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President Trump Fires FBI Director Comey; New South Korean President Sworn In. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


[00:00:16] SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: We are following breaking news out of Washington.

President Donald Trump has fired FBI director James Comey at the recommendation of the U.S. Attorney General and his deputy. Comey was leading the FBI's investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Comey was fired the same day that federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, one of the central figures in the Russian probe.

Still top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told our Anderson Cooper that Comey's dismissal was a totally separate issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: This had nothing to do with Russia as much as somebody must be getting $50 every time the word is said. This has nothing to do with Russia. It has everything to do with whether the current FBI director has the President's confidence and can faithfully and capably execute his duties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: All right. We're going to talk this out. Joining me now retired FBI special agent Steve Moore and attorney Randall Schoenberg who has effectively (ph) secured the release of the FBI search warrants used to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton shortly before the election.

First to you Steve -- as a former member of the FBI, what does this mean to the investigation into Russia now that Comey is no longer the head of the FBI?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: Nothing. I mean, if anything it will speed it up because if anybody suspects, right or wrong, that there was -- that there was a material reason to stop the investigation they'll want to complete it before the new director arrives. So in no way will it slow it down, change it or change its direction.

SIDNER: But why do you think this is a big deal or do you think this is a big development? Is it all about the timing of this?

MOORE: It is all about the timing. I mean I believe that whether -- good people can differ on whether Director Comey had done things that were fireable. People on the left, people on the right -- both have said that he should be fired.

The problem here is with the timing. When you or somebody you know or your administration are under investigation by the FBI, that's not optically the great time to fire the FBI director. Absent that investigation -- fine, presidential decision; I might agree or not agree but it's fine. The optics here are terrible.

SIDNER: All right. I'm going to ask you a question -- Randall.

RANDALL SCHOENBERG, ATTORNEY: Sure.

SIDNER: You did secure those documents which turned out not to have a whole lot of information and the investigation was subsequently closed into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. What do you think of Donald Trump's decision today?

SCHOENBERG: I have not been a big fan of Donald Trump. I like this decision. I think it's the right decision. I've said for a long time I think James Comey had to step down as director.

I think the straw that broke the camel's back was last week when he testified before the senate, James Comey, and said he didn't think he did anything wrong. And if you read Rod Rosenstein's report it's all about James Comey not understanding that what he did in October which single-handedly changed the outcome of our election was wrong.

He should not have done it. Everybody knows he shouldn't have done it. The fact that he won't even get himself to admit that it was a mistake means he has to go. And so I agree with the President.

SIDNER: Let me ask you Mr. Schoenberg. Do you think, at this point, you know, a lot of Democrats had been calling for this after what happened in October? But now some of them are saying different things. And again the Trump administration looking at that saying look at these hypocrites, they said they didn't want him now we got rid of him and it was because of the Clinton debacle do you buy that as a reason?

SCHOENBERG: I think it is a good reason to criticize the Democrats, fellow Democrats because I'm a Democrat too. I think you need to consistent. Either James Comey is qualified and is able to do a good job or he isn't. I think he is not. I think he demonstrated that in October. I mean I think that's why this is the right decision.

I think what the Democrats that I've heard speak out today are concerned about is like you said the timing of it right. So why today is this happening? Why was it done sort of suddenly it seems without a lot of preparation? They had a memo prepared by Rod Rosenstein who was just approved by the Senate 14 days ago in his position as deputy attorney general. And then you have the fact that Rosenstein's memo is all about how Comey behaved in the Clinton e-mail investigation, whereas President Trump in his letter firing James Comey said, you know, and thank you for telling me I'm not being investigated for Russia, right and not mentioning anything about the e-mail investigation.

[00:05:02] So there is a little bit of a non sequitur between the underlying memo and the rationale that the President either expressed or didn't express in his cover letter. So I think that's what's concerning Democrats. The uncertainty of what's behind this decision.

SIDNER: Why it -- why now? And I think a lot of people are asking that.

I do want to go to the words of candidate Trump, back when James Comey was being criticized by Democrats. Here is what he said before when it came to his decision to tell Congress about reopening the Clinton investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I respect the fact that Director Comey was able to come back after what he did.

It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had with them trying to protect her from criminal prosecution.

He's become more famous than me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: This is to both of you. Are we now to believe that that is complete -- he has completely done a 180 as president?

MOORE: Well, no more than Dianne Feinstein or any of the other politicians who screamed for the director's ouster and now that he is out, screaming at Donald Trump for firing him.

And I'm going to take the middle road and be the FBI the way it should be and not take a political position. Both sides flip-flopped on this.

But let's talk about the real issue here, is you don't get political and you don't do things that puts you in a bad light unnecessarily. And I think the timing of the firing -- I mean, if there is nothing to the Russia investigation why couldn't you wait until the end of it and then fire him?

I think you should avoid appearances of wrongdoing. And the President in this case even if he is justified in firing the director did not avoid the appearance of wrongdoing which is allowing other people to go at him.

SIDNER: I do want to ask you about the FBI director, because some people argue that because he is in the light he is in where both sides are concerned about him and he has come out and said that he was worried about what he had done during -- in October when it comes to Clinton. Isn't he the right guy for the job?

SCHOENBERG: Someone else said that to me today. And I said it's sort of like saying the guy who fell down on the ski jump, he is going to be the best one on the next jump. I don't think that -- that James Comey showed that he could make good decisions in these very highly- politicized. high-scrutiny situations. Like the Clinton e-mail.

If you remember from last week he said he was faced with this choice. He could either do what he did which was a catastrophe, right, or keep it quiet and it was the keep it quiet that he called a catastrophe. Right so what's this? Did he not foresee that this was going to happen? He didn't. So I don't think he was capable of doing these things.

And I have to -- again, I have not defended or agreed with anything that President Trump has done. But I have to defend him a little bit on this. There is not a lot of precedent for how to remove an FBI director. I think it happened once with President Clinton when the director himself was under investigation.

And so there is not a good play book how to do this I think. And I think he would be criticized if he done it earlier, he would be criticized if he did it later. I think it had to be done because I think both the Department of Justice and I think you can see that in Rod Rosenstein's letter and the White House had lost confidence in Comey's decision-making ability.

So would you keep someone on in that position just because they're handling an investigation of the White House, someone who you think is not good for the job? I don't think so. I think he had to sort of peel off the bandage and fire him and hopefully they'll bring in a good person.

And I agree with Steve that the FBI is going to continue doing what it does. The director is just sort of the figure head of the organization. He is the one that testifies in front of Congress and makes public statements. But the real work, the day to day work on these investigations of course, still going on.

SIDNER: But is there pressure because what the appearance is, is that because Comey didn't toe the line or didn't do what Donald Trump wanted him to do which was to go ahead and stop this investigation into the campaign's links with Russia that he got rid of him. So the rank and file are they affected by that? Do they worry about their positions and what they're looking into and what they find?

MOORE: The street agent is not going to know much more about the inner workings of the Comey-Trump relationship than we do. And so there is going -- there are going to be the same suspicions.

And so likely what you might find is this team working on the Russia investigation is probably going to wonder if Trump's going to pop somebody in there who will stop or derail the investigation.

[00:10:05] My guess is that they're going to try and complete the investigation before the new director arrives so that that isn't a question anymore.

And again, we don't know if his reasons were nefarious but there is going to be enough suspicion on both sides and the people who are suspicious of this are not going to have anymore confidence in the director that Trump names to replace him.

SIDNER: But there will be a lot of concern though that it's going to be rushed because these investigations usually -- they can take years.

MOORE: They can. And I am not saying that they will rush it. But if they can get it done they will. But they are not going to put it out there before all the evidence is in.

SIDNER: Right. Gentlemen -- thank you for both being on the program tonight.

SCHOENBERG: Thank you.

SIDNER: And I know that this will be talked about for many, many, many more, at least days, if not weeks to come. There is a lot of concern about what is happening here and we'll be watching to see who the new acting or the new director will eventually be.

MOORE: Great.

SIDNER: Appreciate it.

SCHOENBERG: Thank you.

SIDNER: We'll be back with the political panel on both sides of the aisle and what Comey's firing means going forward politically and the potential political backlash that it is generating.

Plus South Korea has a new president and he could drastically change how the country deals with its neighbor and the North Korean nuclear threat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SIDNER: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM L.A. I'm Sarah Sidner.

Returning to our breaking news this hour, U.S. President Donald Trump has fired FBI director James Comey. In a letter informing him Trump wrote "While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."

Trump exonerated himself, of course, in that note but the fact remains that the FBI has confirmed an active investigation into the Trump campaign and its alleged ties to Russian officials.

With me now political commentators and radio talk show host Mo Kelly and John Phillips. First to you Mo -- I want to ask you this. The deputy attorney general concluded that Comey mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails and recommended that Comey be fired.

Now Donald Trump seems to be using that recommendation, says he is using that recommendation, to now fire him. Why now? Why not when he came into office?

[00:14:58] MO KELLY, RADIO HOST: Well, the question is not only why now in terms of why he didn't do it in January or February but why this specific week. He didn't have to after the Yates and also Comey testimony. It only suggests that there is a reason other than what is on the paper in the letters of recommendation.

And also, Jeff Sessions, I think he put his thumb on the scale with this because he recused himself and then he is offering a recommendation for James Comey, the person who's leading the investigation into the Trump campaign to be fired. You can't have it both ways.

SIDNER: I want to ask you now -- I'll let you respond to that as well. If you look at it on its face it looks like Donald Trump is doing a 180. And the real reason isn't what he wrote in that letter.

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL ANCHOR: Well, I think the argument would be that he just gave testimony in front of Congress where he amended what he said during the campaign which turned out to be something quite different than what he said back then.

And look I have a lot of sympathy for the guy. He was dealt a very bad hand of cards. But you can take your bad hand of card and you can play it well or you can play it badly. He played the bad hand of cards badly.

And I don't know who his constituency is politically left in Washington, D.C. You had Nancy Pelosi who said that he should go. Harry Reid said he should go. Hillary Clinton just recently blamed him for her loss.

And then you have Republicans on the opposite side of the aisle who have been huge critics of Donald Trump and all things Russia, all things FBI like Lindsey Graham who came out and praised the decision. Who is standing up for Jim Comey? He doesn't have many friends.

SIDNER: Let's listen to some of the reaction from the congressional leaders. We will begin with Chuck Schumer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Are people going to suspect cover-up? Absolutely. If an independent special prosecutor is appointed there still can be some faith that we can get to the bottom of this. If not, everyone will suspect cover-up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: Now, President Trump did respond to that. I want to get that as well. The only thing that we have heard from him, he has not given interviews. He has not said anything else but he has tweeted out this message after what Schumer just said. And he says "Praying Chuck Schumer stated recently I do not have confidence in him," -- talking about James Comey -- "any longer then act so indignant. #draintheswamp." So he is calling out Chuck Schumer because he did say that Comey should go, back in October when the revelations about Clinton were made to the Congress.

But Donald Trump also praised Comey himself. Do you think that candidate Trump is now a completely different man and completely changed his views as President Trump when it comes to Comey?

PHILLIPS: Well, where you stand depends on where you sit. When you're a candidate for office that's a different position than being president of the United States and being responsible of the executive branch in which the Department of Justice and FBI falls in.

But I love that Chuck Schumer press conference today because talk about a marriage of convenience. I mean the Democrats have been ripping this guy's throat out for the last six months. And now all of a sudden he is in love with Jim Comey. Please there is more chemistry between Princess Diana and Prince Charles than between those two yet today it's nothing but love.

SIDNER: But I do have to point this out. It is about the timing -- correct?

KELLY: Absolutely. We can talk about the text of a tweet and the text of what Chuck Schumer said. But the context is it did not have to be done at this juncture. You could have let the investigation play out. And if this is actually a hoax as President Trump has said he would have been exonerated, vindicated -- pick whatever word you want.

And then there is also the inspector general investigation of James Comey going on right now which could have been used as added reason to fire -- and we won't debate about whether the President can fire him. Director Comey served at the pleasure of the President. But the timing now gives justified suspicion going forward.

SIDNER: So do you think that Republicans will be suspicious of this? Does it look bad?

PHILLIPS: Well, the ones that hate him will continue to hate him and the ones that like him will continue like him. So, you know, I wouldn't be surprised if Ben Sasse or John McCain comes out and says something critical here.

SIDNER: Well, let me just go to that then.

I'm going to start with Lindsey Graham because he and John McCain both sent out statements. And Lindsey Graham's statement was in support "Given the recent controversies", Graham said, "surrounding the director I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well. I encourage the President to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our interests."

Now let's go to what John McCain said. John McCain very concerned about this saying "Well the President has the legal authority to remove the director of the FBI. I'm disappointed in the President's decision to remove James Comey from office."

The underlying thing here is that some Republicans and many Democrats think the timing of this suggests that he is trying to have some sort of impact on the investigation into his campaign and its alleged ties to Russia. Is that fair?

[00:19:55] KELLY: Well, what about just selfish motivation? If I'm President Trump I'm not going to step on my own good news about the jobs numbers for this past month. I'm not going to step on my opportunity to draft an American Health Care Act bill which is going to pass the Senate but instead he is turning to these senators on the Republican side against him and he needs every single one.

They're not going to fall in line if they have to worry about the -- the truthfulness of this administration as it relates to the Russia investigation.

PHILLIPS: And you know, that investigation will continue. Those agents that are working on it are civil servants. They have civil servant protection. That's not going to change.

What you have going on right here which is a disruption to the way that Washington normally works is usually they look at everything on a political scale. There is a political scale and there's a competence scale. And it's what members of both parties -- the reason that they were critical of James Comey during the campaign is they believed that he was incompetent at the way that he handled the e-mail investigation, the way that he took that information and displayed it to the public.

And I think that you'll find a commonality in the criticisms of both the Republicans and the Democrats not even necessarily politically. The Democrats hate him politically but from the point of view of competence both parties were critical of his performance.

SIDNER: That is absolutely true. So when President Trump took the oath of office why didn't he say ok, you know what, we don't have confidence in this guy. I'm going to push him aside and I'm going to put someone in who I do have confidence in. Why the change.

PHILLIPS: Well because the testimony didn't happen until recently where he amended what he said about those Anthony Weiner related e- mails. The number that he gave before the election was very different than the number that he amended it to before Congress. So I think maybe that had something to do with him losing confidence in him.

KELLY: I think like this is the NBA playoffs that are going on right now. And both teams may be complaining about the officials but if one team is granted the opportunity to change the official late in the game which may then impact the outcome, then it's fair to question about whether everyone is playing above board.

SIDNER: Is there anything about this that you as a Republican think is suspect?

PHILLIPS: No, I don't. I mean, he is a guy that again I have -- I don't have any personal animus towards but I think that the main issue that he had to deal with as director of the FBI he blew. And if you have someone in there that's taking a look at the metrics and taking a look at the score board and saying look if the chips are down again on some other big issue and you blow it, it's on my watch because I'm in charge of the executive branch.

SIDNER: Why not wait until the investigation is completed?

PHILLIPS: I mean the optics of that are something that probably politically his opponents will use against him. But if you are the President and you lose faith in your director of the FBI you have to do something about it the minute that you lose faith in him.

SIDNER: Mo.

KELLY: I don't know if he can say that he's lost faith in the director of the FBI when he hasn't done anything consequential since he's been director of the FBI since President Trump has been president. If we're going to quibble about the distortion of the e- mails in last week's testimony --

SIDNER: Because some of that everyone already knew.

KELLY: Right. But also knew that this was being drawn up over the past week, week and a half. So to use that as an excuse now that he distorted his testimony doesn't fall -- doesn't feel as true right now.

PHILLIPS: I talked to a friend in Washington, D.C. today who is a Democratic operative. But I said if Hillary Clinton were elected president, do you think James Comey would still be director of the FBI. He said not a chance in the world.

SIDNER: Right. That's true --

KELLY: And she would have fired him immediately.

SIDNER: Right. I mean that was the argument is she would have immediately said you are no longer the director.

I do want to ask you did you know someone who was in the room when James Comey was here in California?

PHILLIPS: Yes.

SIDNER: And got the news? What happened?

PHILLIPS: We were doing the story on the radio. And it happened right there in Los Angeles. We had a caller who actually called in who was in the room.

I guess he is here for a diversity conference. And before he went to the conference he got here a little bit early to say hi to people in the office. And he was having a talk with people literally right above him was CNN on in the background with the banner that said "Comey fired". KELLY: Wow.

PHILLIPS: He leaves the room goes into another room to call Washington, D.C. because initially he thought it's a joke or it's something that's you know, not true because he hadn't heard anything. Calls Washington, finds out that it's true, comes back into the room and then gives them a little pep talk, heads to the airport.

SIDNER: Are you saying that FBI director James Comey did not know he'd been fired until he turned around and saw it on CNN, saw it on television?

PHILLIPS: Yes.

SIDNER: That's a bad way to fire somebody by any measure, is it not?

KELLY: Well, they knew he was out of town. They knew that he was in Los Angeles. They didn't pick up the phone. They didn't talk to him directly. They sent a letter knowing he was going to receive it outside of Washington -- so.

Let's not forget he was fired. They didn't ask for the resignation. So for me I think they were trying to embarrass him. They succeeded. And I think that's indicative of the animus that they had for Director Comey and how they wanted to undermine his credibility beyond just leaving the position.

[00:25:02] PHILLIPS: And give credit to CNN for breaking the news first.

SIDNER: We'll take it. Thank you gentlemen so much -- always a very good conversation between the two of you.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

SIDNER: And now to some international news.

South Korea has elected a new president and he could drastically change the way the country handles the North Korean nuclear crisis. Moon Jae-In was sworn in just a few hours ago. He favors dialogue and economic cooperation with North Korea. That could create some friction with the United States, one of South Korea's allies.

Mr. Moon is replacing Park Geun-Hye who is awaiting trial on a corruption scandal. He is promising to boost the economy and fight corruption -- two very big issues for the voters there.

Our Paula Hancocks joins us now, live from Seoul, South Korea. Paula -- what can you tell us about this pretty enormous change in leadership there in South Korea?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely Sarah. And I think that's -- that was part of Moon Jae-In's charm for many South Korean voters, the fact that he was exact opposite of the former president Park Geun-Hye. And now, we have just seen some remarkable images through the streets of Seoul over the past half hour really. There's been a very large motorcade with Moon Jae-In, the new South Korean president standing out of the sun roof and waving to the crowds, the lunch-time crowds, as he went from the national assembly over to the Blue House which is the presidential compound here.

It's the kind of thing you don't usually see from Korean presidents here; certainly he understands the power of an image. And he has given a speech as well just shortly after he was sworn in as president and really laid out what he thinks is important for the next five years.

Now he said that if necessary he will fly directly to Washington to try and deal with the North Korean issue. He's also said he will fly to Beijing and Tokyo if needed. He has said that under the right conditions he would fly to Pyongyang. So this is something he mentioned during campaigning that he would be willing to go to North Korea if he thought it would help to try and convince that country to denuclearize. He has said it once again in his very first speech as South Korean president -- Sara.

SIDNER: All right. Thank you so much. Our Paula Hancocks there for us in Seoul, South Korea.

U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan more than 15 years. And soon there could be more of them. Coming up -- revising the military strategy there.

And later fights erupt between passengers, Spirit Airlines employees and police over cancelled flights at a Florida airport. What is really behind the trouble with Spirit Airlines?

[00:27:45]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:31:11] SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Sarah Sidner. The headlines for you at this hour.

Our breaking news at the hour. U.S. President Donald Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey who was leading the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The White House said the president had lost confidence in Comey, but as a candidate Trump repeatedly praised Comey for the same reason the president used to fire him, Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe.

South Koreans have sworn in its new president. Moon Jae-in wants to take a moderate approach to the North Korean nuclear crisis and supports the dialogue with Pyongyang. He is replacing Park Geun-hye who took a hard line on North Korea. Park was impeached and is facing corruption charges.

President Trump will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Washington in the coming day. Lavrov will also discuss Syria and Ukraine with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Washington and Moscow were trying to repair what Tillerson calls a low point in their relationship.

A beautiful melody amid unbelievable chaos. The string of the Venezuelan national anthem broke through the silence of protest in Caracas as demonstrators tried to protect the determined violinist. Last week, a different violinist died when a protest turned violent. Venezuela has been plagued by political and economic unrest. Dozens of people have died in anti-government protests since March there.

U.S. President Trump is considering sending thousands more troops to America's longest war. The surge is part of an overall review of strategy in Afghanistan. It's a new national security adviser H.R. McMaster, it's one that he favors, that Trump -- troops would be used to accelerate training missions for Afghan forces as well as to fight the Taliban.

While the war in Afghanistan has largely slipped from public consciousness, there are still around 8400 U.S. troops in that country. Nearly 7,000 of them are deployed with NATO, training and advising Afghan troops. The rest are engaged in counter terror operations there. In addition another 6500 troops from 38 different countries are deployed in the NATO force.

Deciding to boost troop presence will put Mr. Trump at odds with many of his campaign statements about the war.

Our Jeff Zeleny has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump out of sight again today at the White House. It's an unusual absence from the stage, five straight days without public events as he considers one of the biggest foreign policy decisions of his presidency whether to sign off on a pentagon plan for a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: One of the things he has asked his national security team to do is to actually think the strategy -- rethink the strategy.

ZELENY: The president is weighing these options from his military advisers on Afghanistan. Strengthening the U.S. presence on the ground, sending up to five thousand more troops, stepping up strikes against the Taliban and increasing the U.S. financial investment.

Defense Secretary James Mattis today in Copenhagen.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: In Afghanistan, we're up against a determined enemy. As I said ISIS has been thrown back there. Al-Qaeda have been unable to mount attacks out of Afghanistan.

ZELENY: The decision on Afghanistan is pitting President Trump against candidate Trump.

TRUMP: What I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world.

[00:35:00] ZELENY: Before winning the White House Mr. Trump spoke out forcefully against doubling down on America's longest war. Four years ago he argued on Twitter, "We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard and quick. Rebuild the U.S. first."

On the campaign trail he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are going to end the era of nation building and instead focus on destroying -- destroying, destroying ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today there was no contradiction.

SPICER: The one thing that there is a difference between Afghanistan proper and our effort to defeat ISIS. And that's one thing that he was also very clear on in the campaign that -- and as president, that he is going to do everything he can to fight radical Islamic terrorism, to root out and destroy ISIS.

ZELENY: After more than 15 years of fighting, the U.S. now has 840 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in 2010. The question facing the president is whether a small surge of troops will beat back the Taliban or simply deepen U.S. involvement.

SPICER: The idea of just saying, can we throw X number at it is not the way that the president is looking at these options. He is trying to figure out walk back from -- from a goal of -- of eliminating this threat and then tell me how we get there as opposed to tell me how many troops we need and then what you're going to do with them.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Coming up later today, it was a horrific attack that shocked the world. CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward brings you exclusive and very disturbing video of the aftermath of last month's chemical attack inside Syria. See her report coming up at 1:00 in afternoon in London and 8:00 tonight in Hong Kong.

And we will be right back with more news for you right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SIDNER: Spirit Airlines has cancelled hundreds of flights in just the past week. Understandably, many travelers are frustrated and in Fort Lauderdale those frustrations reached the boiling point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get off of me.

(PEOPLE SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: You're hearing the chaos and looking at the arrests there. Three people were arrested Monday in this clash with Spirit employees and police. The airline says its own pilots have caused the cancellations, turning down flight assignments in the middle of a contract dispute but the pilots union denies it is slowing down operations.

Brian Sumers joins me now. He is an airline business reporter with SKIFT.com.

Thank you so much for coming on.

A lot of folks talking about airlines these days partly because of what happened with United that kind of started a lot of the conversation.

[00:40:00] In this instance, can you give us a sense of what the heck is going on between the employees, the frustrated passengers and the pilots, I guess.

BRIAN SUMERS, AIRLINE BUSINESS REPORTER, SKIFT.COM: Yes, there's been a lot going on in airlines in the past six weeks or so. And I've been covering most of it.

In the past week, the problem has been at Spirit Airlines. Spirit's pilots are in a contract dispute with the airline. And basically what's happening is the pilots want to get paid more. And they're slowing the airline down, sort of unofficial like at a lot of places.

The airline sort of needs pilots to work a little bit, extra a little bit, overtime, they don't really call it overtime, but it's essentially overtime and pilots are refusing to do it.

And so the airline has been forced to cancel 300 flights in the last week. And Spirit sort of denied it had a problem for a few days there which was weird and passengers didn't know what was going on.

But yesterday they came out. They filed a lawsuit in federal court in South Florida, and they said, look, our pilots are slowing us down and we can't handle this. And this all came to a head last night in Fort Lauderdale.

SIDNER: Clearly, you talked about all the flights had been cancelled. 300 flights.

But the fact that there wasn't communication with the customers, is that a big problem? Because it seems to happen at other companies as well where the customers are the last to know what is going on which then boils over. SUMERS: Yes, I would argue it's even worse with Spirit Airlines. People know Spirit because they have really cheap fares, some 20 or $30 one way. And there is really only one way you can do that. You don't pay your people very well and you don't have a lot of people.

So if things are going well and it's an on time day and weather is good, there are no delays, everyone is fine. But when you're canceling that many flights and you only have a few employees at the airport, they can't help everybody. They can't actually help anyone. And that's what happened yesterday.

So the Spirit employees had nothing to do. They had no way to help the passengers and people freaked out. There were like five hundred of them that sort of I think use the word riot. It was crazy.

SIDNER: Yes, it clearly was crazy. You're seeing some of the video play out there next to you.

What are your sort of rights? I mean, what are some things that passengers can do? This airline that charges such a low amount of money, lower than anybody else for the most part, can they book you on other flights with those teeny tiny fares? I mean, can they even do that?

SUMERS: So that's sort of interesting right. People hate United, American and Delta a lot. But if United, American and Delta have something like this happen, they can put you on another airline. They have deals with other airlines. They can take care of you. Spirit actually is so cheap that they don't have deals with other airlines. And so there is almost nothing Spirit can do except put you on another Spirit flight and that might be in three days, might be in a week, might be never. Your best case scenario might be you get a refund at some point.

SIDNER: This is one of those things where people say you get what you pay for in this instance. But is there something that passengers should know about travel. That, you know, there is a bill of rights, right, for travelers that was put in place a long time ago when, I think, Jet Blue had a problem and left people on the plane for something like six to eight hours.

SUMERS: Yes, passengers have less recourse than people would think especially in a case like this where it was a labor dispute. It's sort of up to the individual airlines. I do know that Jet Blue treats its passengers a little bit better.

The law does state that, hey, you know, you're not going to be on the tarmac for several hours.

SIDNER: Right.

SUMERS: The airline is going to have to take you back to the gate. They're going to have to give you some food and water. But really in situations like this, you're at the mercy of the airline.

SIDNER: That is exactly what happened. Why people are so frustrated. Thank you so much for joining us and giving us those new information.

And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Sara Sidner. "World Sport" is coming up for you next. You're watching CNN.

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