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EARLY START

What's Next For Chris Christie?; Rodman Remains

Aired January 10, 2014 - 04:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Chris Christie, apologetic and angry, firing staffers accused in a traffic jam scandal. The "I'm sorry" is coming nearly as a thousand pages of new evidence from the case become public this morning.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Yes, it's Friday. It's Friday. Really it's Friday. It's January 10th and it's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we're here at 4:00 a.m. because of the questions for Chris Christie. And the biggest question facing the governor right now is what's next, now that he's formally said that he's sorry, very sorry, for what he claimed happened without his knowledge?

Now, let's update you on what he's done. He's fired a top aide. He's asked an adviser to give up his high profile Republican Party job. This is for their roles in the shutdown of that traffic on the George Washington Bridge during last year's gubernatorial campaign, apparently, political payback against a mayor that would not endorse their boss.

Today, there will be more developments. Nearly 1,000 pages of new documents are expected to be released showing what state lawmakers have found out so far. And as the source tells CNN, the FBI is now looking into what happened o see if federal law was violated.

There was a lot to talk about -- a lot new going on this morning. Let's begin with the apology. He apologized more than 40 times by some counts in what one person connected with the shutdown, someone else is not saying.

Here's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As one figure at the certain of the bridge scandal couldn't stop talking --

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I come out here to apologize.

JOHNS: Another had no interest in even starting.

DAVID WILDSTEIN, FORMER PORT AUTHORITY OFFICIAL: On the advice of counsel, I assert my right to remain silent.

JOHNS: In a nearly two-hour press conference, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced the firing of a key aid, said he would no longer work with his former campaign manager and assigned much of the blame for the scandal to this man, David Wildstein, one of Christie's appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

CHRISTIE: Clearly, Mr. Wildstein played a major role in it.

JOHNS: Even as Christie spoke, Wildstein was in the building next door, refusing to answer questions at a legislative hearing about e- mails which implicate him in the September lane closures.

Wildstein had been seen by some as the governor's eyes and ears inside the Port Authority. The two men go back a long time, even attended high school together.

SHAWN BOBURG, REPORTER, BERGEN COUNTY RECORD: Was very loyal to the governor. Extremely loyal. But I would say a lot of people felt afraid of him because of his direct line to the governor's office.

JOHNS: Christie painted a different picture of that relationship.

CHRISTIE: I could probably count on one hand the number of conversations I have had with David since he worked at the Port Authority.

JOHNS: Christie also used the presser to distance himself from another person many saw as a confidant, his deputy chief of staff, saying he had no idea she ordered the bridge lanes closed.

CHRISTIE: This morning, I terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly effectively immediately. I terminated her employment because she lied to me.

JOHNS: Something those who know her say is out of character.

REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), NEW JERSEY: If you think she's the engineer of all this mess, I cannot believe that.

JOHNS: Also kicked out of the inner circle, long-time adviser Bill Stepien, once slated to be the next head of the New Jersey GOP. Among his e-mails, one calling Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich an idiot.

CHRISTIE: Reading that, it made me lose my confidence in Bill's judgment, and you cannot have someone at the top of your political operation who you do not have confidence in.

JOHNS: Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: And we're hearing this morning from the mayor of Fort Lee, the town that suffered the most for that bridge shutdown. He and Christie met on Thursday and Anderson Cooper asked the mayor if he believed what the governor told him. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH (D), FORT LEE, NJ: I would. I would use them as productive. I thought there was a heartfelt apology, which we accepted and we took Governor Christie at his word. I mean, I'm not sure we have much more of a choice, but we did. It was a sincere exchange.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is -- as far as you're concerned, is this -- is this over? Or still -- is this just one chapter that's done?

SOKOLICH: There's mounds of documents that still need to be gotten through. There's a lot of folks. There's a large ensemble that's apparently involved in this. There are names that were redacted from the texts and e-mails. So, I think any reasonable person would reach the conclusion that there's more to come or more stuff to find out about.

At the end of our conversation with the governor, I did say to him, I guess a little sarcastically, Governor, am I now on your radar? And he chuckled. His response was that Fort Lee gets its own radar screen. So, we're hopeful that screen is going to will in advance let us know if there's retribution coming our way. And I don't think it's coming and we hope it doesn't come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: There's also been a lot of talk about the victims of the bridge shutdown. And we're finding out new information this morning about what may have been the most high profile victim here, a 91-year- old woman who there were questions about whether she died after an ambulance could not through. Well, now, her daughter has a more definitive take on what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VILMA OLERI: My first reaction was, would it really have affected going to hospital, but I guess apparently, it may have. I mean, it's not good really if ambulances are late getting or going to from a hospital, no.

REPORTER: You think it would have had any impact on the final result of your mother?

OLERI: No, I really don't think so. No, I really don't. I think she was 91 and I really believe in my heart that she was gone when the ambulance got there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: For more on this, let's bring in CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser. He's in Washington this morning.

Paul, you know, just kind of a remarkable day to watch in politics. What's your sense of day two now of what Chris Christie does next? Is this behind him? Or the questions are going to keep coming?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Oh, the questions are definitely going to keep coming. As you both reported just a few minutes ago, there are tons of more documents that are going to be released by the state senate committee investigating, other investigations. This thing is far from over.

You know, Christine and John, Chris Christie did a couple things he had to do yesterday. No doubt about it. He fired closest aids. He took action right away, he said within 24 hours of learning this, he said.

He apologized. He was contrite. He was humble. He said he was embarrassed. Not the typical way you see Chris Christie.

By denying, or by saying he's had no knowledge, he's given himself little wiggle room. So, yes, this story is going to stick around for quite some time and Chris Christie is definitely not out of the woods, any way, shape or form.

BERMAN: So, Paul, one of the things people are wondering is when would Republicans jump to the defense of Chris Christie?

We started to see it happen a little bit yesterday. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina posted something on Facebook, where she said, "I watch my friend, Governor Christie, work through a difficult situation today. He did the right thing in taking responsibility in a tough situation. That's the kind of leadership that earns him the huge level of trust he has in New Jersey."

Now, that's gov support from the governor.

If you look at the comments on the Facebook page after that post, it's a different planet altogether. The rank and file grassroots Republicans of South Carolina, they really put on scathing responses right there. Let me just read you one, Governor Hailey, conservatives want nothing to do with Chris Christie and it goes on and on like that.

Has he created a problem for himself on the right? People he will need if he runs for president?

STEINHAUSER: Exactly, because those are the base voters who voted big numbers in those Republican presidential primaries and caucuses. Of course, Chris Christie is considered a likely contender, even a leading contender, if he decides to jump in and make that run.

Let's be honest. Chris Christie, the base of the Republican Party, those conservative base, never loved Chris Christie. They were a little suspect of him, a Northeastern Republican, pragmatic, willing to work with Democrats.

They remember his speech at the convention in 2012 where he really didn't help Mitt Romney much but talked more about himself. They remember him hugging President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy. They remember him criticizing top Republicans after they didn't do that aid to New Jersey, and Christie, they remember his attacks on Senator Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite.

So, yes, they were not in love with Chris Christie before this and this may give them more ammunition.

But you're right, though, overall, it's been muted. The responses have been muted. You mentioned Nikki Haley and saying good things about him, but there has not been a lot on either side, either attacking him or praising him.

What's interesting about Nikki Haley and other Republican governors is that's he's job. He's the chairman now of Republican Governors Association. She's up for reelection. One of his tasks is to go around the country and help this Republican governors as they go for reelection in November.

Interesting situation, interesting dynamic this year.

ROMANS: What about these 900 pages of documents? Do you think that -- any preview of what's in the documents?

STEINHAUSER: We don't have any preview yet of what's going to be in there. But you got to think that there's going to be more communications, more e-mails and will it close the line to Chris Christie or not? That is the big question.

He again said, no, I had no knowledge of this. But there's a lot of stuff that could change the situation over the next couple hours, couple days, couple weeks. The story is far from over.

BERMAN: All right. Paul Steinhauser, great to have you with us this morning from Washington. Thank you so much.

What Paul said is absolutely right. What Chris Christie did is successfully move this now to the investigation. But there will be an investigation and there's a lot of documents for people to go through.

So, not over yet. He helped himself yesterday, the governor did.

Happening today in Washington, yet another vote over Obamacare. The House plans to vote on two measures that Republicans say would strengthen security requirements for the Healthcare.gov Web site and require weekly reports on how the site is doing.

But this time the bills do not seek to defund or repeal the health care law. Republican leaders say they are not focused on that anymore. Rather, they want to fix specific parts of the law now that it's in effect.

ROMANS: In the Senate, the fight continues today over extending jobless benefits. Both sides seemingly locked in and squabbling over the latest compromise offer. The deal would send checks again to more than a million Americans. Democrats want to pass a 10-month extension that would cost $18 billion, would be offset by budget cuts.

Republicans are complaining, though, they haven't been offered a chance to make their own proposal. BERMAN: Prospects do not look good this morning on that.

Breaking overnight. An Indian diplomat at the center of an international crisis is now heading home despite federal charges here in the U.S. against her. Devyani Khobragade was arrested back in December accused of visa fraud, sparking condemnations from Indian officials in desperate diplomatic efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry.

But despite the charges, India would not wave her diplomatic immunity. She got on the plane overnight, insisting that she is innocent.

ROMANS: All right. The biggest news on Wall Street and your money today, the December jobs report.

And expectations are high. Economists surveyed by CNN forecasting 193,000 jobs were added in the month of December, 7 percent unemployment. That means the jobless rate would remain at lowest level in about five years. There you can see the chart. Deutsche Bank particularly bullish, expecting unemployment to drop below 7 percent, to 6.8 percent.

As for those 193,000 job gains, if that forecast is right, the economy will have created nearly 2.3 million jobs last year. We haven't seen job creation like that since 2005. That's right, the best year for job creation since 2005.

But here's the bad news -- look at what we lost in 2008 and 2009, the deep of the recession. In four years, the economy still will not have made back all of the losses if today's predictions come true. We're at 1.4 million jobs in the hole.

As for Wall Street, this is a report investors have been waiting all week for. Stock futures right now are up slightly. And any moves won't likely happen until 8:30 a.m. Eastern when that jobs report is released.

Asian markets ended mixed, amid a report showing Chinese exports slowed. In the early trading right now, European stocks are moving higher.

But the big story comes in four and a half hours.

BERMAN: I think this becomes so much. I think if this number is good or even better than expected, people will look at the economy in a completely different light.

ROMANS: If this number is good, the Democrats won't get a 10-month extension on long terms jobless benefits.

BERMAN: There's that.

All right. Christine Romans, looking forward to hearing about, four and a half hours, as you said.

New overnight from us, Dennis Rodman's losing basketball team returning home from North Korea. But Rodman is nowhere in sight.

We are live with why the controversial ex-basketball star stayed behind in North Korea.

ROMANS: And breaking news overnight, the White House declaring a federal emergency following a massive chemical spill. The latest on this developing story, next.

BERMAN: It's troubling.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: And breaking overnight: some of the NBA players who went with Dennis Rodman to North Korea, they are on their way home after an exhibition game in honor of Kim Jong-un's birthday.

But Dennis Rodman is not with them, apparently staying behind and going skiing with his friend, the North Korean leader.

So, what do you think the two men are talking about? Could Rodman maybe perhaps bring up American Kenneth Bae after all?

Karl Penhaul is following developments from Beijing this morning.

What do we know, Karl?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have heard from two of our contacts, John, that Dennis Rodman would be going to the North Korean ski resort with Kim Jong-un. Of course, Kim Jong-un was educated in Switzerland, so he likes a bit of snow. He likes the skiing as well.

Also, one of our contacts said Rodman will spend the next couple of days just hanging with Kim Jong-un. We have no way of knowing how accurate that is.

Now, you mentioned the issue of Kenneth Bae, and it's funny how that's worked, hasn't it? Of course, Rodman sparked up a firestorm by saying that he wouldn't push for Bae's release. And since then, in a kind of reverse diplomacy if you like, everyone has been talking about it. It's put the Bae issue front and center of the media and U.S. government concern.

So, the Fed is saying right now that Kim Jong-un knows very well that Bae's family, his supporters and the U.S. government want him home and they want him home now.

I asked power forward Charles Smith if Rodman may be bringing bay home with him and that he just gave me a rye smile at that. But this is what he did say about the rest of the trip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES SMITH, FORMER NBA PLAYER: We sat out on a mission to use basketball as a bridge for cultural exchange and we accomplished that mission. We attended -- we were in North Korea with tourists, with other Americans and our documentary film crew. And all of us agree that the trip was just simply incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PENHAUL: Now, of course, Rodman is the wild card. We don't know when he's coming back from North Korea and we don't know what he's going to be doing while still he's there. Is his only mission to party with a dictator or is he planning some kind of diplomatic slam dunk -- John.

BERMAN: Karl, I mentioned those NBA players are thrilled to be coming home, and it would be a wonderful irony if there's any progress for Kenneth Bae in North Korea.

Karl Penhaul for us -- watching the story. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: Shezanne Cassim is waking up this morning in Minnesota, at home for the first time in nine months. The 29-year-old has been locked up in the United Arab Emirates over satirical video he posted to YouTube. It took months for formal charges to be filed and for a conviction.

Now, he's speaking out about what happened to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEZANNE CASSIM: I think there's a misconception that I broke a law. But I want to say that I did nothing wrong. There was nothing illegal about the video, even under UAE law. I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court and convicted without any evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Cassim understandably said he has no plans to return to the United Arab Emirates, and a reminder that Dubai and many of these places spending a lot of money to make it look as though they are open and they are Western, they are not. These are legal systems that are not at all like ours.

BERMAN: That young man learned that lesson.

All right. Breaking overnight, a news has a lot of people worried in a major water emergency in West Virginia. It's now a federal emergency.

The White House signed on to a disaster declaration after a chemical spill contaminated a river that serves as the main source of water for some 200,000 customers. They are being told do not drink the water, do not bathe in it, don't cook with it or even wash your clothes. It's not clear how dangerous the chemical is for humans, but a lot of people have been flooding emergency rooms to get checked out.

Some hospitals have now cancelled elective surgeries and stores are running out of bottled water there. So, this is a very serious there. It bears watching.

ROMANS: All right. Developing overnight. Just released court documents provide the first formal evidence possibly linking former NFL star Aaron Hernandez to an unsolved drive-by double homicide in Boston.

A police search warrant reveals Hernandez was inside an SUV when two people were gunned down in 2012. No charges have been filed in the case. Hernandez is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd. He has pleaded not guilty.

BERMAN: What a tangled messy web that its.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: A new call this morning for gay marriages in Utah to be officially recognized. The advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to extend federal rights to couples that have married in Utah. That despite the governor there saying that the state will not recognize the marriages as a court appeal moves forward.

But the state attorney general says local clerks can finish marriage paperwork if it happened before the Supreme Court put the marriages on hold. It's very murky what is going on there and it's a troubling situation for more than 1,000 same-sex couples who tied the knot in Utah since December when a judge ruled that the ban was unconstitutional.

ROMANS: Wow.

All right. Coming up, a flooding nightmare overnight in Florida. A rain burying communities under water. The latest on this developing story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back. Good morning.

Parts of south Florida waking up to some serious damage this morning after heavy rain and even a possible tornado. Upwards of six inches of rain drenching the West Palm Beach area, causing some severe flooding, and even leading to collapsed roads there. The pictures really tell the story. Residents say they have never seen rain this bad even in hurricanes. And officials now are looking into the damage in a motor home park, south of Port St. Lucie, asking, could that be the result of a tornado?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden, a big bang and the house shook. I think that's when the lights went out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My trailer went up in the air and I got kind of scared. I ran into the bathroom and power went out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow.

BERMAN: Let's get a check of your Friday forecast now, find out what's in store.

Chad Myers has that for.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys.

You know, light snow around New York City, especially the western part of the suburbs. Also, some freezing rain this morning. Now, it's not going to last long, but this pink area here, D.C., Philadelphia, up toward the (INAUDIBLE), that's the area that could see freezing rain this morning. About 9:00, it's all liquid rain. And by 2:00 in the afternoon rain, we're well above 40.

But it's just for right now we're concerned. It's still dark and you might not see the black ice on the roadways. By later on tonight, it is all rain. Some spots could pick up an inch of rain, especially right through the city. Forty-two for the high today. The warmest we have seen for awhile. Even Minneapolis warms up to 34, 40 in Kansas City, and 58 in Minneapolis.

Now, not so much for the East Coast. But maybe through the Midwest, maybe for you, Hawaii, something else is going on right now.

The northern lights are going on. The Aurora Borealis, about 3:00 yesterday afternoon, a coronal mass ejection, not polar vortex, something completely different, came out of the sun and hit the sun and hit the earth. Now, we have it on the Auroras on the north and south poles. If you go out there and look, if you're far enough north or south, you might be able to see some cool green, maybe even yellow light out there this is morning.

Back to you, guys, in New York.

BERMAN: Northern lights -- nothing prettier than that. Thank you so much, Chad.

All right. When we come back, the top headlines and everything you need to know for your day. I got to tell you, there is a lot this morning. So, come back, right after the break.

ROMANS: The download.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)