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White House Seeks Comey Replacement as White House in "Meltdown Mode"; Trump Facing Contradictions, Mixed Messages on Comey Firing; Conservatives Conflicted Over Support for Trump; Syria's War on Its Own People; Senate Intel Committee Subpoenas Flynn Documents on Russia Interactions; ACLU Lawsuit: African-Americans Targeted in Mississippi County. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired May 13, 2017 - 13:00   ET


[13:30:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Those comments coming moments on Air Force One before the president gave the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles, who was there for the commencement address. Now, everyone is cleared out. They're enjoying their day as graduates.

Ryan, so what more do we know about the FBI interviews taking place not far away in the nation's capital at the Department of Justice?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, no doubt this was a tumultuous week, by any measure, for the president and the White House. And our sources inside the White House telling us that many staffers are a little bit rattled by this, that there is definitely a bit of fatigue by everything that has taken place, and that the president is really hoping to get things back on track by trying to find an FBI director that will bring some sort of consensus in Washington, someone that Republicans in the Senate can get behind and perhaps even Democratic support.

And we know that there are four candidates that have emerged. They are being interviewed this weekend. Among them, probably the most high-profile name is Texas Senator John Cornyn. He is currently an active member of the Senate. He is being considered. Also being considered is the man that is currently the acting director of the FBI, and that is Andrew McCabe. He's not considered a frontrunner, and maybe be he could have hurt himself with his testimony this week on Capitol Hill. Also, Alice Fisher (ph), who is a former lawyer, worked in the George W. Bush administration. She's a lawyer in private practice right now. And the final candidate is Judge Michael Garcia, who serves on the court of appeals in New York City.

Now, Fredricka, we should point out that Democrats have basically said that whatever nominee Donald Trump puts forward is dead on arrival in their minds because they are so upset with the way that the firing of James Comey went down. But Republicans only need 51 votes to confirm this next FBI director. There are some Republicans that have been concerned as to how the White House has conducted itself throughout this process. But they still remain confident that they will be able to push through this next director. And as you heard the president, this name could come as soon as next week -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: And, Ryan, when you say McCabe may have hurt himself during that testimony, is that because he was complimentary of James Comey?

NOBLES: Yeah, that is certainly possible. He rejected a lot of the talking points coming out of White House, in particular, the talking point that the FBI rank-and-file were upset with Comey and lost their trust. And McCabe said the opposite.

And the other thing McCabe said that was interesting was the FBI investigation would go on as planned, even though James Comey wasn't in place. And there is some thought that one of the reasons James Comey lost his job was because the president was concerned with how ferociously he was approaching that investigation into Russia's attempt to intervene in the U.S. election.

WHITFIELD: Ryan Nobles, thanks so much in Lynchburg.

It's been a whirlwind of questions, contradictions, doubts and anger around the White House this week, starting with the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey and ending with President Trump publicly threatening Comey in a tweet.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): It was Tuesday that the news broke. In his dismissal letter, Trump cited a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from anything having to do with the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why did you fire Director Comey?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.

WHITFIELD: Upon his firing, sources told CNN Comey asked the Justice Department for more resources for the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. A DOJ spokeswoman denied that, as did acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe Thursday.

SEN. JAMILIA HARRIS, (D), CALIFORNIA: I understand that you're saying you don't believe you need any additional resources?

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: For the Russian investigation, ma'am, I think we are adequately resourced.

WHITFIELD: The White House, in a tailspin, pledging Russia was not the reason Comey was fired.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDEDRS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This has nothing do with any investigation into Russia.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: It has nothing to do with Russia. It has everything to do with whether the current FBI director has the president's confidence.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- investigation --

PENCE: That was not what this is about.


PENCE: That's not what this is about. The president took strong and decisive leadership here to put the safety and security of the American people first.

WHITFIELD: President Trump contradicting that in an NBC interview on Thursday, saying Russia was on his mind when he decided to fire Comey.

TRUMP: And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.

WHITFIELD: In that same interview, President Trump criticized Comey as a showboat and a grandstander, and argued that Comey had thrown the FBI into turmoil.

TRUMP: He's a showboat. He's a grandstander.

WHITFIELD: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe presenting a very different view of Comey to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

[13:05:03] MCCABE: Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.

WHITFIELD: All of this comes after a January 27th dinner conversation between Trump and Comey where Trump claims Comey assured him that he was not under investigation.

TRUMP: We had a nice dinner and, at that time, he told me you are you not under investigation. I actually asked him, yes. I said, if it's possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation, and he said, you are not under investigation.

JUDGE JENNINE PIRRO, FOX HOST: People suggest that the question that, apparently, the "New York Times" is selling, that you asked Comey whether or not you had his loyalty, was possibly inappropriate. Could you see how --


TRUMP: I read that article. I don't think it's inappropriate.

PIRRO: Did you ask that question?


PIRRO: What about the idea that in a tweet you said that there might be tape recordings?

TRUMP: That, I can't talk about. I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest. And I hope he will be.


WHITFIELD: The week that was. And it keeps going.

Let's bring in our political analyst, Julian Zelizer, a historian and professor at Princeton University; and Rebecca Berg, national political reporter for Real Clear Politics.

Good to see both of you.


WHITFIELD: So, Julian, first to you.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions among those interviewing candidates for the FBI top job. Sessions has recused himself from Russia investigations. Will he have to ask candidates about their bias, impartiality in the investigation the FBI is leading?

ZELIZER: Absolutely. I don't think the Democrats in the Senate, although they don't have the power to filibuster, will make this easy. There is a lot of anger on Capitol Hill. President Trump essentially used the nuclear option on this investigation and fired the lead. And so the replacement has to be someone, not who has the loyalty of the president, but who has the confidence of the Congress. And so there is a lot of pressure right now to make sure in those interviews that person will uphold that. On the other hand, Sessions has loyalties to the president, who clearly doesn't want this investigation to continue.

WHITFIELD: And then, Rebecca, doesn't the White House or, in this case, the Department of Justice have to be transparent with the candidates to help explain to them, why was James Comey really fired. If you're going to take up the job, wouldn't you ask that question yourself so you know what you're walking into?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I can imagine, Fredricka, all of these candidates who are being interviewed by the White House, this is on their minds. And surely, I mean, if any of us were in that position, we would be asking for assurances from the leaders of the Department of Justice that we would have their support as FBI director to act independent of the White House and to do what we think is in our best judgment. So I imagine that is absolutely on the minds of these potential candidates.

But these candidates are not only going to have to feel comfortable being nominated to succeed Comey. The Congress, as Julian said, especially Republicans in the Senate, are going to need to be confident that whatever candidate the president picks, whatever candidate the DOJ picks to nominate will be an independent actor, is not going to be loyal to the White House. WHITFIELD: And that is where the conflict may be, right Julian,

because Congress may be looking for someone who can be independent, but then we also know and widely reported, whether it be from Donald Trump's book, "The Art of the Deal," et cetera, so many say he's looking for loyalty. So if he's looking for loyalty from an FBI director, how does the needs and wants of the president and Congress on come together in a selection of the next FBI director?

ZELIZER: They will clash. Thus far, most Republicans on Capitol Hill have been quiet about this. They have not been very forceful and they have been loyal both to President Trump and to party over the investigation. But firing Comey has tested this, unlike I think any other part of this presidency. And I'm sure there are many Republicans privately thinking about 2018 and thinking, many of them, about the health of the country and are upset by what he is doing. So if President Trump is not careful with this, he might not only anger the Democrats with his next pick, but he could anger more Republicans, finally, and also FBI agents who want their agency to be functioning well.

WHITFIELD: And, Julian, when you hear words like "meltdown mode," which the White House is said to be, "isolation," that the president is feeling very alone, doesn't know who he can trust, and you have his own communications department sending messages, there may not necessarily be in step with what Donald Trump, is saying all within a matter of minutes, I mean, how does this White House kind of pull it all together, if at all? Is it too late do that?

[13:10:12] ZELIZER: It's not too late. But that is the exact situation when presidents tend do dangerous thing. When there are many competing voices at the highest levels of power, when the president is too isolated and facing this kind of ongoing crisis, any president, but certainly one with a temperament of President Trump, can start saying things the way he did in his tweet, essentially threatening Comey if he spoke, which can lead towards more investigation and possibly even bigger things, such as the idea of impeachment.

WHITFIELD: And then, Rebecca, in that interview with Judge Pirro, he says maybe doing away with the press briefings all together, addressing the press himself. He's considering these things. Do we take him seriously on that or is that just kind of kneejerk right now?

BERG: It's tough to know, Fred, because he is in battle mode. He is at his battle station. We don't know what the president will think in a few days. It will depend probably on the direction that this goes from here, and we don't know what is coming next. Certainly, I would imagine that his communications advisers are advising him against that, because it seems defensive, it would only turn the press even aggressive and cause journalists to be aggressive pursuing information from the White House. It certainly would not get journalists off of his case. So it's really the wrong approach. But it's hard to tell at this point how serious Trump is about that.

WHITFIELD: And, Julian, the idea of being that insular, that there would be no transparency, which is one of the sole purposes of the press in the White House, of being transparent, being an extension of the American people, being able to have questions answered for the voting public.

ZELIZER: Yeah, you can't cut the press off. The press is essential to our democracy. And more important, the president should remember, in this day and age, even by canceling the press conference, you don't cancel the press, and they will find ways to find out what is happening. And there's more than enough avenues to obtain information always we're seeing already. And this will be doubling damaging to the White House rather than protecting them.

WHITFIELD: All right. Julian Zelizer, Rebecca Berg, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

BERG: Thank you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Jake Tapper will talk about all of this with James Clapper and Senator Chuck Schumer tomorrow morning, at 9:00 eastern, on "State of the Union." Be sure to watch.

Straight ahead, Trump voters on what they want out of this president.


KATHY WHITE, TRUMP VOTER: I want him to be a good representation of America. America, I love this country.


WHITFIELD: Plus, exclusive new video from the moments after a chemical weapon was used on civilians in Syria. A look at Syria's war on its own people when the CNN NEWSROOM continues.


[13:17:09] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. President Trump gives his first commencement address as president, speaking at Liberty University, the world's largest Christian college. The president stressed the importance of religious freedom and faith.


TRUMP: America has always been the land of dreams because America is a nation of true believers. When the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, they prayed. When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked our creator four times. Because in America, we don't worship government, we worship God.


WHITFIELD: Some of those on hand for the speech say they are still conflicted over their support for the president.

Joining us right now, live from Lynchburg, CNN correspondent, Polo Sandoval, who spoke with several conservative voters -- Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fred. Good afternoon. Ahead of today's presidential visit, we saw some interesting dynamics at play here in the heart of the Bible Belt. Some are just not quite sure what to make of the president's recent behavior, some of his Trump Twitter traffic. But then there are some of the core support there, some of those individuals who say they are still standing behind the man that they voted for last November. Even giving him some wiggle room.

We saw that at play when we spent time with a local family in their home at a place they like to call Lynchburg's White House. Here's why.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): The White family tackles everything at the dinner table, from the projects to the politics behind the controversial firing of FBI Director James Comey.

LARRY WHITE, TRUMP VOTER: Those of our -- which is probably the majority here, those who are pro Trump, voted for Trump, I think something like this doesn't of will-isn't going to shake them.

SANDOVAL: Larry White and his wife, Kathy, are raising their family in Lynchburg, in the center of Virginia, but leaning right. More than 50 percent of the city voted for Donald Trump.

LARRY WHITE: We all basically have the same world view with that a Christian world view. But when it gets in to politics, there will certainly be some variations.

SANDOVAL: The Whites are highly conservative, but also conflicted when it comes to their views on President Trump.

ANNA WHITE, CLINTON VOTER: I didn't actually vote for him.

SANDOVAL: 23-year-old Anna White is one of a few in her family who did not cast a vote for the President Trump last November. Recent Trump tweets have only reassured Anna of her decision. Her Trump voting family members however still stand by their choice.

ANGIE WHITE, TRUMP VOTER: I don't think there is ever going to be any one time where I'm like, OK, shouldn't have voted for him. He was not the hero I thought he was. Like he wasn't a hero to begin with.

LARRY WHITE: You didn't vote for him because


LARRY WHITE: -- just thinking he was a hero.

KATHY WHITE: But I would add, too, I had trust issues with the former president and the president before that. So the idea of trusting this president or not trusting is not new.

[13:20:04] SANDOVAL: This is the kind of dialogue you will find at the White's dinner table.

ANNE WHITE: We all get intense and passionate. We don't get angry, but passionate.

ANGIE WHITE: And there are a lot of us, so hard to get a chance to talk.


SANDOVAL: This part of Virginia is home to some of Trump's steadfast support, says the city's Republican Party vice chair, Tim Griffin.

TIM GRIFFIN, LYNCHBERG REPUBLICAN PARTY VICE CHAIR: Jerry Falwell was a part of the Reagan resolution and the moral majority. That why it's so important for people to come through Lynchburg, meet voters, meet people and see what it's all about, see what Liberty is all about.

SANDOVAL: Over 100 days into Trump's presidency, Griffin and fellow Republicans seem unfazed by the cloud of controversy swirling over the White House.

KATHY WHITE: I want to support the real that he plays, the job that he is doing. I want him to be a good representation of America. America, I love this country.

SANDOVAL: The Whites' faith in President Trump is being tested. But their faith in the office is unshakeable, a feeling shared by many in this brass buckle of the Bible Belt.


SANDOVAL: And you spend time with the White family and you are able to understand why President Trump decided to choose this location to be able to give that first commencement address. It is truly a comfort zone for him.

But still, some of these families are still tackling some of the controversial issues, discussing all of this, Fred, including the recent firing of Director Comey. It's a mixed feeling there as well.

But there was one question that I posed that did seem to prompt a consensus here, and that is the feeling that President Trump should perhaps stop tweeting, at least for now -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval, in Lynchburg, Virginia, thanks so much.

He's a top Russian official is at the center of the meddling investigation, yet, President Trump shook hands with him right there in the Oval Office. Ahead, how the optics of this meeting and the firing of James Comey are being viewed around the world.


[13:26:09] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. CNN has obtained never-before-seen video from the moments a chemical weapon was used against civilians in Syria. The attack pulled on the heart strings of the world and led the U.S. to launch a retaliatory strike begins the Assad regime.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, has this exclusive report -- Clarissa?


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRSPONDENT: I want to warn our viewers that this is extremely disturbing material, and if you have children at home, you might want to have them leave the room.

When the chemical attack hit, some very brave journalists from the Aleppo Media center went straight to the scene at enormous personal risk. The footage they shot offers an unvarnished, unsanitized, up- close look at the horror of a war crime, which is why we felt it is so important to show you.


WARD (voice-over): The attack happened shortly after dawn. Cameraman Hadaman Ama Hussein (ph) says warplanes are targeting this town.


WARD: From his rooftop, he quickly sees this is no ordinary strike.

"They are using toxic gas," he reports. "Five minutes after the attack, there was a call for anyone with a vehicle to go to the scene to help," he says. I headed straight there."

But nothing could prepare him for what he was about to see.

We must warn you these images are shocking.


WARD: It is a scene of unimaginable horror, the immediate aftermath of a chemical attack.

"The number of victims keeps going up, Hadaman (ph) explains. "And many are women and children."


WARD: All around him, people are foaming at the mouth. Convulsions racking their bodies.


WARD: As rescue workers try in vain to wash away the chemicals.


WARD: "Look at the kids here," someone tells him.


WARD: The limp bodies of small children lie next to those still gasping for life.


WARD: Death for these innocents is agonizing and slow.


WARD: This doctor is among the first responders.

"All of the cases were suffering from suffocation, convulsions, narrowing of the pupils, increased sweating and difficulty breathing. All this is proof that a chemical agent was used," he says.

"I asked the rescue workers to first wash the victims with water and take off their clothes. This was the only first aid we could provide."

This 19-year-old lies thrashing on the ground. One of the survivors, he later describes the moment the gas hit him.

"I fell down and I couldn't feel a thing. I felt myself laying on the ground and my hands were hitting the ground and then I fainted," he says. "It was as if I was hitting myself, I had no control, I couldn't see anything with my eyes."

[13:30:00] The casualties are brought to a nearby clinic, built underground to protect it from air strikes.

A man brings in his lifeless little girl. He is sure he has seen her chest moving.


WARD: But the doctor says it's just air trapped in her chest.


WARD: Nothing left but to pray and say good-bye.


WARD: Suddenly, there is panic as news comes in of more fighter jets heading that way. A local journalist in the middle of delivering a report.




WARD: The camera crew tries to escape the chaos. But once outside, another missile hits.



WARD: The journalist managed to survive.

All casualties must now be taken for treatment half an hour away.


WARD: At that hospital, body bags are already piling up on the sidewalk from the attacks --



WARD: -- as the dead are brought out --



WARD: -- to make room for the living.

The tiniest victims are carried in gingerly, one by one by one.


WARD: Inside, medical staff struggle to cope with a flood of patience and only a limited supply of the life-saving antidote, Atropine. Most are treated hastily on the floor as distraught relatives look on, powerless to help.

The youngest victims are the most vulnerable.

After a quick check that the heart is still beating, the doctor moves on to the next case.

Those who did not survive are taken to be buried before the end of the day, in keeping with Islamic tradition.

In all, 92 people were killed, among them 33 children. Entire families were laid to rest in a single grave.


WARD: This man lost more than 20 members of his family.

"This is the grave of my cousin, Yasser. He is my friend and brother. His son, Amar, just four years old. What did he do to deserve this? His second child, Mohammed, may God have mercy on his soul," he says. "And this is my brother Abayussef's (ph) grave. Abayussef (ph), I am your brother. Abayussef (ph), you left me all alone. May God protect you, my brother, and accept you as a martyr. Abayssef (ph)? Please, God, answer me."

In Syria, now the dead are considered lucky --


WARD: -- freed from the unspeakable crimes of this brutal war and the agony of grief.


WARD (on camera): American, British and French intelligence, as well as chemical weapons experts who we have spoken with, all agree that this attack was almost certainly carried out by President Assad's forces. Samples taken from the scene have shown that the nerve agent was likely sarin gas, which has been outlawed since the end of the First World War. But in an interview shortly after the attack, Mr. Assad denied it had ever taken place, calling it a 100 percent fabrication.

[13:35:00] Clarissa Ward, CNN, London.



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: While all the talk this week is on President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, the man at the center of the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is Michael Flynn. The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena this week requesting the former national security adviser hand over documents on his interactions with Russian officials. The subpoena comes after Flynn refused to voluntarily turnover the documents.

Flynn is one of four former Trump advisers the Senate has sent requests to. And the other three are former campaign foreign policy advisor, Carter Page; former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; and former advisor, Roger Stone. Page, who has appeared on CNN many times, has already said that he will not cooperate and even suggested the committee get the information from former President Barack Obama.

Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney, and Richard Herman, a criminal defense attorney, both with me right now.

These grand jury subpoenas indicate that the investigation continues.

So what, in your view, Richard, does this signal?

[13:40:24] RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It signals that they are closing in on these, especially Flynn. When his lawyer reached out in March and claimed he has a story to tell, to me, that was a little sign of weakness there because, at a minimum, he failed to register as a foreign agent making money from Russia and Turkey. I think it's much more that. And if, in fact, Flynn has a version, story, if he can deliver President Trump on any of these charges of collusion with the Russians, that's what the government will be looking for from Flynn. Whether he can do it, whether he can be credible, whether he's believable, and whether its own acts are not so tarnished as to destroy his testimony, that will be test coming up in the future, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So then, Avery, he has already been denied immunity in exchange for his testimony on Capitol Hill.


WHITFIELD: But the door isn't closed completely on that, is it? If Congress decides that he still has some pretty good information or they could leverage that, is there still an opportunity where he may be able to be granted immunity and, if so, would that protect him from potential federal prosecutions?

FRIEDMAN: Not a chance, Fredricka. Not only do you have FBI looking into this, you obviously have the grand jury and the northern district of Virginia in Alexandria, but you also have Senate intelligence community. He's not getting immunity. And now they are issuing subpoenas to Flynn's business associates. He has a corporation in Virginia, the Flynn Intel Group. So the fact is the evidence is building and building. The chance of Michael Flynn ever getting immunity I think is virtually impossible because you have four federal laws, including registration, potential obstruction, lying to the FBI, purportedly, in the interview with the FBI on January 24th, and what is called the SF-86, which is the formed where he had to disclose money from foreign agents. He never did it. So the only remaining question is, did he do all the stuff on purpose, which affects all of this as well as the Intelligence Committee, and that is the question of contempt of Congress.

WHITFIELD: So, Richard, Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kellner (ph), has gone public saying that they will not produce the documents. So refusing to do so could potentially lead to what?

HERMAN: He could be held in contempt. He is going to produce these, eventually, Fred. And it may wind itself through the courts, but he will produce it. The thing is this, I disagree with Avery. I think there is a likelihood that they will use Flynn as a witness down the road. Not right now, but down the road.

WHITFIELD: So cut a deal?

HERMAN: The question remains, are they even going to need Flynn because President Trump is displaying characteristics of being unhinged. And what he did to Comey, to me, is very close obstruction of justice, and that is the number-one impeachment ground against Nixon


HERMAN: -- be against President Clinton. Listen, Fred, President Trump is out of control right now, and they


HERMAN: -- very well may not need Flynn's testimony.


FRIEDMAN: The president may be out of control, but that is not the issue. The fact is Michael Flynn stands alone. Yes, he has a story to tell, but that's predicated, his argument, give me immunity and I'll tell you the story. There isn't much of a story to tell. The fact is that --


HERMAN: How do you know?

FRIEDMAN: -- Michael Flynn and Donald Trump were in sync. Let's get the documents. Whether or not the president is coming unhinged, that sounds more like political commentary than legal analysis. Let's zero in on Flynn and get those answers first.


HERMAN: That's wrong, Fred. Fred, if Flynn will give the government -- if he can say that President Trump told him go speak to Kislyak, tell him don't worry about the sanctions, we'll handle that in a couple months, and he gave Flynn orders to communicate with the Russians and controlled some of the WikiLeaks, this is what the government wants. That's treason.

FRIEDMAN: It will never happen.

HERMAN: That is important. That's devastating testimony. And if Flynn can provide that, and they weigh it out, the government weighs it out and it can sustain, he will be used, Fred. And he's going to be used.

WHITFIELD: But Congress can't prosecute.

HERMAN: That's right.

WHITFIELD: So if he refuses to comply and says I'm not going to be a party of that -


WHITFIELD: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

HERMAN: -- he will be in conjunction with the FBI. Congress --


WHITFIELD: Might he and camp just be waiting, biding time, saying we'll wait until DOJ steps in but, right not, Congress, we're not participating?

[13:45:14] FRIEDMAN: A violation of complying with this congressional mandate actually is a crime. Up to a year in jail, up to $100,000. That is, I think, the least of Michael Flynn's problems right now because you have all these other agencies and, of course, grand jury looking into it. It's going to get worse before it gets better for him.

HERMAN: What I think it's telling that White House counsel are telling President Trump, stop your efforts to try to get a hold of Flynn, stop your efforts trying to reach out to him. Why is he doing that? Why is he now saying --


FRIEDMAN: You don't know that.

HERMAN: -- such a good guy, he got a raw deal. There's something to hide here, Fred. There's so much smoke. Every day, there's so much smoke here. Whether or not there were crimes committed, we don't know, not yet. But there's a lot of smoke, Fred.


WHITFIELD: All right.


HERMAN: If it quacks like a duck and it flies like a duck -- we'll see what happens here.


WHITFIELD: All right, Richard, Avery, we'll leave it right there. Thank you so much.


WHITFIELD: And somebody answer the door. I heard a bell ringing.


All right, gentlemen, good to see you as always. Take care.

HERMAN: See you late.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.


[11:50:31] WHITFIELD: A federal lawsuit this week claims law enforcement officers of violating the civil rights of African- Americans in one Mississippi county. The plaintiffs in the case say they were targeted for traffic stops and subjected to illegal searches and seizures.

Here is Victor Blackwell.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why you handling me like this? VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This cell phone video is a little blurry but Quinetta Manning says she remembers the day that a Madison County, Mississippi sheriff's deputy choked her husband very clearly.

QUINETTA MANNING, LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: I wasn't prepared for it because I couldn't believe.

BLACKWELL: She says it was last June when six deputies demanded that they write witness statements saying they had watched a man break into a nearby apartment. Manning says they didn't see anything.

MANNING: My husband decided to tell that he didn't have to write a police statement but he say they demanded it. So he beat him and dragged him downstairs. I went along and wrote a statement because I was afraid of what would happen to me or my husband.

BLACKWELL: Manning says her husband was so badly beaten and scared that he eventually wrote one, too.

PALOMA WU, LEGAL DIRECTOR, ACLU, MISSISSIPPI: It's a permanent state of siege.

BLACKWELL: Paloma Wu is the legal the director of ACLU of Mississippi.

WU: These types of stories are everywhere in this community, but they are not special. They are simply particularly memorable.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Manning says the sheriff's department does not treat everyone in Madison County equally. According to the ACLU, Canton, which is 75 percent black, but represents just 14 percent of the county's population, accounted for merely half of the arrests between May and September of last year.

(voice-over): Now, the ACLU is suing Madison County, Sheriff Randy Tucker, and the members of his department for violating the civil rights of the black people that live here, citing among other claims, the regular roadblocks and checkpoints they are subjected to.

Nick Singleton lives in Canton. He says he had been stopped at roadblocks at this small town for than 20 times.

NICK SINGLETON, LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: It is going to be predominantly in the black neighborhood, rather than in a white neighborhood.

WU: Sometimes there are plain-clothed deputies in unmarked cars on the side of the road, and you will know to pull over because someone is flashing a flashlight in your face.

SINGLETON: People are treated as they are guilty before proven innocent.

BLACKSWELL: Although blacks account for 38 percent of the population, county wide, between May and September last year, the ACLU, citing documents from the county, calculates that blacks represented the vast majority of roadblock arrests. During the same time, the ACLU says whites who were stopped were more likely to be charged with DWI or drug crimes.

WU: Whereas, black arrestees are 300 percent more likely to sit in jail only for a petty traffic infraction of not wearing a seatbelt or having a broken taillight.

BLACKWELL: And it is what the community calls the jump-out boys. The ACLU says they are plain-clothed deputies who target blacks for unreasonable searches and seizures, including the home of a 62-year- old great grandmother.

WU: These jump-out boys pulled up to her backyard, two plain-clothed deputies get out, run up the patio towards where people are having a celebratory barbecue. They just came. Everybody - they searched everybody, including their pockets. If they can't find drugs, they crawl around on the ground looking for some. When they can't find those, they get back into their unmarked car and drive away.

BLACKWELL: The grandmother's claim and the claims made by the Mannings and Singleton are highlighted in the lawsuit. The Madison County Sheriff's Office did not return our call. But in a statement to the "Clarion Ledger," Sheriff Tucker said, "Our deputies are professional law enforcement officials who enforce Mississippi laws. If a law is broken, appropriate action is taken, regardless of the race of the one breaking the set laws. As always, we have fairly and diligently executed the duties for which we are require."

MANNING: Everybody in the area, in the black community, are scared in Madison County.

BLACKWELL: People we spoke with say blacks have been targets for decades.

Despite the fear of retaliation, Manning says she wants a fairer future for her three sons.

MANNING: I don't want my kids to grow up unafraid. I don't want to be scared every time I see a police.



[13:54:53] WHITFIELD: Powerful story. Thanks to Victor Blackwell.

As part of the lawsuit, the ACLU is asking a judge to order monitoring and training of Madison County deputies, plus damages for the victim. Above all, they are asking for the community board to give the people of Madison County oversight of the sheriff's department's policies.

The next hour of the NEWSROOM starts right after this.


[13:59:39] WHITFIELD: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Just in CNN, take a look at new images of former FBI Director James Comey, just four days being fired. This time, leaving

his home in McClain, Virginia. He has not the case -- he has not commented since the president's bombshell announcement. But today, the Justice Department is interviewing candidates for his replacement. And these are the names that CNN has confirmed that are being interviewed today. As of now, whoever is chosen will be in charge of continuing --