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"Sister's Wives" Lawsuit; Christie's Traffic Scandal; Dennis Rodman's Apology

Aired January 9, 2014 - 08:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a sad day for New Jersey. This governor has a lot of explaining to do.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, Chris Christie under fire. Hearings today over allegations he choked traffic to one city as political payback. New reports that lives may have been put at risk. Can he survive the scandal?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: Dennis Rodman says he's sorry. Sorry to the family of Kenneth Bae. Sorry to our own Chris Cuomo. What he is blaming for his outburst. Also, new video of Rodman with North Korea's leader.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: The Sister Wives speak out. The reality show stars join us exclusively. Their court case defending their polygamist way of life could go to the Supreme Court. They just won one victory. Will they change the law of the land?

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY continues right now.

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

BOLDUAN: Good morning and welcome back. Breaking news there, 8:00 in the East.

Breaking news this morning. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will address the growing bridge scandal this morning at 11:00 -- 11:00 news conference, 11:00 Eastern. You don't want to miss that.

His top aides are accused of punishing the mayor for not supporting Christie's re-election bid. But Christie says he knew nothing about it.

Just earlier on NEW DAY, one of Christie's political rivals, State Senator Ray Lesniak said he's -- he will formally request an investigation around all of this.

What could it mean for Christie's presidential aspirations? Well, take a look at this. "The New York Daily News", they always have a good headline. This is what they said about the presumed presidential election front-runner, "fat chance now."

Let's talk more about this.

CNN's Joe Johns is following the development this morning live in Washington.

Joe, what's the latest?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the trouble for the Christie administration starts with calls for some type of state or federal investigation. Then, there are the hearings. Plus, there are questions already being asked about the scandal on Capitol Hill.

On top of all of that, the governor is going to have to answer questions about abuse of power and political retribution.


JOHNS (voice-over): 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 13th from the account of Bridget Anne 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 gridlock, 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: Even though the governor says he doesn't know about what happened here, it creates a whole second set of questions. That's why he didn't know what was going on if his own office. He says he was misled by a member of the staff. The e-mails seem to suggest that others, including people at the Port Authority, may have had knowledge of what was going on -- Kate and Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Joe, New Jersey lawmakers trying to get to the bottom of this. Today, a former Christie aide who resigned last month will testify at a hearing on this mushrooming political scandal over the bridge closures.

CNN's Erin McPike is live in Trenton.

This situation now that you have the implication about EMS delays and whether a life could have been saved otherwise, this is month longer about politics and no longer about just the present for Chris Christie. How big are the implications seeming to form down there?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it is very big.

Let's talk a little bit more about David Wildstein. Now, He was a high school friend of Chris Christie's. And then, of course, Chris Christie appointed him to be the number two ranking official at the port authority. That's the body that oversees transit between New Jersey and New York.

Well, dating back to 2010, the mayor of Fort Lee was complaining about traffic problems. And David Wildstein was going to commission some sort of study. That's why it is so puzzling why he would decide to close some of the access lanes to the bridge and then not tell the fort lee officials about it who then complained in September when had closed hose access lanes.

As you mentioned, David Wildstein resigned in December but he is testifying here today at noon. Of course, now we know, Chris Christie will be holding a press conference just an hour before.

Will he throw his old friend under the bus? We will have to see. But David Wildstein's attorney just earlier this week filed a motion to get him out of this hearing today. But he's -- he will be here at moon and we will have to hear what he has to say to answer some of these questions, Chris.

CUOMO: Well, yes. It's not a small situation anymore. I think nobody is going to avoid that type of scrutiny for now.

Erin, thank you very much for the perspective. Coming up, we're going to speak with Florida Senator Marco Rubio and we'll also have a political panel here made up of CNN all-stars to figure out what this could mean.

The implications right now are getting frighteningly large for the New Jersey governor.

BOLDUAN: Also breaking overnight, Dennis Rodman now blaming stress and drinking for his angry rant earlier this week, right here on NEW DAY. In a newly released statement, the former NBA star apologizing for his meltdown. But after serenading Kim Jong-un with a happy birthday tune, critics say Rodman should be apologizing once again.

CNN's Jim Sciutto is tracking the late breaking developments live from Washington for us this morning.

Good morning, Jim.


Well, he is running away from his comments. He's not running away from North Korea. Reports this morning that Dennis Rodman is on his way to a new multimillion dollar ski resort in North Korea. Pet project of leader Kim Jong-un.

But now, as you say, he is apologizing for some of his behavior. His publicist sent CNN his statement where he blames stress for his bizarre outburst and his alarming comments about American captive 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: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think. I'm saying to you, look at these guys here. Look at them!

CUOMO: Yes. But, Dennis, don't put --

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, I was 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: If you understand what Kenneth Bae did?


RODMAN: Do you understand what he did in this country?

CUOMO: What did he do? You tell me. You tell me, what did he do?

RODMAN: No, no, no, you tell me. You tell me. Why has 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, one of Rodman's teammates, 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: On Kenneth 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 to China and through Sweden, which represents U.S. interest there.

But really we get a sense of Rodman and other players wading into a minefield here. The propaganda victory for the government, the comments about Kenneth Bae and there are real concerns from U.S. officials about stability in North Korea, Michaela. So, real questions about whether they are doing more harm there than good.

PEREIRA: Yes. So many issues there. Thanks so much, Jim Sciutto.

While we await the fate of Kenneth Bae, we can tell you an American previously held in Dubai is flying home at this hour after being held almost a year in the United Arab Emirates.

Shezanne Cassim was detained, you might recall this, for a parody video, the government there saw as a threat. He recently got quite a push of support, including from notable comedians. His brother tells CNN the family is relieved. They are overjoyed. Cassim is expected to arrive in Minneapolis later today.

New developments in a navy helicopter crash off of Virginia's southern coast. The second sailor has now died. Two others were rescued. They are said to be in stable condition. The search meanwhile is on. A frantic search in that ice cold water for a fifth sailor who was onboard that helicopter.

President Obama meeting with congressional leaders today to talk about reforming the NSA. According to sources, the president is considering limiting the spy agency's access to phone records of U.S. citizens and is expected to tighten restrictions on spying on foreign leaders. One of those foreign leaders was targeted, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She has been invited by the president to visit the White House whenever she can clear her schedule.

Hundreds of same-sex marriages will not be recognized by the state of Utah. While the matter is debated in the courts, the Supreme Court issued an injunction stopping new marriages after they were allowed recently by a federal judge that said it was not constitutional to ban them. Oral arguments are expected in the next few months.

And, finally, check out crazy video from Ireland? Where the coastline is turned into a surfer's paradise. A low pressure system dubbed "The Black Well" has stirred up huge waves. 20 to 30 feet high, some 20- feet wide. Elite surfers are apparently flocking to the area to try to take those waves on.

You know there's going to be some GoPro video on there.

BOLDUAN: It's absolutely right.

PEREIRA: Incredible.

CUOMO: I don't know how they do it.

PEREIRA: I don't know either.

CUOMO: My family surfs. May wife and the kids surf. I took a lesson.

PEREIRA: Not so good at it.

BOLDUAN: It is so much harder than it looked.

CUOMO: They put on the board the size of the sail boat. I don't know how these guys do it better.


CUOMO: And by average, I mean, me.

So, speaking of averages, let's talk about average temperatures. They are going up. It looks like we don't have to use the phrase polar vortex much longer. Indra is tracking it all as usual, using our favorite met (ph) here on --

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Look at the lingo that I passed on. I like it.

Actually, I want to show you where the waves came from towards, Ireland. This is actually the system that was here around New Year's. You can actually see those waves or system moving all the way across the Atlantic. That's low pressure that's bringing them those high waves today.

Good news. It looks like that energy will die down thanks to us having the high pressure, the polar vortex. But all that cold air moving over there and things should calm down for them over the next several days.

So, their weather pattern is changing. Our weather pattern is changing. Our temperatures are going up. You can actually see that cold air retreating back to the poles. So, still below normal the farther north you are, but down to the south today, seeing average temperatures. And from here on out, it gets better, because that warm air is making its way farther to the north, so temperatures will start to go from not only average but actually to above normal for this time of year.

What a gift after last week. I mean, notice, D.C. looking for temperatures a good 20 degrees above normal by Saturday, in the 60s for January. Now, yes, it is warmer but it doesn't mean we do not have any rain. We are talking about a low-pressure system around Arkansas and also around Tennessee.

Not going to be a big deal, a little bit of icing this morning. It dissipates quickly. It is a system behind it that we will be watching, bringing showers in the Midwest by Friday, kind of makes its way over to the Northeast by the weekend.

Key point being it is warmer, warmer, and then again, warmer.

BOLDUAN: That's all I heard. That's all I heard was warmer.


BOLDUAN: We need a coffee break.

Thanks, Indra.

All right. We are going to take a break here on NEW DAY. But coming up, Republicans are looking to make poverty a central issue as the battle over unemployment benefits continues. Florida Senator Marco Rubio joining us live to talk about that and much more.

CUOMO: Republicans have more to worry about than just poverty today. They're going to have to deal with the Chris Christie scandal. The big question: did staffers freelance political reprisal or did the governor know? And if those lane closures at issue wind up contributing to a death, how severe will the implications be politically, even perhaps criminally? Analysis ahead.


CUOMO: Welcome back. Kody Brown and his family, best known for their reality show, "Sister Wives" on TLC, won a major legal victory in Utah last month. A federal judge threw out the section of the state's ban on polygamy that prohibits co-habitation, but now that ruling is under siege. The Browns are joining us exclusively here on NEW DAY. But first, here's a look at their story and their legal battle.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Be here all together, if we weren't committed, we know the commitment is already there.

CUOMO (voice-over): Millions watched Kody Brown and his super-sized polygamist family on TLC's reality show "Sister Wives." One husbands, four wives, and 17 children living as one family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Paying all the suitcases and the suitcases --

CUOMO: In 2011, the family fled from Utah to Nevada, hearing prosecution after they say an investigation into their lifestyle was launched.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here in Las Vegas, our family culture has really been crumbling.

CUOMO: No charges were ever brought against them, but Brown sued the state of Utah claiming his family's privacy rights were violated by a law banning co-habitation. Then in December, a major victory for the Browns. A federal judge overturned part of the decades' old anti- polygamy statute saying it did violate First Amendment rights.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The idea here is that co- habitation between as many people that want to live together is beyond sort of the purview of the government. They can't outlaw that.

CUOMO: The ruling did keep some limitations on polygamy. Multiple adults can now live together without fear of prosecution, but husbands or wives still cannot seek more than one marriage license.

(CHANTING) Happy birthday!

CUOMO: But the browns may not yet be totally free to live the lifestyle they've chosen. Incoming Utah attorney general, Sean Reyes, says he intends to appeal the judge's decision which could mean more legal battles ahead with Kody and his big family. CEVALLOS: At minimum, if this opinion is overturned on appeal, then any co-habitation can potentially be unlawful and can potentially be prosecuted under Utah law as it exists.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me for an exclusive interview is the cast of "Sister Wives" on TLC, Kody Brown and his wives, Mary, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn. Thank you for joining us. Ladies, help me out. Will you just let us know who is whom here on the show. Just -- let's say names to get us started.





CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much. And you in the middle, sir, I guess you'd would be Kody.



CUOMO: All right. Kody, I'll start with you. Let's put your particular situation aside just for a moment. Do you understand why Utah and every other state would have concerns about polygamy and allowing it to exist without any kind of control?

K. BROWN: No. I don't understand that.

J. BROWN: Ultimate --

CUOMO: Please.

J. BROWN: Oh I'm sorry.

CUOMO: Please, go ahead.

J. BROWN: Ultimately, we really just want to be a family. We just wanted to choose who we make our life with and who we raise our kids with.

CUOMO: Right, but you're all adults and you know what has happened in the past, the dark and ugly past of polygamy. Young women being exploited, right? Not being able to control their own fates where there's almost a cultish-like addiction to this family structure. Those are the concerns that fuel the prohibition, don't you agree?

K. BROWN: No, because that -- the prohibition actually happened before that was actually happening. The issue with the child brides, if you will, that is a new thing basically brought on by the dangers of prosecution. Warren Jeffs would never have been able to control his people without them living in the fear and oppression of the government. He would have never been to be able rise to power.

C. BROWN: We decided to go public because there were so many things out there that were a part of our life. We are adults. We chose to be on this family. We chose to marry Kody. We fell in love as adults and really wanted that known and we wanted people to see that. And that's why we went public because there are a lot of stories out there which are terrible, which are terrifying, but we are not that. We just wanted to show that.

R. BROWN: What happens is that these people and these communities are more afraid of the law breaking out of their families than they are of the perpetrator ,actually, you know, abusing them. So, this is why it creates a future (INAUDIBLE) abuse.

CUOMO: Right. I guess, what I'm saying is and Kody, I take your point, that when you make something wrong, it then can allow to it fester in a way because you don't see what's going on. I get that. But, do you also recognize that we do have to do something to ensure that young and vulnerable women aren't put in compromised situations where --

C. BROWN (ph): Absolutely.

J. BROWN (ph): Yes, we absolutely agree with that.

K. BROWN: That community has gotten so much control from the top down. There is no liberty in that community. That's not us. That's not our issue. We're seeking our rights as a family because everybody here does have liberty.

CUOMO: Now, legally --

K. BROWN: Or certainly seeking liberty.

CUOMO: Now, I spoke to your attorney before. And as you know, I'm an attorney myself. Legally, you've created an interesting space for yourself. You're not asking to have a state-validated marriage license with each of the women around you. You just want the right to live together. It's almost as like a roommate exception. I know that you don't consider yourselves roommates.


CUOMO: But that's what you are asking. It makes a big difference legally.

K. BROWN: Well, from the legal perspective, yes. We are looking at ourselves and we have chosen to be a family. We organized our family as we --

R. BROWN: According to our religious beliefs as well.

K. BROWN: According to our religious beliefs. And there were never any child brides here. This is not part of the society that I am part of. However -- R. BROWN: This is like what our church practices. Our church is -- there are no child brides. There's not arranged marriages. The abuses that you know are not part of our church.

K. BROWN: We simply sought the right to be able to be a family according to our religious beliefs.

CUOMO: Now, will you --

M. BROWN: -- just no legal

K. BROWN: We are not seeking legal -- what would you call it? Legal -- we are not seeking -- yes, legal recognition or legal validation.

CUOMO: Now, when you say your religious beliefs, now obviously, the mainstream Mormon church has moved away from polygamy, bigamy, multiple marriages.

K. BROWN: Some 120 years ago.

CUOMO: So, why is it so important to your religious belief that you -- why is polygamy what's central to your religious beliefs?

K. BROWN: It's not central to our religious belief. We just simply wanted the opportunity to be able to choose who we organized our family with. It's as simple as that.

R. BROWN: It's really not part of -- it's not our central religious belief. It's just -- the most different from everybody else and so they all want to talk about it.


CUOMO: And, why do you think it works better than just having one spouse?


K. BROWN: We are saying that our family just wanted this. I'm not speaking to whether --

C. BROWN: Sorry. I think it works better.



C. BROWN: I want to say it does. I mean, for raising kids for sure among other things.

R. BROWN: You know, and it's all a personal preference. That's what we decided in our family. It's the way we want to set up our family. It's not necessarily better for everyone. It's what's better for us. It's what we chose as a family.

CUOMO: So, you're not saying it's for everybody, but you're saying you should have the right to live the way you want as long as you're free and consenting adults.


CUOMO: You're not under the -- you know, you're not under the thrall of some persuasive influence. You're acting in your accord.


M. BROWN: Nobody forced us to marry Kody. You know, we all chose this, because we all wanted to.

J. BROWN: And one thing, we raised our children to be opinionated and have a voice. I mean, we want our children to have the right to choose their living arrangements, too, when the time comes. When the time comes, when they're 25.




CUOMO: All right. So, we have to see what happens next. You know the AG, the attorney general, he wants to appeal it because he wants to keep the law intact. That would mean if that happens, you would then have to find a state that is friendly to you which you have right now. Are you worried about the legal implications? Are you going to go with it whichever way it turns out?

J. BROWN: You know what, Professor Turley is -- we very much respect and trust our legal counsel. You know, we're -- you know, really out of -- I mean, I don't even know how to speak to the legal. Just -- we just are -- are hopeful that --

R. BROWN: We're so grateful for what our judge -- is able to do. We're humbled by it, completely humbled by it. You know, we are sitting here in Nevada feeling safe and that's great. In Utah, we didn't. We left there under duress.

K. BROWN: Under extreme circumstance.

R. BROWN: Exactly.

K. BROWN: I mean, that was very difficult experience. We ended up having -- basically being exiled from our home.

R. BROWN: Exactly. I mean, we'll do whatever we need to do, but we're just - we're just grateful for, you know, what's going on right now.

CUOMO: We will be following the situation. And thank you for coming on to tell your side of this story. It's fascinated many of us. So, good luck going forward.

J. BROWN: Thanks for having us.


CUOMO: We'll speak again when it gets resolved.


CUOMO: All right. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, Republicans are looking to fight poverty as the battle over unemployment benefits continues on Capitol Hill. Florida senator, Marco Rubio, is joining us live in just a moment to talk about it.