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A Growing Call; HBCU Students Doesn't Like DeVos Presence; No Media; Turkey Lashing Out Washington. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: The firing and the fall-out. The White House offers a new timeline in the lead-up to the dismissal of the FBI director, amid increasing calls for investigations.

A diplomatic complications. Turkey's president is lashing out at the U.S. over plans to arm Kurdish rebel fighters in Syria.

And bad reception. New graduates jeer and turn their backs on the U.S. education secretary.

Hello and welcome to our viewers from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, and this is CNN Newsroom.

The White House is insisting that firing FBI Director James Comey was a straightforward decision. Officials seemed shocked by the backlash, but the questions and accusations show no signs of stopping.

Comey himself has not joined that chorus, writing in a farewell letter, "I have long believed that a president can fire an FBI director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I'm not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won't either. It is done, and I will be fine."

Well, as for the president, a longtime friend of Donald Trump's says he was white hot with anger leading up to Comey's dismissal. Mr. Trump and his surrogates have a simple explanation for Comey's firing. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they aren't buying it.

Our Athena Jones reports.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the wake of an enormous backlash over his sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, President Trump is defending himself before reporters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you fire Director Comey? Why did you fire Director Comey?

TRUMP: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simply, he was not doing a good job.


JONES: That appearance alongside Henry Kissinger, who served as Secretary of State during the Nixon administration, the only one in front of cameras. The president also met behind closed doors with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador, who U.S. intelligence officials consider to be a top spy and spy recruiter.

But as protesters gathered outside the White House today, critics slammed the move, questioning the administration's rationale for dismissing the director.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pointed to Comey's mishandling on of the Clinton e-mail investigation.


JAMES COMEY, UNITED STATES FBI DIRECTOR: Secretary Clinton's used of a personal e-mail.


JONES: In this letter to the president. Even though, then candidate Trump applauded Comey's moves during the campaign.


TRUMP: I have to give the FBI credit.


JONES: And as recently as last month said he had confidence in the director.


TRUMP: I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens.


JONES: But today at the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said the president's displeasure with Comey's job performance had been growing for some time and suggested his testimony before Congress last week was the last straw.


SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He lost confidence in Director Comey and frankly he'd been considering letting him go since the day he was elected.


JONES: At one point Sanders accused Comey of using his position to commit atrocities at the Justice Department. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE-SANDERS: I think receiving a letter like the one he received, and having that conversation that outlined the basic atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice. Any person of legal mind and authority knows what a big deal that is.


JONES: Now members of both parties on Capitol Hill are raising serious concerns about the timing of the dismissal. And White House officials, many caught off guard by the move, and the blowback, are scrambling to explain it. Insisting it had nothing to do with the fact that Comey was leading the investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials during the presidential campaign.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, DONALD TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: This has nothing to do with Russia, as much as somebody must be getting $50 every time the word is said.


JONES: Vice President Mike Pence on a trip to the capital, also defending his boss.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people have to have confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The president made the right decision at the right time.


JONES: Those explanations not sitting well with some members.


CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Why did it happen last night? Were those investigations getting too close to home?

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: When you fire arguably, probably the most respected person in America, you better have a very good explanation. And so far, I haven't seen one.


[03:04:58] JONES: Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein were set to interview four potential interim replacements for Director Comey today. A formal announcement could come in short order possibly as soon as later today or tomorrow.

Meanwhile, President Trump met today with the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, to talk about morale at the bureau.

Athena Jones, CNN, the White House.

CHURCH: Larry Sabato is the director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia and joins me now to talk more about this. Great to have you on the show as always.

Now, more than a day after the shocking termination of James Comey, many questions are being raised about the reasons given for his dismissal. Trump said Comey wasn't doing a good job.

But just a week ago, of course we know White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated that the president had confidence in Comey. So what do you make of this sudden termination and of course the justifications given?

LARRY SABATO, VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR POLITICS DIRECTOR: The shock has worn off a bit. I think people were absolutely taken aback when he was fired. It was extraordinary in so many ways. Now that we've had a chance to think about this for a while and to check with sources, it's pretty clear that, as usual, this was all about Donald Trump and his interests.

He had nursed a grievance against Comey all during the election year, because apparently Donald Trump thought that Hillary Clinton needed to be indicted and he was furious that James Comey did not did so.

Ironically, Rosemary, most people believe that Director Comey, at least indirectly, elected Donald Trump. So no good turn goes unpunished.

The interesting thing about this is that it's all about the Russia probe. It's so obvious now. Comey was asking for more resources and more money to investigate the connection between the Trump campaign and Russia. He was right on the verge, potentially, of getting it. The investigation was revving up. And Donald Trump decided to try to put an end to it. He may have failed, but he succeeded in terms of getting rid of James Comey.

CHURCH: So, of course the situation now is that they need to find a new FBI director. Who will likely replace James Comey and how careful does the White House have to be in selecting that person? Of course we've heard the name Chris Christie bandied around. People will not be happy about that as a possibility.

SABATO: Chris Christie as a substitute FBI director is outrageous in the extreme. From bridge -- from the scandal in New Jersey, to his being a Trump crony, he would be one of the worst choices. As would former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

So the key here for the Senate, in particular, is in only approving a nominee who does not have ties to Donald Trump, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or any of the key people in the Trump administration.

If they don't do that, Rosemary, I think there will be a very strong reaction in the country, and already, we've had about a half a dozen republican senators indicate that they won't approve a nominee who doesn't have the support of at least a sizeable collection of democrats.

CHURCH: Yes. It certainly will be interesting to see who is chosen eventually. And do you believe an independent special prosecutor should be appointed to head up the federal investigation into Russian interference in the election? The GOP leadership rejects that call saying it's just going to slow down the probe. What do you say to that?

SABATO: I'm in favor of it now. I wouldn't have been in favor of it had Director Comey remained in charge, because he was serious about the investigation, as is the Senate intelligence committee. But now we're in a very different place, because by removing Comey, they have setback the investigation substantially, and who knows whether the FBI will fully cooperate and with energy and enthusiasm with the intelligence committee to get this probe done.

So I favor it, and of course it's not going to happen. We can wish for it, but it's already clear that the republicans who run Capitol Hill are not going to approve of a special prosecutor.

CHURCH: Larry Sabato, always a pleasure to chat with you about all of these many issues. I appreciate it.

SABATO: Thank you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Well, as the Russia investigations heat up, President Trump welcomed Moscow's U.S. Ambassadors Sergei Kislyak to the White House. Reporters were barred from the meeting, but Russia's foreign minister was there. He says they talked mostly about Syria.

So let's bring in CNN's Diana Magnay, live in Moscow. Diana, it has to be said, the optics were unusual, perhaps even historic. The U.S. media shut out of a meeting at the White House between the U.S. President and Russia's foreign minister, as well as his entourage, of course.

[03:10:05] How is that being viewed in Russia in the aftermath of the firing of FBI director James Comey?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, most of the state media follow the same line as the Kremlin on the whole Russia probe. And so -- and that is that there is no foundation in fact to these allegations that Russia was interfering in the election.

And so there's a lot of speculation on the domestic reasons why Comey was fired in the few opposition media outlets that there are, this is being variously described as Trump's Watergate, as a Saturday night massacre, and of course Trump didn't -- President Trump didn't really help himself on that front by inviting in Henry Kissinger, Nixon's Secretary of State to the meeting which was then attended by White House press after his meeting with these very high level Russian officials. So as you say, very strange optics indeed, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes. Quite extraordinary. And even President Vladimir Putin weighed in on the issue of the firing of James Comey. What all did he have to say on that matter?

MAGNAY: He was down about to play a hockey match at the town of Sochi when he was accosted by a reporter. Let's take a listen to what he said.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have nothing to do with that. President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence, in accordance with his law and Constitution. What about us? Why we? You see, I'm going to play hockey with our hockey fans.


MAGNAY: He then went on to score seven goals, Rosemary. And he must have felt really that this whole meeting between Sergey Lavrov and Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump, with the Russian ambassador in D.C., also present who of course has been such a central part in this whole Russia probe, must have felt like a bit of a home goal for President Putin, and certainly if you compare the optics of a beaming Donald Trump shaking Sergei Kislyak's hands with the meeting that he had, for example, with Angela Merkel, obviously she's a different level, but still, it's a very, very different image.

And I suppose on front, I should also add that confirmed that these two leaders, President Trump and President Putin will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg in July, Rosemary.

CHURCH: It is certainly a vision we have not seen before. The U.S. President and Russia aligned against the U.S. media. Quite extraordinary.

All right. Diana Magnay, joining us there live from Moscow, many thanks to you.

U.S. politics isn't always front-page news in countries around the world. But President Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey is getting a lot of attention overseas.

CNN's Isa Soares reports.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a decision that has raised eyebrows beyond the United States. Here in Europe and around the world, it has become a story that's been dominating newscasts.


SOARES: Political shock waves as President Trump tells his FBI director, you're fired. It came too late for the morning European newspapers. But online key words such as explosive, bombshell, cover- up, dominated headlines.

With the Italian and Portuguese newspapers comparing it to Watergate. It smells of Watergate in Washington, "45 years later," reads this headline. While the story is a huge talking point too with some asking why now, and does the president have something to hide and here on the streets in London, many are questioning the U.S. democratic process.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sort of gives Trump a bit of a dictator feel, that he's sort of acting on his own, and in his own interests, and not really thinking about the effect that it will have in the long-term, on the image that the American justice system has.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Trump has the idea that he's got the ability to sack and hire as he pleases, which is a real shame, because it plays against democracy as it is. And American freedom, so to speak clearly and openly, and people decide. It seems to be one-way traffic for Mr. Trump I think.


SOARES: And while some say it with words, others like cartoonist Christian Adam let the pencil do the talking. But President Trump continues to defend his decision, tweeting this to the world. "Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington. Republican and democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me."

[03:15:06] Isa Soares, CNN, London.

CHURCH: And we have a lot more to tell you about the dismissal of FBI director James Comey, including a new tweet from a former U.S. attorney also fired by President Trump.

Plus, ahead of next week's meeting in Washington, Turkey's president has a warning for his U.S. counterpart.

And anti-government protesters in Venezuela now have a foul new weapon they plan to use against riot police. We'll explain when we come back.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT REPORTER: hi, there. I'm Patrick Snell with your CNN World Sport headline.

Eleven-time European champions Real Madrid and Italian giant Juventus will contest the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff on Wednesday. Real going into the semifinal second leg with city rivals Atletico with a 3-nil advantage. But Atletico getting off to a quick start in this one. Saul Niguez going the first goal on 12 minutes.

And four minutes later, Antoine Griezmann would double the lead. but Real hit back just before the half-time break through Isco. And now it would be enough. Real Madrid advance to the final, 4-2 on aggregate.

To the Premier League, where Southampton hosted Arsenal. The Gunners still battling for a top-four finish in a place in next season's Champions League. Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring on the hour mark. Olivier Giroud doubling the lead on 83. Arsenal now on the fifth at Man City by just three points. Canada's Eugenie Bouchard as Madrid Open quest continuing. She edge

past Maria Sharapova on Monday. On Wednesday would be her biggest test yet in the round of 16 as she face former world number one Angelique Kerber.

Bouchard was on cruise control winning the first 6-3. In the second set, though, Kerber couldn't get anything going, and she went down 5- 0. She ultimately retires with a left thigh injury. Bouchard advancing to the quarterfinals where she'll face the Russian player Svetlana Kuznetsova next.

That's a look at your world sport headlines. I'm Patrick Snell.

CHURCH: Welcome back to CNN Newsroom.

U.S.-backed Syrian militias say they have seized a town of Tabqa and Syria's largest dam from ISIS. The Syrian democratic forces a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters have been fighting the militants for weeks. The next move is an assault on Raqqah, ISIS's self-declared capital.

Well, Washington's backing of some of those militias is coming under fire from Turkey. Ankara is angry over Washington's decision to arm the Kurdish fighters.

[03:20:04] Turkey considers the Kurdish people's protection units, or YPG, a terrorist organization. It's expected to come up at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's meeting with President Trump next week.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): The fight against the terrorist organization Daesh should not be carried out with another terrorist organization. This kind of step would endanger the future of Syria and the region. It's obvious where the wrong steps taken in the past brought Syria.


CHURCH: And CNN's Jomana Karadsheh joins us now from Amman, Jordan with more. So Jomana, what might be the fall-out from the U.S. decision to arm these Kurdish fighters, now that Turkey has issued this warning to Washington?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Rosemary, the reaction that we are seeing from Turkey, from Turkish officials, including President Erdogan coming out and speaking, you know, expressing their outrage and speaking out against the U.S. move and hoping for a U.S. reversal of this decision, was to be expected.

This has been Turkey's position for a long time. I think they were hoping under President Trump that the U.S. policy is going to change from the Obama administration policy of supporting the Kurdish groups in Syria like the YPG. But that obviously hasn't happened.

But what we're seeing so far, Rosemary, this is rhetoric. These are public statements. Are we going to see any sort of radical, extreme move by Turkey, for example, stopping the United States from using its air bases in Turkey? That's highly unlikely at this point in time.

You know, in this world of politics and alliances, we have these two NATO allies that really need each other, it's probably expected that they will have some sort of negotiations behind closed doors. Some deals will be struck. So we're going to have to wait and see what comes next, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes. Of course, Turkey's president will meet with President Trump next week. What's he likely to say to Mr. Trump? What will come out of that meeting?

KARADSHEH: I think of course there are several issues that they will be discussing, including the conflict in Syria. And also we've heard President Erdogan saying that he is going to be taking, you know, this whole issue of the support of the United States to the YPG and the Syrian Kurds, to President Trump to try and explain Turkey's position here.

Of course, you know, the United States sees the YPG as the most reliable partner on the ground in Syria, when it comes to the fight against ISIS. But to Turkey, they're considered to be a terrorist organization. Turkey sees them as the Syrian branch, and an extension of the PKK, the Turkish-Kurdish separatist movement, that both the United States and Turkey consider to be a terrorist organization.

So you would expect that President Erdogan is going to bring Turkey's position to President Trump and try and, you know, see if he can shift the U.S.'s position when it comes to the support of the YPG.

Another issue of course that will on the table is something that Turkey has wanted for a long time, and that is the extradition of the cleric Fethullah Gulen that Turkey blames for that failed coup attempt in July of last year, something that did not happen under the Obama administration, and something that they are going to try approach the Trump administration on.

But you're looking at two very unpredictable world leaders here, so it's anyone's guess how that meeting is going to go next week, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes. We will be watching very carefully to see what comes out of that meeting.

Jomana Karadsheh joining us from Amman in Jordan, where it is nearly 10.25 in the morning. Many thanks.

Well, the death toll has risen to 38 following weeks of unrest across Venezuela. Authorities say one of the latest victims died Wednesday during demonstrations in Caracas. Protesters are demanding the president step down over the country's economic crisis, which includes shortages of food, medication and other basics.

At one demonstration in Caracas, people filled containers with excrements to throw at riot police. Not all the deaths across the country happened at protests. Some occurred during vandalism, looting and other forms of violence.

A 5.5 magnitude earthquake has killed at least eight people in northwestern China. State media show damage to buildings in the area and say 11 people were injured. Earthquakes are common in this region, but most tremors cause very little damage.

[03:24:58] U.S. lawmakers call for a special prosecutor in the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. We will talk with our legal analyst about the chances of that happening still ahead.

But first, the president get fired, the troubling pattern emerging with Donald Trump.

And graduates at a historically black college in Florida protest loudly over this year's commencement speaker, who is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.


CHURCH: And a warm welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. Time to update you now on the stories we've been watching this hour.

A long-time friend of Donald Trump says the U.S. President was white hot in the days before his decision to fire FBI director James Comey. According to the friend, Mr. Trump was angry about the constant news reports on the investigation into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia.

Turkey is warning the U.S. to reverse its decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria. Washington views the Kurdish rebels known as the YPG, as allies in the battle against ISIS. But Ankara considers them terrorists. Turkey's president will meet with President Trump next week.

The death toll has risen to 38 after weeks of anti-government protests and other violence in Venezuela. Officials say one of the latest victims died Wednesday during demonstrations in Caracas. Protesters want the president to step down over the country's deepening economic and humanitarian crisis.

[03:30:05] The White House is struggling to explain away FBI Director James Comey's dismissal. But Trump officials are staying on one message, it has nothing to do with the Russia probe.

Republicans have long argued against calls for an independent investigation, but now those calls are getting louder.


MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) UNITED STATES SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Today, we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation. Which could only serve to impede the current work being done. Partisan calls should not delay the considerable work of Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner. Too much is at stake. CORY BOOKER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Public trust has been eroded. This president cannot oversee an investigation into his associates. We need to have a special prosecutor now, someone that's independent on this, not a partisan issue. What is ultimately an issue of patriotism. This nation need to get to the bottom of the attacks by the Russians into our elections.


CHURCH: Well, critics say President Trump is developing a pattern of firing dissenters. One person who knows firsthand is former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara fired by Mr. Trump in March.

And he tweeted Wednesday, "As I matter of math, there is infinitely more evidence Comey was fired for the Russia investigation than there was evidence Trump was wiretapped. Zero."

Mr. Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates in January and now FBI director James Comey.

CNN's Randi Kaye has more.

RANDI KAYE, CNN'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: It's a phrase Donald Trump came to be known for on reality TV.


TRUMP: You're fired.

You're fired.

You're fired.


KAYE: But this is not a television show. This is Washington, D.C., where those investigating President Donald Trump have a curiously short tenure.


SCHUMER: This is part of a deeply troubling pattern from the Trump administration.


KAYE: January 30th this year, acting Attorney Sally Yates was first to go down, after instructing the Department of Justice not to defend President Trump's first travel ban.


SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As someone who has chosen to lead a department, she was rightfully removed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KAYE: The White House declared in a statement that Yates was weak on illegal immigration. Yates had questioned whether the president's travel ban was lawful.

Keep in mind, Sally Yates also played a key role in the investigation of Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Just four days before she was fired, she warned the White House that Flynn may be compromised because he had lied about discussing U.S. sanctions with a Russian ambassador.

About five and a half weeks after her firing, the president was at it again, firing U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara.

On March 11th, Bharara tweeted, "I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired." All 46 U.S. attorneys across the country were asked to resign. But Bharara refused, so the president let him go. Bharara was stunned, given his meeting last November at Trump Tower.


PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YOR: The president-elect asked to meet with me, to discuss whether or not I'd be prepared to stay on. We had a good meeting.


KAYE: Bharara headed the southern district of New York and would have played a key role in investigations like the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. As well as Trump's claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

And just this week, FBI Director James Comey was fired. Comey had clashed with the White House on supposed wiretapping at Trump Tower.


COMEY: With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets.


KAYE: He was also investigating Russia's meddling in the U.S. presidential election, and just last week, was looking for more resources for that investigation.


COMEY: And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.


KAYE: Signs that Comey's tenure as FBI Director was in jeopardy, though, likely started to appear last July after he cleared Hillary Clinton in her e-mail scandal.


TRUMP: Today is the best evidence ever that we've seen that our system is absolutely, totally rigged. It's rigged.


KAYE: Comey announced he was taking another look at Clinton's e- mails. Just 11 days before the election. And this time Trump praised him.


TRUMP: And I have to give the FBI credit.


KAYE: But in the end, Trump parted ways with Director Comey, the White House blamed it on his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, but critics pointed to Comey's investigation of Russia's alleged ties to Trump.

Whoever takes over may have good reason to wonder if they'll meet the same fate as those who dared to investigation President Donald J. Trump.

[03:35:05] Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

CHURCH: Page Pate is a constitutional attorney and a CNN legal analyst and he joins me now. Good to talk with you again.

Of course we spoke just hours after the news of James Comey's termination broke. Now that we've all had more time to digest what happened here, do you think this country is facing a constitutional crisis as some have suggested?

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Rosemary, I don't think we're there yet, fortunately. But the problem is, that there's certainly a potential crisis right on the other side of the horizon. And if we don't have principled leadership in the Congress, in the Department of Justice and hopefully in the White House, then we may very well end up in a situation where one branch of government is going off on its own, it is not following the Constitution, and there's no way to provide any check.

No way to ensure that there's a true separation of powers when you have the White House completely controlling both the investigation into any alleged misconduct, and also trying to run the executive branch at the same time. So it's possible, but fortunately we're not there yet.

CHURCH: All right, I do want to go back to that letter that President Trump sent to James Comey, telling him that he would be dismissed, where he referred to Comey telling him, the president, three times apparently, that he was not under investigation. Now, there was a lot of analysis of that throughout Wednesday. What's

your interpretation, legally, of what those three exonerations meant?

PATE: Well, I seriously doubt they happened, to begin with. I can't imagine Jim Comey going out and telling a potential target of a federal investigation, that you're not a target, you're in the clear, we're not looking at you.

I find it really hard to believe, based on Jim Comey's reputation, his principled leadership there at the Department of Justice that he would ever say anything like that. So it's likely a misinterpretation by the president.

Now it is possible that either Jim Comey or someone who has some involvement in the investigation, either with the FBI or the Department of Justice did indicate that at this point the president is not a target of that investigation. That's not uncommon.

The Department of Justice will occasionally, at least verify to an individual or their lawyer that they are not a target of an active investigation, but that can always change. And I think that's what may have happened here, that prompted the firing.

I think it is entirely possible that the president was unable to get that same assurance, either from Director Comey or anyone else at the FBI, that he was no longer under the microscope. So perhaps he is now a potential target and that concerned him so much he felt he had to get rid of Comey.

CHURCH: Page, I just want you to listen if you would, for a moment, to Senator Al Franken. He's here talking about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' part, his role in the dismissal of James Comey. Let's listen for a moment and I want to get your reaction.


AL FRANKEN, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: I find it deeply troubling that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who misled the judiciary committee about his own communications with the Russian ambassador, and who pledged to recuse himself from this investigation, as a result, betrayed that pledge by involving himself in the decision to fire the director of the FBI who was leading the investigation into Russia's interference into our elections, including whether members of President Trump's campaign were involved in that interference.


CHURCH: Page, I want to ask you, as a lawyer, how do you feel? How does it sit with you, the participation here, the part that Attorney General Jeff Sessions played in this termination?

PATE: Well, Senator Franken makes a great point. It is absolutely true that the attorney general said, not just that he's going to recuse himself, but that he will have nothing to do with any investigation relating to Russia and the Trump campaign or the Trump transition team. And in fact, he did. And he basically recommended that the person

leading that investigation be terminated. But here's what I don't get, why did he even have to make that recommendation. The president said he was relying on the memorandum written by the deputy attorney general.

Why did Sessions insert himself into this process, unless for some reason he wants to let Trump know that he's going to have his back if this investigation continues. I see no reason for it.

I think it does violate his pledge and it does puts him directly back into the investigation, because it's going to be him and the deputy attorney general who pick Comey's replacement, or at least ultimately control the decision that's made after the investigation is concluded. It's very troublesome.

CHURCH: And you raise that issue of the replacement of James Comey, you and I spoke about this 24 hours ago as well. Now of course we're hearing some names being bandied around.

[03:40:02] What do you think about how careful the Trump administration has to be about selecting this next person?

PATE: They need to be extraordinarily careful, but Rosemary, I really don't think that's going to solve the problem. I think the only way to solve the problem, and I've said this back in March, is to find a special prosecutor, who can truly be independent, both of the Department of Justice and the White House, to gather all the evidence, to interview the witnesses, and then make a non-partisan decision about whether or not criminal prosecution is appropriate here.

So you can find a good FBI director, but I still don't think that's going to solve the problem.

CHURCH: Page Pate, we always appreciate your analysis. Thank you so much.

PATE: Thank you.

CHURCH: And we'll take a very short break here, but still to come, the new U.S. education secretary delivers the commencement address at an historically black college in Florida, but the graduates made clear, she was not welcome.


CHURCH: Betsy DeVos chose an historically black college to deliver her first commencement address since becoming U.S. Education Secretary. She was a controversial pick for the Trump administration, having no experience in public education, and supporting the use of public funds for private schools.

DeVos raised eyebrows when she suggested historically black colleges in the U.S. were real pioneers of school choice. Those colleges were actually founded as a result of American segregation. She has since walked back her comments on that. [03:44:58] But many of the students she spoke to Wednesday were not

happy about her (AUDIO GAP) at their graduation. (AUDIO GAP) know with boos and heckling.

CNN's Nick Valencia has our report.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As her name was announced, the boos began. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos faced a chorus of resistance during her commencement speech Wednesday at Bethune-Cookman University. Students at the historically black college were just as upset by her presence as they were by the university's last-minute decision to invite her to speak.

Sophomore Bobby Luke was the only student to be kicked down during the ceremony for his protest. He spoke exclusively to CNN as he was being escorted out. He thinks the university made a mistake.


VALENCIA: What are you standing up for?

BOBBY LUKE, SOPHOMORE STUDENT, BETHUNE-COOKMAN UNIVERSITY: I don't like what she said and nothing at the end of the day is going to change my opinion.

VALENCIA: Outside, we meet alum Dominick Whitehead, he organized a petition to cancel her speech, one of several other petitions collected 50,000 signatures.

For a college that expects a fair amount of free speech or (AUDIO GAP) of free speech, is this not the forum for someone like this?

DOMINICK WHITEHEAD, ALUMNI, BETHUNE-COOKMAN UNIVERSITY: This isn't the time and the place for her to do that right now. There's always a forum for free speech, but I will say, you know, there's a time and a place for everything.


VALENCIA: Back inside the venue, DeVos tried to find common ground. Dozens of the graduates stood with their backs turned towards her.


BETSY DEVOS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: While we will undoubtedly disagree at times, I hope we can do so respectfully. Let's choose to hear one another out.


I want to reaffirm this administration's commitment to and support for HBCUS and the students they serve.


VALENCIA: Perhaps foreseeing what could erupt, the university president took the podium.


EDISON JACKSON, BETHUNE-COOKMAN UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go.


VALENCIA: Before the speech, the university president was defiant toward those who said the university was doing the wrong thing by inviting her to the school's graduation. Some said the decision was only about money.


JACKSON: We always about the business of making new friends. And if you don't have friends, it's very difficult to raise money. So why wouldn't we want to make friends? Is it illogical to talk about making new friends?


VALENCIA: New friends, but maybe not for everyone.

Nick Valencia, CNN, Daytona Beach, Florida.

CHURCH: After the break, we asked some loyal Trump supporters to weigh in on the president's decision to fire James Comey. Some of their reactions might surprise you.


DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, if you're a baseball fan, you've probably experienced this before, rain delays preventing your favorite team from playing. That's what took place this week in Denver, Colorado. Rain delays the start of their baseball game.

We have that weather system shifting eastwards. So east of the Colorado Rockies. And we have a dip in the jet stream associated with this, allowing for slightly cooler air to impact the region as well. We have a collision of air masses. What do we get? Chances of thunderstorms and potential for severe weather.

This time across the plain states stretching towards the Ohio River Valley. You can see an area of low pressure across these areas and our future forecast radar anticipating a few thunderstorms from Dallas into Little Rock as well as Oklahoma City, stretching eastward towards Nashville and perhaps into Cincinnati.

Here's a look at temperatures for your Thursday. Seventeen in Denver. We dry things out. Upper teens from San Francisco to Los Angeles. So relatively cool for you. Fifteen there in Chicago. Thirty-two for Atlanta. So, starting to see the mercury in the thermometer rise. Eighteen if you're traveling to New York City. The next few days or so

shows a cool down across the New England coastline. But warmth starts to build across the central sections of the United States. Guess what? That heads east later this week.

CHURCH: And a very warm welcome back to you all. President Donald Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has forced republican lawmakers to decide whether or not to side with the White House. One leading senator told CNN, he's concerned with how the Trump administration handled the situation. Take a listen.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sir, does it worry you that this firing came right at the same time as the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign connections to Russia?

MCCAIN: I think they've been investigating the Trump campaign's connections with Russia for a long time. I just think that it was obviously not done in an efficient fashion. But when you fire probably arguably the most respected person in America, you'd better have a very good explanation, and so far, I haven't seen that.

RAJU: You mean, you don't buy the Clinton e-mail explanation, that he mishandled the Clinton e-mails, and that's why he was fired?

MCCAIN: I don't believe that that is sufficient rationale for removing the director of the FBI. And I regret that it's happened. We have a lot of issues and challenges and this just diverts a lot of that attention.


CHURCH: Senator John McCain there. Of course what happened to James Comey is being hotly debated across Washington. But not so much in places that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

Gary Tuchman checked out the reaction in one town in Iowa.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tiny Delaware County in eastern Iowa is Trump country. The president winning big here in November. This victory aided by the support of the owner and many of the customers in this deli, in the county seat of Manchester, Iowa. People we talked to, not troubled at all by controversial things the president has done since taking office.


TUCHMAN: So we were surprised to hear quite a few of them say the firing of James Comey is different.

Because there's an investigation going on with alleged ties between his campaign and Russian officials, does it bother you the timing of the firing of the FBI director?

MACEY KINZTLE, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I would say, in my opinion, yes. I think that with his reputation that he has for all the Americans, but not everyone agrees with his decisions, that he should have let the investigation go through before' made a decision like that.

TUCHMAN: The deli owner Shelly Shredder (Ph) didn't sound concerned.

What do you think of his decision to fire the FBI director yesterday?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a good one.

TUCHMAN: Why do you think it's a good one?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he should have done it a long time ago.

TUCHMAN: But after a follow-up question.

The attorney general recommended the firing to President Trump of Attorney General Sessions.


TUCHMAN: Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from the Russian investigation.


TUCHMAN: But yet, he recommended the firing of the man who is leading the Russia investigation. Does that trouble you?


TUCHMAN: You voted for Donald Trump for president?


TUCHMAN: So how do you feel about the decision yesterday to fire the FBI director, the timing of it, and the decision?

BOCKENSTEDT: It was all of a sudden just like that, he should have told the people kind of his feelings or should have probably done it sooner. He knew what was going on with the FBI.

[03:55:05] TUCHMAN: So you don't think he was open up about why he did this?

BOCKENSTEDT: No. But that's the way Trump is. He's quick on action. I don't think he should be that way. But sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not good.


TUCHMAN: There's no question many Trump supporters in Delaware County are completely fine with how the Comey matter has been dealt with, like this former mayor of a nearby town.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM HEAVENS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think he walked into a tough situation there, and I would give him an a for what he's done as a former politician, when you start to clean up a mess like that you're not going to be the player for a month with a lot of people.

TUCHMAN: Does it trouble you that (AUDIO GAP) fired the man whose investigation could be imperiling his presidency?

BILL LUX, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Not at all. He needed to go. It just happened that he's maybe investigating him. He needed to go, you know that and I know that.


TUCHMAN: But even among those comfortable with the president firing Comey, we did hear this from some.

Do you think maybe now it would be a good idea now to have an independent investigation of this possible Russian ties for this campaign?

ANGIE DITTRICK, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think that would be the best decision to have to make, to do that, to investigate, there's no favoritism, there's mutual people involved, you know, trying to investigate so there's that favoritism to one side.


TUCHMAN: Different opinions from people who all like Donald Trump.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Manchester, Iowa.

CHURCH: Very mixed reactions there. And thanks for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Remember to connect with me anytime on Twitter. Love to hear from you. The news continues with our Max Foster.

You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a great day.