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Senate Democrats Demand Special Prosecutor, Threaten Boycott; Finding New FBI Director a Daunting Task; Bethune-Cookman Grads Boo, Turn Backs on DeVos. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired May 10, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[14:33:55] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's questioned Director Comey's reason for needing to stay at the FBI. He had countless conversations with members from within the FBI. I think one of the big catalysts we saw was last week, on Wednesday, Director Comey made a pretty startling revelation that he had essentially taken a stick of dynamite and thrown it into the Department of Justice by going around the chain of command when he decided to take steps without talking to the attorney general or the deputy attorney general when holding a press conference and telling them that he would not let them know what he was going to say.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: And that is simply not allowed. And somebody like the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who everybody across the board has unequivocally said this guy is a man of upstanding character and essentially the gold standard at the Department of Justice, when you take an action like that, when you go around the chain of command in the Department of Justice, then you have to make steps and take action to make a recommendation to the president and that's what he did.
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BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
We're continuing our special coverage here. You've got Democrats now threatening a boycott on Capitol Hill that could slow the Senate's day-to-day operations, all in response to the breaking news that President Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey. What exactly do these Senators want? Among some items, they're calling for a special prosecutor to lead this investigation now into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia.
So I've got our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.
Speaking of Democrats, you've got Senator Bob Casey there. Tell us how are the Senators feeling? What did they want? [14:35:40] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT:
Thanks, Brooke. And that's a question we are going to ask Senator Casey.
Senator Casey, Democrats have prevented committees from meeting today for longer than two hours and the Senate in Session. How far are Democrats willing to go to press their demands for a special prosecutor?
SEN. BOB CASEY, (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We've got to focus on this urgent issue, which means that if we have to take steps to get the administration to focus on appointing a special council, for example, I think it's incumbent upon them to do that immediately. I asked for this back on March 2nd, to appoint a special counsel to investigate the alleged links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. But we keep hearing that they're not prepared to do that. The American people want answers. This is one way to press them to do just that.
RAJU: So what are you doing? Are you going to continue to object and stall the Senate, bring the Senate to a halt, effectively?
CASEY: We'll see. But for today at least. We're not even 24 hours after this misguided, inappropriate decision. And even if someone out there says, I agree with everything the deputy attorney general put in his memorandum, you could still say, but it was totally inappropriate to fire the head of the agency that's investigating the ties between this administration and the campaign and, of course, the alleged ties to the Russians. So unless we get to the bottom of this, we're going to continue to have a conflict.
RAJU: Is there a risk of Democrats going too far and pressing your objections, especially preventing important committee business from happening?
CASEY: I think, ultimately, and hope it happens in hours and not days, Republicans are going to help us. There are a number of Republicans who have said, in a bipartisan fashion, this firing is inappropriate, we have to get to the bottom of these questions. And we don't have to pass any bill to get a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, who will be totally independent of the Justice Department, to get the answers to these questions. And I hope that Leader McConnell would have at least on Monday or very shortly orders a meeting of all Senators in one place so we can ask the attorney general questions about how this happened, ask the deputy attorney general and any other relevant official.
RAJU: And, Senator, one last question before we have to go. Do you oppose a new FBI nominee until there's a special prosecutor named?
CASEY: I think it's going to be impossible for us to consider the next FBI director until we have a special counsel who is given the opportunity to investigate these questions.
RAJU: Senator Casey, thanks.
Brooke, back to you.
BALDWIN: Noteworthy how he answered that last question.
Manu, thank you.
Senator Casey, thank you.
I've got Jim Sciutto joining me now. And also joining us, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, Richard Painter; and former U.S. attorney for Middle District in Georgia, Michael Moore.
And, Jim Sciutto, the calls are growing louder. What is the justification for not having a special prosecutor?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The argument for it is to have somebody independent of White House influence. There had already been calls for this because there was an apparent conflict of interest where the FBI investigation, the scope of it, includes the president's associate. Now those calls even sharper because now the president fired the guy in charge of the investigation. That's the argument. The case against it, and you heard it from Senator McConnell today, it's not necessary. You also heard it from Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee, saying, listen, we have an investigation, we are confident in it, this is enough. Of course, this does not satisfy many Democrats. You have heard many calls from Republican lawmakers for an independent commission. You have heard from some Republicans lawmakers talking about an independent commission, on the model of the 9/11 Commission, where you bring the parties together and you have something bigger than just the committees where it can be driven by the majority party, to some degree. Less so in the Senate because there's only one Senator apart in terms of Democrats and Republicans. More so in the House, the Republicans have a bigger advantage. But you do have the Republicans talking about an independent commission.
Where this ends up, it's difficult to see. Because at the end of the day, Republicans -- rather Democrats can stonewall. But their influence is limited. How long can they stonewall? Can they get enough Republicans on board, an open question.
[14:40:03] BALDWIN: So if we're talking, Michael Moore, about potentially an independent commission or a special prosecutor, how would that work? What would that look like?
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER GEORGIA MIDDLE DISTRICT U.S. ATTORNEY: I've been saying we should have that for a long time. If you want to know why they need it, you could just look at the Yates/Clapper meeting the other day. My thought is they need an experienced prosecutor to come in and take over the investigation. You need a prosecutor who can come in and is trained to think about an investigation almost in a 3-D way, like a doctor who is looking at a 3-D scan before they do an operation and decide how can they attack the tumor to get the best outcome. There's no question they need to move forward with that. BALDWIN: What about the current attorney general, Jeff Sessions,
Richard, the fact that we know he's recused himself from this Russia/ Trump associate probe because of his involvement with the campaign. But yet, he's also the person who's recommending the firing of James Comey, came up from the deputy attorney general, on up to him, on up to the president. So what's sort of role is he supposed to be playing here?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ETHICS ATTORNEY: Well, Attorney General Sessions had no business getting involved in this decision to terminate Director Comey. He had already recused himself from the Russian investigation. And this is a firing of the FBI director in the middle of a Russian investigation. It's quite clear to me it is motivated by that. He was recused. He had already misrepresented to the United States Senate his own contacts with the Russians. So he should be out of it. There needs to be a special prosecutor, as there was in the Watergate investigation.
Now, this is very different from Watergate because Watergate was a third-rate burglary. It didn't involve espionage by Russians or any other foreign power. We didn't have to worry about treason. We do here. Americans are cooperating with the Russian. We have someone who's head of our National Security Council for 18 days who had taken payoffs from the Russians, working for the Russians, hadn't disclosed that, lied about it, and the White House still didn't fire him. This is a very serious situation, much more serious than the Watergate, which led to the removal of President Nixon.
So there's need to be an independent prosecutor to look at this. This is not something that political appointees can handle. And, of course Congress can have their own investigation. And this doesn't undermine the ability of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress to conduct investigations. But there needs to be a special prosecutor in the executive branch. And that needs to be done now or the American public is going to have zero confidence.
BALDWIN: Mr. Painter, let me stay with you and ask you a question regarding the press briefing from the White House. And, again, Sarah Huckabee Sanders standing in for Sean Spicer, saying, listen, this would be total hypocrisy if Hillary Clinton had won and Comey had been fired for so publicly revealing this e-mail scandal, Republicans would be furious, and Democrats would be cheering. Do you agree?
PAINTER: Well, maybe I'm biased, because I'm a Republican, but I'll tell you, if Hillary Clinton had been elected president and then the FBI director had been investigating Hillary Clinton's campaign and she had fired the FBI director, I would be calling for impeachment immediately. We should not accept that from any president. We should not accept it from President Trump. That's not something the president can do without abusing his power. He has abused his power here. We need an independent investigation of the Russian spying in the United States and whoever in the United States collaborated with the Russians. And that is the top priority right now. It has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton or Hillary Clinton's e-mails. And we're really getting sick and tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton and her e-mails. It's an excuse for malfeasance and conflict of interests, and now a potential treason in this administration.
[14:44:21] BALDWIN: Richard Painter, thank you so much.
Michael Moore, thank you for your voice here as well.
Gentleman, appreciate it.
Coming up next, after President Trump fired Director James Comey, what now is next for the FBI. We'll talk to a former special agent, next.
BALDWIN: The FBI now facing the reality of a post-James Comey world. But as bickering and confusion over his firing continues, there is a daunting task at hand, finding his replacement. There are a couple of names getting attention as possible contenders, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, also John Pistole, last served as TSA administrator under President Obama and he served as deputy director of the FBI under President George W. Bush. And last on the list, the acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Something to keep in mind, President Trump's next FBI director only needs 51 votes to get through the Senate.
With me now, James Gagliano, retired FBI chief of staff and FBI supervisory special agent.
Good to see you, sir.
I just want to get straight to what you heard from the White House briefing where you have Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying, and I quote, as explaining his firing, "The president lost confidence in Comey. The Department of Justice lost confidence in Comey. And the rank-and-file of the FBI lost confidence in Comey."
[14:50:08] JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI CHIEF OF STAFF & FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Yeah, Brooke, in regards to that, certainly, I can't speak to what was going on inside DOJ or what was going inside the West Wing. But to say that the rank-and-file lost any type of confidence in this FBI director, I've got to call balderdash, because everyone I've spoken to, whether they agreed with his decisions back in June or disagreed, they know this is a man of high moral rectitude and they trusted him and believed him. They knew, if he made a decision, he put his heart and soul into it and used his best analysis. For the way that he was treated on the way out, Brooke, I'm blown away by the indignities I feel he suffered and he was mistreated. Here's a career public servant that didn't deserve to go out like this.
BALDWIN: For people who don't know, he was out in L.A. briefing members of the bureau, his office is back in Washington, and that's were essentially with the president's body guy delivered this letter. So he apparently, found out by it being on cable TV in the room and, at first, he didn't believe it.
GAGLIANO: Brooke, they had to pull him aside and, literally, he got on a secure telephone call back to headquarters to have the letter that was delivered by President Trump's body man over the phone. And he had a scheduled appearance in front of a group of folks regarding recruiting, which he had to cancel. And then he had to go to the airport and wait for a plane to be dispatched by DOJ, because he says no longer in command of the FBI aircraft.
BALDWIN: Wow. The vice president spoke today on Capitol Hill, which was also, by the way, a rarity.
Guys, what are we looking at? OK, OK, that was Comey.
So the vice president talked on the Hill today, which was a rarity, in the way he answered questions form the press. President Trump had said, quote, "It is essential we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission."
As a former member of the intel community, do you take that personally?
GAGLIANO: I do. Putting aside the repugnant nature of the letter, he was so self-serving. You say he said three times when we had conversations you told me I'm not under investigation, while you're giving a guy his walking papers and signing off with, "Good luck in your future endeavors."
BALDWIN: We can't state that as fact. We don't know that for sure. They were asked about that in the briefing and that was sort of a --
GAGLIANO: Everything I heard said that was a true accounting of it. And I think the folks that worked in the FBI could probably take insult from that. Because they're going to continue to do their job. Under the acting director, Andy McCabe, right now, nothing is going to change. If there is anything to a Russia collusion investigation, that will be pursued with the same vigor as it would have been under Director Comey.
BALDWIN: They say they hope to replace him soon. We'll watch and see how that replacement process rolls out.
James Gagliano, thank you, as always, for coming by.
GAGLIANO: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Coming up next here, moments ago, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, she was booed as she was speaking, giving this commencement address at a historically black college. And some in the crowd even turned their backs on her. Look at this. Don't miss this.
[14:57:43] BALDWIN: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, first and very controversial commencement address at a historically black university went off as planned, at first. Several students and alumni were angry she was selected as the keynote speaker. You see up her at the podium and when she started to speak, and as the camera panned, you see several graduates standing up and turning their backs to her. And you hear the boos as well. Listen.
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BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Thank you so very much for this great honor and privilege.
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BALDWIN: Nick Valencia is there.
Nick, there in Daytona Beach, tell me how this happened, why this happened, and you actually talked to a student who was kicked out.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think they're angry about the process, who was selected and how she was selected. And the time line of that, Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, only announced as the commencement speaker at Bethune-Cookman University about a week ago. And the student body had no say in this. They don't usually. But they feel deceived because of Ms. DeVos' comments in the past, calling HBCUs pioneers of choice. We all know why they started, because black people were not allowed to get into the other colleges that were not black. Here, the frustration seemed to be not just how it went about, but the selection by the administration.
One of those students upset was Bobby Luke, who was the only person we saw kicked out by police. We spoke to him exclusively as he was being escorted out.
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BOBBY LUKE, STUDENT: I'm a student. I'm standing with my seniors, man. No one likes her, man, period, at the end of the day.
VALENCIA: What caused you to be kicked out?
LUKE: I don't know.
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VALENCIA: As loud as it was in there, things were a lot more civil than expected. There was a moment where the University president, things got so rowdy that he threatened the graduates he would mail their diplomas to them and end the commencement ceremony. Things seemed to calm down a little bit after that. We did see a handful of protesters outside saying they weren't trying to silence the secretary's freedom of speech or her right to be here, they just didn't think it was the appropriate venue. They said this wasn't a dialogue, but it was more of a monologue -- Brooke?
BALDWIN: All right, Nick, thank you.
All right, top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.