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Chris Christie Accused of Political Corruption; Interview with New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak; Dennis Rodman Apologizes for Rant; NBA Star's Wife Discusses North Korean Trip; Thawing Out

Aired January 9, 2014 - 07:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: He even said sorry to Chris Cuomo. New this hour, the wife of one of his teammates speaks out live.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: The battle for pay, a new study on why men make more money than women that will have everyone talking. It's not the reason you think.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Your NEW DAY starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Thursday, January 9th. It's 7:00 in the east.

A major scandal is erupting around New Jersey Governor Chris Christie this morning that could leave his presidential aspirations in jeopardy. It is getting bigger. It is getting badder. Calls growing for an investigation, why e-mails linked to a top Christie staffer, they suggest a move, closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge apparently to punish a mayor of a New Jersey town that did not support Christie.

Christie, the governor, says he knew nothing. But that's not silence his Democratic critics or his Republican rivals. Now we're hearing about more problems. School buses delayed for hours, first responders held up, possibly even leading to a woman's death. So there will be hearings on the closures set for today. The big question right now is, when will the governor speak? Let's begin our coverage this morning with Joe Johns in Washington. Joe, what's the latest?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, you know, this started out as a hometown inconvenience story on a bridge between New York and New Jersey, by now it's become national news all because of the newly exposed e-mail traffic between members of the governor's inner circle really raising questions about abuse of power and political retribution.


JOHNS: This morning, the pressure is mounting.

JOHN WISHIEWSKI, (D) DEPUTY SPEAKER OF NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLY: That's not the kind of leadership that New Jersey needs, and it's certainly not the kind of leadership the nation needs.

JOHNS: The New Jersey bridge e-mails igniting a full blown scandal with increasing calls for a federal investigation.

BARBARA BUONO, FORMER NEW JERSEY GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: There's more than enough evidence to warrant an investigation to determine what -- we need to know what this governor knew and when he knew it.

JOHNS: And now this, new revelations that the actions of the Christie aides may have put lives in danger with EMS crews unable to reach people in need of emergency care. Wednesday afternoon, Christie released a written statement. He did not apologize, but blamed the problems on his staff. "I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge."

His administration is accused of shutting down several lanes of the George Washington Bridge for several dates in September, causing major traffic problems in the town of Fort Lee. The mayor of that town had refused to endorse Christie. At the time, Christie's office denied any political revenge and blamed the bridge snarl on a traffic study.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: I actually was the guy working the cones out there. You really are not serious with that question.

JOHNS: But CNN obtained texts and e-mails that many say proved otherwise. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." That e-mail was sent August 13 from the account of Bridget Ann Kelly, the governor's deputy chief of staff, to David Wildstein, one of the governor's top appointees at the agency that controls the bridge. "Got it," he replied.

When the mayor of Fort Lee called about the problem, Kelly then e- mailed Wildstein to find out if anyone had called him back. Radio silence was the response. Christie's critics are questioning whether he was truly ignorant of the communications of his staff. They want an investigation.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ, DNC CHAIRWOMAN: His statement and actions thus far have proven that he's not the straight shooter that he has claimed to be. And the questions require answers, and he needs to step up and face the music and answer those questions.


JOHNS: There are tons of questions still out there, hearings today, calls for an investigation. The other headache for Governor Christie is that he didn't know what was going on in his own office. While it says he was misled by a member of his staff, the e-mails seemed to suggest that others, including people at the port authority may have had knowledge of what was going on.

BOLDUAN: Joe, thank you so much for that. Let's talk more about this. Many New Jersey lawmakers are outraged by these allegations of political retribution. Ray Lesniak is one of them. He's a Democratic state senator for New Jersey who has frequently criticized Chris Christie. Senator, thank you so much for coming in this morning.


BOLDUAN: So we know that there are hearings that are going to be held today, many people wanting to hear from the governor himself. I'm sure you agree with that. But you're also calling for an investigation. Will you be requesting a formal investigation?

LESNIAK: I will, not only the U.S. attorney for New Jersey but the southern district of New York and the Manhattan D.A.

BOLDUAN: Why? You don't think what you're going to hear from the governor will be enough?

LESNIAK: There's certainly reasonable suspicion that criminal acts have been involved here. Not only abuse of governmental power for political purposes, but we have reckless endangerment of people's lives and possibly negligent homicide. Those investigations have to be pursued by the authorities of the U.S. attorney's office.

CUOMO: Why? Why isn't this is situation where we seem to have discovered the ugly side of politics, which you would be naive to believe does not exist?

LESNIAK: This crosses a line.

CUOMO: What is the line that was crossed?

LESNIAK: The line that was crossed is that people's lives were endangered. Not only were they inconvenienced. That's bad enough, and thousands of people inconvenienced, but emergency response vehicles, people -- children not being able to get to school, that's an abuse of governmental authority endangering people's lives. That's not politics.

CUOMO: Right. You understand that's going to be the question, though, right?


CUOMO: Once politicians get involved and the media starts going after somebody, it's always, well, this is the blood sport. You're saying this is more than sport.

LESNIAK: For sure. That's why the U.S. attorneys have to get involved to get down to the bottom of it. What about all those redacted names on the e-mails? We still don't know who's behind that. And there have been serious consequences as the result of these actions.

BOLDUAN: And senator, do you really believe that there could be allegations of negligent homicide here?

LESNIAK: What I said was reckless endangerment of people's lives. That's for sure, OK. And someone died here. Now, whether there was criminally negligent homicide involved, we don't know, but someone died as a result of an abuse of governmental authority. That certainly has to be investigated.

BOLDUAN: Before you get there, do you not think that the governor deserves the benefit of the doubt until you hear more from him?

LESNIAK: First of all, this is a governor who has said to national Republicans, we should do whatever it takes to win. He set the tone in his administration for whatever it takes to win, and obviously people took that way too far.

CUOMO: Right. Well, look, power plays happen in politics. Let me ask you this though, one of the main questions with the governor is whether he was driving this bus. As we both know, staffers can have their own moves where they keep the man or woman in power out of it for what we call plausible deniability. Could that be the case here?

LESNIAK: I don't believe the governor was involved in the lane closures. He's not that stupid. But what about the cover-up? That we don't know. We have a former state senator, very smart guy, was involved in the cover-up. People -- his deputy chief of staff was involved in the lane closures. So he may very well be -- and I would suspect that he was part of the cover-up. That's a political story for sure, OK? But the bigger thing is, is the criminal actions. That's very serious.

CUOMO: At what point, what is the bar for you of the governor must step down?


CUOMO: That's where you're going senator. You're asking for formal investigations. You're going to bring out the big guns. Eventually --

LESNIAK: I have said this makes Loin Sapel look like Mary Poppins. But unless the governor was involved in the actual lane closures, no, it's not going to affect him being governor. But certainly it's going to affect his credibility not only for the people of the state of New Jersey but nationwide.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about politically -- put the criminal conversation aside for a second. Politically, is there any people looking at this will say of course a state senator who butted heads with him is going to jump on this right away. But is there anything you could hear from the governor that would put this to rest politically for you?

LESNIAK: Not likely. I mean, I think this is an incredibly damaging politically for him because it's the tenor of his administration. And he's scored a lot of political points by being the tough guy, by taking no prisoners. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

CUOMO: You think that they do something in the Christie administration that others do not, or you think they just got caught?

LESNIAK: I think it's a blood sport that even in New Jersey has been taken to a level that we have not seen before. BOLDUAN: Senator, great to meet you. Thank you so much for coming in.

LESNIAK: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. All right, and just a note of course, we will have much more coverage on Christie's scandal throughout the show.

CUOMO: Other break news this morning as well. Dennis Rodman admitting he stepped out of bounds. In a written statement the former NBA star apologized for his NEW DAY meltdown, and he wants to know that the angry rant from North Korea was a function not of hate but of alcohol and stress. Jim Sciutto is tracking the late breaking developments live from Washington for us. Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, good morning. Rodman apologizes, Rodman goes skiing in North Korea. Reports this morning that he is on his way to a multi-million dollar ski resort, a pet project of leader Kim Jong-un. But now, as you say, he is apologizing for some of his behavior. He publicist sent CNN a statement where he blamed stress for his bizarre outburst and his alarming comments about American captive in North Korea Kenneth Bae.


SCIUTTO: Overnight, former NBA player Dennis Rodman admitted in a statement to CNN that was he was out of bounds. "I want to apologize. I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy were quickly falling apart." Rodman's apology comes in the wake of a wild week playing exhibition basketball in North Korea where he exploded in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.

DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think. Look at these guys here.

CUOMO: Dennis --

SCIUTTO: In his apology Rodman explains his outburst. "I had been drinking. Not an excuse, but by the time the interview happened, I was upset, overwhelmed. It's not an excuse. It's just the truth."

Rodman ended his alarming North Korea trip with even more bizarre images.

RODMAN: Happy birthday to you.

SCIUTTO: Singing "Happy Birthday" to leader Kim Jong-un and giving him a bow.

RODMAN: Do you sir, let me know --

SCIUTTO: Rodman sparked a fire storm with his seeming justification for the imprisonment of American Kenneth Bae to Chris Cuomo, leaving Bae's family back home shocked and disappointed.

RODMAN: Do you understand what Kenneth Bae did?

CUOMO: What did he do? You tell me.

RODMAN: No, no, no, you tell me. You tell me. Why is he held captive?

SCIUTTO: But now Rodman is backpedaling, saying, "I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae's family. I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo. I embarrassed a lot of people. I'm very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I'm truly sorry."

Also appearing to have regrets, former NBA star Charles Smith. He says he now questions whether they did the right thing going to North Korea.

Perhaps in a birthday gift to Kim, Rodman lost along with his team of former NBA stars to the North Korean national team, their loss another apparent victory for North Korea's gargantuan propaganda machine, which has portrayed his visit as paying tribute to North Korea and its leader.


SCIUTTO: As for Bae, the U.S. is still working very hard to get him out of North Korea. The State Department tells us they're working diplomatic channels with China and Sweden, who represents U.S. interests there. There was also a direct line of communication with North Korea through the U.N. mission in New York, and they're trying to get their envoy into North Korea to get Bae out. He was supposed to go in August, Chris, but North Korea abruptly canceled that visit.

CUOMO: So first, the silly part. Jim, why didn't you read the apology in the Clubber Lang voice that Rodman was using when he was giving me the smack down?

SCIUTTO: Well, because I wasn't drinking before I did it.


BOLDUAN: Well, we can fix that.

CUOMO: So you say. That's the silly part. Rodman owes me no apology. There's no problem between the two of us. Certainly I didn't mean to offend him or set him off. But the questions were legitimate.

The serious part, it is important that he apologize to the Bae family, because Kenneth Bae being there, while there have been allegations and charges, there's been no proof of them. Now, over a year, it's the longest period of detention for any American anywhere in the world. So it matters. That's where we want the focus to be. It's good that Rodman is apologizing. Let him move on and out of the picture. The State Department picking up their efforts would be great because there's a lot in that country that needs to be addressed.

BOLDUAN: And you talked to his sister, Terri Chung, about all this.

CUOMO: Yes. And then we want to distinguish the team and why they were there for Rodman. So we're going to have Heather Robinson. She is the wife of Cliff Robinson, former NBA great. We do want her insight into why her husband went there to play the game, what were the circumstances, because they are getting a lot of heat. We want to be fair to everybody in this situation.

PEREIRA: All right, let's get a look at your headlines. In the meantime, it is quarter after the hour. Military authorities are still searching for a missing sailor after the crash of a Navy helicopter off the coast of Virginia. Two crew members died, four others were pulled out of the water. The chopper went down some 20 miles off Virginia Beach. This comes just a day after four U.S. Air Force personnel were killed when their chopper crashed during a training mission off the coast of England.

More meetings for President Obama today as he explores reforms to the NSA. People familiar with a recent review of the agency say Obama will tighten restrictions for spying on foreign leaders and is considering changes in access to Americans' phone records. The president has also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington in the coming months. She was one of the foreign leaders who was spied on.

The first case of the h5n1 avian flu has been reported in North America. Canadian health officials say an unidentified woman from Alberta, Canada died after contracting the virus. She had recently returned from a trip to China. Canada's health minister says it is an isolated case and that the risk to the general public is very low since there's no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.

Happening today, all eyes are on the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to see if he forces a critical procedural vote to extend unemployment benefits. He needs 60 votes to head off a filibuster. It's not clear whether he has enough support. Many Republicans are demanding Democrats come up with a way to off-set the $6.4 billion cost with a three-month extension.

Check this out. A massive solar flare forces a delay for cargo delivery to the international space station. That solar flare erupted from a sun spot seven times the size of the earth. The commercial space flight company handling the cargo shipment said they were concerned the solar radiation from the flare would interfere with critical systems on its rocket.


PEREIRA: Oh, those international issues when you think about that outside. When you think about the size of it, seven times the size of the earth. That is going to affect things.

BOLDUAN: I would say.

All right, something that also affected things, the weather. CUOMO: Almost as big and powerful as the system.

BOLDUAN: Almost. Almost. Almost. But there's only one person who can take on this all. Who can take on the polar vortex? That would be Indra Petersons. The thaw begins.

INDRA PETERSONS, METEOROLOGIST: And the solar flare. I'm going to give you guys a little science lesson in the next hour. Because I know we love that, right? Teacher Indra.

Let's talk about the temperatures that are going to be warming up. Finally I am not saying cooling down. Today, we are rebounding. You can actually see down in the south temperatures where they should be, right around those average temperatures.

To the north are the areas retreating to the north, we're still just slightly below normal. Looks like Chicago today only about five degrees below normal.

But by tomorrow, this quickly changes. Pretty much everyone is above normal. Minneapolis, in fact, will be 12 degrees above normal by tomorrow. And the trend continues.

Look at the weekend. I mean, by Saturday, notice the east coast expecting temperatures a good 20 degrees above normal. We said there was recovery in sight, yes, big time.

Now let's talk about the other side of this, though. There are some systems moving through. The first one is pretty weak. Today a little bit of icing around Arkansas and kind of moving in through Tennessee, but quickly fading, very weak out there.

It's the system behind it that we're focusing on. Keep in mind the high pressure that brought cold air, the backside of that brings southerly winds. I always talk about the winds, and that's always due because that's where the air comes from, from the south over the Gulf. That means it's warm air. That is why we're warming up in combination with the low that's moving in. Even though it's a cold front, we're seeing those winds come out of the south. So between the two, warming up significantly.

But, of course, here comes the rain as well. So by Friday, we are going to be talking about chances for showers in the Midwest spreading into Saturday in toward the northeast. Sunday, yes there's a cold front, but about a 10-degree temperature drop. Not going to be the big story here.

Just keep in mind that first system will bring a little bit of icing because it's still kind of mild. The second system, of course, will be bringing all rain. So I know you guys looking forward to my science lesson. That is coming up next. We'll give you all the deets all on solar flares. Or you can study up, you know?

BOLDUAN: And that is called a very good tease.

Thanks, Indra. CUOMO: And with that, coming up on NEW DAY, we're going to talk to the wife of one of the former NBA players who went to North Korea with Dennis Rodman. Why did they go? Did they know about the game as a gift? They're important questions. And Cliff Robinson's wife, Heather, will join us to talk about the answers and her take on Rodman's apology.

BOLDUAN: Plus, political revenge and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He's dealing with the immediate fallout right now, of course. But could the scandal surrounding the Republican star also impact his chances in 2016? All of this in our political gut check.


CUOMO: Breaking over night, Dennis Rodman apologizing this morning for his interview here on NEW DAY. In a statement released by his publicist, Dennis offered an apology to Kenneth Bae's family, most importantly, his teammates, also important, his management team, and even to us.

Dennis Rodman and other former NBA all-stars played an exhibition game in North Korea Wednesday followed by Rodman singing Happy Birthday to Kim Jong-un, the ruler there.

But the entire ordeal still has many asking why he is there and why anyone would agree to join him. So one of the players who went to North Korea this time is NBA veteran Cliff Robinson. He's sitting there circled on your screen right now on the left of Rodman. Chris Robinson's wife Heather joins us now this morning.

Heather, thank you for joining us.

HEATHER ROBINSON, CHRIS ROBINSON'S WIFE: Absolutely. Thank you, Chris, for having me.

CUOMO: It's good to be here. Gotta clarify it. Got to distinguish why the fellas were there versus all the drama that goes with Dennis Rodman. And important to note why it's significant: Kenneth Bae. He's been held there over a year. I was saying earlier that's the longest any American's been held. Now, there's others who have been held even longer, but it's a bad situation.


CUOMO: What did your husband know going into this?

ROBINSON: Well, he -- he didn't know anything about Kenneth Bae. That was never a question that came up. Or I think 90 percent of us didn't know anything about Kenneth Bae. That was brought to the attention after through the media.

CUOMO: Would it have made a difference?

ROBINSON: Absolutely.

CUOMO: How so? ROBINSON: I don't think that they would have wanted to go, you know, put themselves in a position to be under that kind of pressure. And they're basketball players. He went for the love of basketball. He stuck to the mantra to bridge that cultural difference. He does these exhibition games all over Asia since he's retired. And that's pretty much what he looked at when he left.

CUOMO: Now, when this was in the offering, when Dennis was saying come with me, there's money involved here also, right?

ROBINSON: Well, these exhibition games are sponsorships that usually cover them. Now, I've read things that the sponsor that actually covered this trip pulled out. So I'm not really sure on the money that's going to be divvied out.

CUOMO: Because that would be part of the stake is you wanted a payday, which is not wrong, right? But it then becomes criticized when you decide to get a payday in a situation where you're going to be performing for this type of person.


CUOMO: Fair criticism?

ROBINSON: That's very fair criticism. And that probably goes for a lot of people. For Cliff, he actually works with the retired players association that Charles Smith runs as the director of player relations. So these are some of the things that they have set up before like with Malaysia trips and what not. And this one they didn't set up. Dennis' camp set this one up, so I don't know the legits (ph) of the financial part of it.

CUOMO: Cliff Robinson, known as a fairly sophisticated guy. Why when Dennis Rodman picks up the phone and says, "Hey, brother, come with me," why would he respond to that kind of invitation to go where he has to know there's some controversy, whether he knows about Bae or not? OK, but this is not a place that's popular.

ROBINSON: Right. Well, Dennis had asked him three or four times. And I don't think that Cliff or anyone else thought it was going to come to fruition. And it happened so quick that when he did call and he said, no, this is happening, I really need you. This was like, OK. And it came down fairly quick within the last two weeks before they left.

CUOMO: So what was the motivation? Was it, "All right, we're gonna get paid to go"? Why did Cliff want to go? Why did the others want to go?

ROBINSON: Well, Cliff supports his fellow colleagues, his fellow athletes and their philanthropic endeavors. And Dennis's whole idea of -- of you know, going into North Korea, or who knows what motives he has, but he really believes, I think in his heart that he was doing something good here. And you know, his passion is behind that.

CUOMO: Do they know -- did Cliff know to your knowledge whether this game was going to be a gift to the ruler?

ROBINSON: No, absolutely not. He did not know that.

CUOMO: That's important. How do you know that?

ROBINSON: We spoke about it. I spoke with him prior to your interview. I think it was right before he came on and he asked me what was going on back here. And I said, "Well, there's a lot of scrutiny. There's a lot of negativity." And he said, "I can imagine." You know, and I said, "Do you know that what he's doing with this birthday thing?" And he said, "No, absolutely not."

CUOMO: Have you talked to him since?

ROBINSON: I have not spoke to him. I was waiting for him to call before this interview. But I haven't gotten that --

CUOMO: So the last call was before the interview with us?

ROBINSON: Yeah, the meltdown.

CUOMO: They lost the game, you know.

ROBINSON: Well, I didn't think that they would win.

CUOMO: They do want to come back home. So what do you think is fair? As we assess the situation, Dennis makes his apology. Do you believe that he did need to apologize to Cliff and the other players?

ROBINSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. I feel as though they were part of a bigger thing on a Dennis agenda. And they went over there with good intentions to, you know, help Dennis in a way that Dennis portrayed this to be a mission for betterment of the people.

CUOMO: So they thought -- what you're saying is -- just make sure I get it right. Cliff and others, as far as you know, thought we're going there to expose North Koreans to other ideas and that they're aren't just enemies abroad.

ROBINSON: Exactly. Love of basketball.

CUOMO: Not go there to hang out with Kim Jong-un and show how cool he is --

ROBINSON: Absolutely not.

CUOMO: -- that we're coming to perform for him and glorify him?

ROBINSON: Absolutely not.

CUOMO: Was that naive of them?

ROBINSON: I would say that it's very naive of them, but they're basketball players. They're not people that are, you know, exposed to this as far as the political side of things. Or I don't know if they read up on all these things. But they play basketball. They love basketball. That's all they've known. I feel bad for them because they're going to come back, these guys, and have to face a lot of these questions.

CUOMO: Well, a big part of the reason to do this interview is to distinguish what was going on with Rodman or not going onto the other fellows there.

Often the smartest part of a man is his wife. Were you concerned when he said I'm going with Dennis Rodman to North Korea to play a basketball game?

ROBINSON: Yes. I was very concerned. Like I said, it came across very quickly. When I dropped him off at the airport, that's when I really got that sick feeling and I looked at him.

And he goes, "It will be OK." And I said, "I hope so." And then that's when I drove away and kind of kicked myself and said I should have did my -- I'm gonna own this. I should have did my due diligence. I should have asked more questions and I should have, you know, saw who was in charge of the protocol, what mission they had. And I didn't. You know, that's my fault. I'll take that.

CUOMO: And I'll take you at your word that they went there to help the people. It wasn't just about a payday or trying to glorify Dennis's friend, as we know him here.

Heather Robinson, I appreciate you giving us the perspective.

ROBINSON: Thank you. Appreciated it.

CUOMO: Because we're all flying blind on this a little bit, except by what Dennis says.

ROBINSON: Well, we'll find out more when they land.


ROBINSON: Which I hope is soon.

CUOMO: Yes, me too. I hope they all get home safely.


CUOMO: I appreciate it.

All right, so what do you think? It's an evolving discussion right. Tweet us with the hash tag newday. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, coming up next on NEW DAY, murder on a Pennsylvania highway. A man found shot and killed in his car after making a frantic 911 call. Are more people in danger now?

Also, it's said that women make up half of the workforce, but get paid significantly less.