. Through this effort, all five living former presidents are playing a tremendous role in helping our fellow citizens recover," Trump says. "To presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Melania and I want to express our deep gratitude for your tremendous assistance."

Trump's message marks a change of tone for a president who has accused Obama of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower in New York City, routinely derides his other predecessors and continues to call for an investigation into his former Democratic opponent and Clinton's wife, Hillary Clinton.

Trump has recently come under fire for the difference in his responses to the hurricane devastation in U.S. states compared to that in U.S. territories. After a string of hurricanes -- Harvey, Irma and Maria -- battered Caribbean islands and the southern U.S. in recent months, Trump criticized Puerto Rican leaders grappling with the devastation and suggested there could be a limit to how much aid the U.S. territory may get from the federal government.

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Gun control activist moms are running for office nationwide

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Amber Gustafson, a mother of three, launched her campaign for the Iowa State Senate the day after the Las Vegas gun massacre.

She had been planning the event for weeks, so despite the terrible news and the calls she got from friends and fellow gun-safety activists all night, she did not consider postponing. The tragedy, in fact, underscored the reason she had gotten involved in politics.

The time for fighting from the outside had passed, Gustafson believed.

After spending years lobbying lawmakers to pass gun control solutions, she now wants to be the one in office.

Gustafson is one of a growing number of gun control activists, mostly women, seeking elected office next year, especially at the state and local level.

An increasingly powerful grassroots group

The trend is a perhaps a sign of a changing conversation nationwide over gun safety, but is also clearly the result of the work of an increasingly powerful grassroots lobbying group: Moms Demand Action. The organization has encouraged its volunteers to not only petition lawmakers, but run themselves.

Moms Demand Action was founded in 2012 after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 young children and six adults. Over just the past three years, it has grown from 4,500 active volunteers to nearly 70,000, with chapters in every state.

"For nearly five years, Moms Demand Action volunteers have been working in statehouses to demand that more is done to prevent gun violence," the group's founder, Shannon Watts, told ABC News. "I couldn't be more proud of the volunteers who are now determined to run for their statehouses, school boards and city councils to ensure constituents’ voices are louder than gun lobbyists.”

She added, “Women hold just a fraction of elected positions in America, yet we are the majority of voters."

Other gun control activists have noticed a change too.

“I definitely see a huge surge of candidates who want to run on this issue, candidates who want to make it a key part of their primary, who are trying to tell voters that being a gun violence prevention champion is a central issue of their campaign,” said Isabelle James, the political director at Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, an organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband. Giffords was shot in the head in 2011 while meeting with constituents in Arizona.

From unspeakable loss to speaking out

Lucia McBath said people had been telling her to run for office for years.

She became a gun control activist after her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida, by a man who had complained about the loud rap music coming from the car carrying the teen and his friends.

A flight attendant at the time of her son's murder, McBath started speaking out on gun-violence prevention and eventually joined the staff of Moms Demand Action as a national spokeswomen for the organization. This year, she decided it was time to run for office herself, and she is now candidate to represent a district in the Atlanta area in the Georgia House of Representatives.

“It became clearer to me that maybe only way we were going to be able to change what was happening in the country was to get in on the inside,” she told ABC News. “Yes, I have been helping to building this huge external movement around the nation. Yes, that’s fine and dandy, but if we cannot get gun control champions on the inside … then it is going to take much, much longer for us to beat the goliath of the NRA gun lobby.”

McBath said her son, Jordan, would have loved the idea.

“He would be the one pushing me, 'Go get them,'” she said. “I learned how to champion other people through my child. … I have to be able to carry out his legacy.”

A need for people who will 'talk to both sides'

Gustafson, who lives in Ankeny, Iowa, on the outskirts of Des Moines, says the qualities that come with being a mother – tenacity, problem-solving and persuasion skills -- have made her team effective activists and will make her a good legislator.

“We can polite you to death. We are extremely persistent. We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, but we will bring cookies,” she said. She said she honed her skills talking to the most hardened NRA supporters and learned not get her feathers ruffled.

“Mothers are used to getting toddlers and teenagers to do things they don’t want to do,” she said.

Gustafson grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa and owned guns from an early age. The first time a boy picked her up for a date, he had a .22 rifle in the rack in his car. “No one even batted an eye,” she said, laughing.

“We need more people who are willing to talk to both sides, who are willing to look across the aisle ... and that is basically all we do as moms -- both with Moms Demand Action and as mothers. I have three people who constantly disagree with me.”

Like many moms working on the issue, Gustafson said the Sandy Hook shooting was a turning point for her. She had a first-grader at the time, the same age as the children killed, and was horrified thinking about students targeted in their classrooms. Plus, the shooter had reportedly been diagnosed with autism as had her own oldest son. She worried about the tendency to blame mental illness. “If people are going to look at my child because he has autism and ADHD as a potential school shooter and treat him that way … I am not going to sit on the sidelines.”

“I thought to myself, 'If I am someone who owns a gun, then it is my responsibility to be a part of helping fix this ... I am not going to let a bunch of people who know nothing about guns make the decisions,'” she said.

'Building a movement'

In Montana, Nancy de Pastino has a similar story. She also had a first-grader at the time of the Sandy Hook massacre and said the tragedy was the catalyst that drove her to volunteer on the issue of gun control. With Moms Demand Action building in earnest in 2012, de Pastino agreed to start the first Montana state chapter, even though, as she put it, “I had no idea what I was doing.”

De Pastino went out on a limb and found that building a movement could be lonely at times. She remembers calling friends and asking them to join her. She had to make a change quickly from being private citizen, a professional photographer, and a mom to talking to reporters and speaking in public as an activist and a leader.

“I had to come out of my shell, step outside of my comfort zone in major ways,” she said.

On the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, she held a memorial in Missoula that the mayor and 60 other people attended. “I knew then there were people who cared,” she said.

Now after five years of activism has decided to run for a seat in the Montana statehouse.

Like Gustafson, de Pastino said her experience working on gun safety legislation sets her apart from other candidates.

“There are more similarities than I realized” between activism and running for election, she said. “Campaigns are really about being organized and building a movement of people behind you.”

After getting the Montana chapter of Moms Demand Action off the ground, de Pastino managed the group's work in 17 other states and had a number of legislative successes. Her teams defeated local bills in some areas that would have allowed people to carry weapons without a permit or bring guns to schools. She said she is most proud of an expanded background check ordinance passed in Missoula in 2016.

“You have to make change where you can make change. And for us that meant going as small as the Missoula City Council,” she said. "That kind of power we found just in being there, just in showing up, is really what motivates me to go run for the legislature myself. … We are not going to get anything done until we have new people in office.”

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Outspoken conservative Ben Shapiro on whether free speech still has a place on college campuses

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Ben Shapiro is a 33-year-old father of two, a lawyer who wears button-down shirts and has his own media platforms.

He also has been on a speaking tour promoting what he believes are frank conversations about America today in the name of free speech, and now Shapiro is at the center of a nationwide debate about whether polarizing voices are being stifled by protesters on American college campuses.

Shapiro is the editor-in-chief of the conservative website The Daily Wire and the host of The Ben Shapiro Show, a popular political podcast that has millions of downloads each week.

And Shapiro is on the college lecture circuit at a time when there have been increasingly violent protests against conservative speakers on campus. Tensions flared over white nationalist Richard Spencer after he spoke Thursday at University of Florida, where the governor of Florida had dispatched the National Guard ahead of the event in case violence broke out. In February, an event with provocateur and former Breitbart commentator Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley was shut down after protestors threw rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Last month, Shapiro spoke at the University of Berkeley as well and local authorities spent over $500,000 on security. Local businesses closed early and ATMs were boarded up.

“The headlines were nuts,” Shapiro said. “I mean, the headlines like, ‘Berkeley braces for Shapiro visit.’ Really? Was I the one who's going around smashing ATMs?”

“Nightline” was there for his lecture at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in September. Just hours before he was supposed to take the stage, Shapiro said he was already hearing reports of possible violence.

“I'm hearing some rumors that there may be some people who try to bring weapons tonight which would just be ridiculous, and awful,” he said. “I don't want to be killed in my lectures.”

At his University of Utah lecture, Shapiro’s security team sneaked him in. A fellow conservative podcast host claimed he captured undercover video of self-described Antifa members allegedly handing out knives and talking about luring fans of Shapiro to their car where they allegedly had guns.

“I mean, this is insanity,” he said.

Shapiro said he believes it’s political correctness run amok.

“It’s the furthest extension of political correctness,” he said. “That when you say something, it’s not just me disagreeing with you, it is me destroying your identity as a human being in a way that is akin to violence.”

Shapiro’s controversial comments have made him a target for protesters, especially his comments about the LGBTQ community, including that he openly says he believes those who are transgender have a mental illness, wrongfully equating it to gender dysphoria.

“It is a psychological disorder,” he said. “So that's not an insult to people who suffer from psychological disorders…you are not doing a service to people who are suffering from a mental disorder to humor them by suggesting that their mental disorder is reflected in objective reality.”

The American Psychological Association does not define being transgender as a mental illness. A gender dysphoria, is on the list of conditions, a diagnosis only applies if the individuals experiences significant distress. Gender dysphoria is not an inherent part of being transgender, though the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 40 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide, often after being mistreated by others and struggling with depression.

But while he is hated by many on the left, he is also hated by the self-described alt-right movement.

“I've been very, very outspoken against the alt-right,” he said. “I've said alt-right is a garbage movement composed of garbage ideas that it has nothing to do with constitutional conservatism.”

Shapiro is also fiercely critical of President Trump and he publicly quit his last job at Breitbart News when a female colleague was allegedly manhandled by Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowsky and Shapiro thought Breitbart failed to have her back.

“I quit under very public circumstances because Breitbart had been turning itself into a Trump propaganda arm and the alt-right really like President Trump,” he said.

An Orthodox Jew, Shapiro said he has received thousands of anti-Semitic messages on Twitter, as well as death threats over the phone and in the mail. It’s why Shapiro said he finds it hard to believe that protesters call him a white supremacist.

“That is the stupidest thing I have legitimately ever heard,” he said. “I keep hearing this and I keep wondering, ‘Was it the yarmulke that gave it away?’”

Shapiro has been interested in politics for as long as he can remember. He went on to start his own nationally syndicated column at age 17, but because he was a minor, his parents had to sign the contract for him. He graduated from UCLA at age 20, put out two books by age 21 and graduated from Harvard Law School at age 23.

On the day he was speaking at the University of Utah, Professor David Vergobbi, who teaches a class there on freedom of expression, said many college students today do not understand that speech is protected under the First Amendment, unless it directly incites violence.

“This is a public institution. It's a government entity. They have to guarantee the free speech rights of everyone including Shapiro,” Vergobbi said. “No content neutrality. The emotional principle. Offense is not enough to shut down speech.”

When he took the stage at Utah, Shapiro focused on what he called America’s culture of victimization. He inserted his views into some of the most heated debates in our divided country, from police shootings to the NFL kneeling controversy.

Shapiro said he believes racism is real, but he doesn’t believe “institutional racism” is real.

“Yes, of course there are racists,” he said. “There are racist cops who shoot black guys for no reason should go to jail and they should throw away the key. But this idea that's put out there by these kind of broad statements about America being a discriminatory racist country, I don't know how that helps anything, and I don't think it's actually true.”

He also shared his controversial views on the country’s history of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

“The question is what is the remedy now?” Shapiro continued. “Is the remedy now to blame people who are living today who had nothing to do with Jim Crow or slavery? I didn't hold slaves.”

In his Utah speech, Shapiro continuously brought attention to his theme of white victimhood.

“The hierarchy of victimhood goes as follows,” he told the crowd. “If you’re LGBTQ, then we suggest you are at the very top of the hierarchy. After that it’s black folks, and then Hispanics, and then women and then Jews and then Asians, and then all the way at the bottom, white folks.”

When asked about how his audience was mostly white at his Utah speech, Shapiro said it wasn’t his intention for his message to only resonate with white people and he said he wished his lecture crowds were more racially diverse.

The end of his lecture at Utah ended peacefully, but two protesters were arrested.

Even being at the center of controversy in today’s divided political landscape, Shapiro said he is still optimistic about the future.

“I think that there's going to be a strong backlash for people who are tired of it … want to stand up for basic rights that we can all agree on,” he said.

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President Trump to allow release of classified JFK assassination documents

Central Press/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump said he will allow the release of long-classified CIA and FBI documents about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The thousands of documents are set for release by the National Archives on Oct. 26, but it has been unclear if President Trump would block their release on the basis of national security concerns.

The president tweeted Saturday morning that he will allow the release "subject to the release of further information." It's not clear what information he referred to.

Historians and other scholars are eager to sift through the more-than-3,000 secret documents on the investigation into the 1963 assassination that, over the years, has spurred numerous conspiracy theories.

Trump himself dabbled in a conspiracy theory surrounding the Kennedy assassination when, during the 2016 campaign, he cited an unsubstantiated report that Rafael Cruz, the Cuban-American father of rival GOP primary candidate Ted Cruz, had been photographed with Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

The National Enquirer featured a photo of Oswald handing out pro-Fidel Castro pamphlets in New Orleans in 1963 alongside an unidentified man the Enquirer claimed was Rafael Cruz. The story was uncorroborated, and Ted and Rafael Cruz both adamantly denied the allegation.

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Senators ask Mattis for more information on Niger attack -- After meeting separately with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, both Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain said the military should do more to keep members of Congress aware of its counterterrorism operations around the world.

Sen. Graham told reporters that one of the open questions surrounding the ambush in Niger, which killed four Americans, is whether it was the result of an intelligence failure.

“It’s too early to say. That’s exactly the questions we should be asking ourselves. In war you fail, you make mistakes and the whole goal is to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them.”

Graham said Sen. McCain will likely hold a hearing on the operation, and the strategy more broadly, next week. A spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee did not comment.

Graham also said the military will likely change its rules of engagement in Africa, and anywhere else they need to be changed, so that forces can hit targets based on their status – for example, a member of the Taliban or ISIS – versus their conduct.

That will likely prompt a debate in Congress over the broader counterterrorism strategy and the need for an updated Authorization for the Use of Military Force or "AUMF" – a debate which certain members have called for repeatedly over the years but which has largely been stagnant.

Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the current AUMF next week.

“The many questions surrounding the death of American servicemembers in Niger show the urgent need to have a public discussion about the current extent of our military operations around the world,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a longtime proponent of an updated AUMF, said in a statement.

The counterterrorism fight is going to shift to Africa more and more, Graham said.

“You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less. You’re going to see more aggression by the United States towards our enemies, not less. You're going to have decisions being made not at the White House but in the field. And I support that entire construct.”

McCain met separately with Mattis, and after the meeting, with the secretary at his side, McCain said he and Mattis talked about the need for his committee to receive more information about the Niger ambush.

"I felt that we were not getting sufficient amount of information and we are clearing a lot of that up," McCain said.

Mattis added, "We can do better at communication. We can always improve on communication and that's exactly what we'll do.

Ahead of his meeting with McCain, Mattis was asked if the threat of the subpoena prompted him to meet with the senator. "Are you kidding me?" Mattis said to the reporter.

Mattis said the president is "kept fully informed' on the Niger ambush, but declined to say how often he is briefed about the timeline.

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White House officials used private email, violated federal record-keeping rules, top Democrat says 

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- White House officials have violated federal record-keeping laws by not promptly forwarding private emails to public accounts, a top House Democrat said Friday.

In a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said White House lawyers told committee staff that "several White House employees came forward and 'confessed' that they failed to forward official records from their personal email accounts to their governmental email accounts within 20 days, as the Presidential Records Act requires."

"However, the White House officials refused to identify these employees," Cummings wrote. "When asked whether Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner complied with the Presidential Records Act, these White House officials replied, 'You should talk to Mr. Kushner’s counsel about that.'"

It's unclear whether the White House employees ever forwarded their personal emails to their governmental email accounts.

The Maryland Democrat is pressuring the chairman to push the White House to turn over documents on the use of private email in the West Wing, after reports that at least six senior officials, including President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, have used private email while working at the White House.

Cummings has also asked Gowdy to allow a committee vote on a subpoena to the White House for email documents and information.

The White House declined to identify any of the individuals to the committee while the White House counsel's office continues to review private email use internally, Cummings said.

Several White House aides did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment on Cummings's account of the briefing.

In a statement, Gowdy pushed back on Cummings's description of the White House briefing, saying "allegations that we have completed our engagement with the White House on this issue are absurd."

"The Democrats assertion that the White House has not cooperated is false. Our investigation into private email use for official business is government-wide and not about one entity. The Committee has been looking at the use of private email for years. I’m glad my Democrat colleagues now acknowledge the severity of the issue. The White House provided a briefing this week to share specific details on all of our outstanding questions and committed to follow up at the conclusion of an ongoing investigation," he said.

Gowdy also said he spoke with a cabinet-level official to "ensure their full compliance" in the investigation of private email use at the White House and all federal agencies.

"We need the documents -- not the drama," he said.

Gowdy sent letters to the White House and federal agencies Friday afternoon urging cooperation with the panel's investigation into private email use. The White House committed to following up with the panel's initial request for information following the internal review of staff email practices, he indicated in his letter.

While it is not illegal for West Wing employees to use private email, White House officials are required to forward any official business done on private email accounts to their government email accounts within 20 days, under the Presidential Records Act.

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Rep. Wilson alleges White House chief of staff used 'racist term' in criticism

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Representative Frederica Wilson alleged that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly employed "a racist term" in his criticism of her actions after she assailed President Donald Trump over his call to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger.

Kelly, who addressed reporters at the White House press briefing Thursday, rebuked Wilson, D-Fla., for deriding Trump's comments on the condolence call. Without mentioning Wilson by name, Kelly also appeared to attack her for comments he said she made at the opening of a FBI field office in Miami in 2015, which was named for FBI agents killed in the line of duty.

"A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building," Kelly said Thursday. "We were stunned, stunned that she'd done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned."

The congresswoman responded to Kelly in an interview with CNN Friday morning, taking umbrage at the metaphor Kelly employed in his criticism of her.

"I think that's a racist term too, I'm thinking about that when we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel and I don't like to be dragged into something like that," Wilson told CNN.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders repeated Kelly's "empty barrel" comment to reporters at Friday's press briefing and explained, "If you don't understand that reference I'll put it a little more simply. As we say in the south, all hat, no cattle."

Sanders further pointed to Kelly's military rank as a reason not to question his criticism of the congresswoman after reporters pointed out Friday that video of Wilson's speech at the FBI event obtained by The Sun-Sentinel newspaper appeared to refute Kelly's account.

"If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you, but I think if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general I think that's something highly inappropriate," Sanders said.

In her interview with CNN, Wilson called attention to the fact that she wasn't serving when funding for the FBI office was secured.

"I was not even in Congress in 2009. So that's a lie. How dare he? However, I named the building at the behest of Director [James] Comey with the help of Speaker [John] Boehner working across party lines, so he didn't tell the truth and he needs to stop telling lies on me," she responded.

Wilson was in a car with Myeshia Johnson when she received a call from Trump earlier this week about the death of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, in Niger earlier this month. She took issue with what she said Trump told Mrs. Johnson: that her husband "must have known what he signed up for."

Trump later criticized the congresswoman and denied her account of the conversation on Twitter.

Kelly said Trump's comments to Johnson were based on what he was told in 2010 by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when his son Robert Kelly was killed in combat. Kelly said the president asked him for advice about what to say.

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