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What's Next for Chris Christie?; Unemployment Benefits Battle; Rodman Remains

Aired January 10, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I would just like to say, we're satisfied with our --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. Our bosses rule.

And they tell us that EARLY START continues right now.


BERMAN: Chris Christie apologetic, very apologetic, even sad, and taking action, firing top aides accused in a traffic jam scandal. The "I'm sorrys" coming as nearly 1,000 pages of new evidence from this case becomes public this morning.

Good morning, everyone. Great to see you this Friday. This is EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday. Let's say it again, January 10th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

All right. There could be more stunning revelations today for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the political scandal that's put him in the center of the political spotlight. He says he's embarrassed and he's humiliated and he's sorry for what he claims happened without his knowledge.

He's now fired a top aide and asked an adviser to give up a high profile Republican Party jobs for their roles in a shutdown of traffic on the very busy George Washington bridge during last year' gubernatorial campaign. Apparently, it's political payback against a mayor who would not endorse their boss.

Today, nearly a thousand pages of new documents are expected to be released, showing what state lawmakers have found out so far. A source tells CNN the FBI now looking into what happened to see if federal law was violated. There's a lot of talk about that this morning.

And even though Christie apologized, one person connected with the shutdown is not talking.

Joe Johns begins our coverage.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As one figure at the center 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 aide, 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: He 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 vastly 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 effective 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 that 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.


BERMAN: All right. And this morning we're hearing from one of the key players in this whole thing, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. That, of course, is the town that suffered the most from the bridge shutdown.

He and Governor Chris Christie, they met late on Thursday. And Anderson Cooper asked the mayor if he now believes what the governor is telling him.


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 deducted 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.


ROMANS: All right. There's been much talk about the impact of the bridge shutdown on residents of Fort Lee, including a 91-year-old woman who authorities say died after an ambulance couldn't get to her on time. Her daughter has a different take on what happened.


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 already gone when the ambulance got there.


ROMANS: But that's what mayor was so concerned about. All the complaints from EMS, from school busses, late to school because they couldn't get through the traffic because the bridge was backed up.

BERMAN: This effects people in ways they understand. Everyone knows what it's like to sit in traffic. A lot of questions about what happens going forward.

So, let's bring in CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser. He's in our Washington bureau this morning.

Paul, great to see you right now.

Paul, I want to ask you this. We all judged the performance. Let's talk about today. Let's talk about tomorrow.

What questions still remain for Governor Chris Christie?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: There are a host of questions that still remain. Remember, Chris Christie said he had no knowledge of this. But as you just mentioned, 907 pages of documents are going to be coming out today from that state senate committee that was investigating this controversy.

So there could be a lot of questions that will arise as we pore through those documents. Other investigations, a civil lawsuit as well. So, this thing is far from over.

Why did Chris Christie not take action earlier? Remember, this controversy has been going on for quite sometime now, a couple months. You had those major resignations last month and in November as well. So why didn't Chris Christie take bigger action earlier?

A host of questions remain for Chris Christie. But John, Christine, he did a lot of things right in the news conference yesterday. First of all, he fired close aides. That's important. He took action right off the bat, as he said within 24 hours.

He apologized, as you mentioned, a number of times. He took every question, an hour and 48 minutes on that news conference. He didn't hide and shorten a news conference. He took every question from every reporter that had one.

And he was contrite. As you guys mentioned, he was humble, humiliated and embarrassed. He kind of lost that traditional swagger and bluster that we know from Chris Christie.

So, yes, he did a lot of things right, but by denying or saying he had no knowledge of what was going on with his closest aides, he's kind of given himself very little wiggle room as we go forward. This is far from over, guys.

ROMANS: I think people who criticized him as a bully in the past, Democrats who don't like him or even some Republicans who don't like him and his manner, I think for them, nothing has changed.

But tell me a little bit about inside the Republican Party, maybe this divide among Republicans about the performance yesterday.

STEINHAUSER: That's a great point. Listen, as we all expected, Democrats were going to attack on this big time. Why, because Chris Christie is considered possibly a front runner in the next race for the Republican nomination.

But the real reaction is from the Republicans. There was a lot of -- there wasn't a lot of reaction. But from those that did speak out, you saw a kind of a -- a shift in attitude. There was some attacks of Chris Christie early from conservatives who never loved Chris Christie because he's pragmatist who's willing to work with Democrats.

But after his news conference, a slight shift in tone there from some of these conservatives, that's the real thing to look at going forward. What conservatives say, they never really liked this guy. Will this hurt him worse with conservatives, the people who really vote in big numbers in those primaries and caucuses?

BERMAN: Hey, and, Paul, I had an example of this from a key Republican primary state South Carolina. The senator there Lindsey Graham. I want to show you what he said before the news conference because it's telling right there.

He says, "It seems to me the whole bridge thing reinforces a narrative that's troublesome about this guy. He's kind of a bully." Now, that was before the news conference.

This is what Republican Lindsey Graham said after the news conference. He said, "I'm impressed with the contrite nature in taking responsibility. In today's political environment, it was a breath of fresh air and I think he handled it as well as he could." That's a big change from a key senator from the key state.

STEINHAUSER: Very important change. You also saw that coming from conservative bloggers who are pretty influential on the right.

And a the lot of Republicans, while maybe not praising Chris Christie, are trying to make the contrast between somebody they don't like a lot more and that's President Obama. And they're saying, you know what, Chris Christie at least did fire people. President Obama hasn't fired yet. You're hearing a lot of that from the right as well, guys.

ROMANS: All right. Paul Steinhauser -- thanks, Paul.


ROMANS: In the Senate, the fight continues today over extending those jobless benefits. Both sides seemingly locked in in their squabbling over the latest compromise offer. OK, that deal would send $300 a week to more than a million Americans. The Democrats wants to pass a ten-month extension. That would cost taxpayers about $18 billion, but they want it to be offset maybe by budget cuts, right?

Republicans are complaining, they haven't been consulted or offered a chance to make their own proposal.

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

But despite the charges, India would not waive her diplomatic immunity. She got on a plane overnight insisting she's innocent, but leaving the U.S.

ROMANS: All right. The biggest news for your money -- a big economic report from the government that really matters to you. The December jobs report. And you know what? Hopes are pretty high.

Economists surveyed by CNN Money are forecasting 193,000 net new jobs added in December. Seven percent unemployment. That means the jobless rate is at the lowest level in five years.

Now, Deutsche Bank, its economists, particularly bullish. They say the unemployment rate likely dropped below that to 6.8 percent.

As for the 193,000 job gains if the forecast is correct, the economy will have created nearly 2.3 million jobs last year. We have not seen a yearly performance like that in the jobs market since 2005.

You see the red right there? Those two red bars?

Here's the bad news. When you look at how much we lost in 2008 and 2009, the deeps of the recession, in four years, we still haven't made it all back. Even if today's strong predictions come true. We're in the hole 1.4 million jobs.

As for Wall Street, this is the report investors having waiting for all week. Stock futures at this hour up slightly. Any big move won't happen until 8:30. Asian markets are closed. They ended mixed. Chinese exports slowed, and early trading, we've got European stock markets moving higher at the hour.

BERMAN: This jobs report so key. Will tell us so much about where the country has been and more about where it's going.

ROMANS: It changes the political debate in Washington too. So, it's really good point.

BERMAN: It changed everything.

Twelve minutes after the hour right now.

Parts of South Florida are trying to clean up this morning after heavy rain led to severe flooding. Look at this. More rain could be coming soon too. This is where six inches of rain fell and the water got so high that roads -- some cars just shut down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a muffler. So, there's water over the muffler.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It came almost up to the door. It looked fine. The engine shut off. I tried to back out and leave and I went through that and it shutdown again.


ROMANS: All right. Indra Petersons, she got a look at your forecast.

Hi, Indra.


Once again, talking about Florida. There are no stranger, talking about severe cells developing really quickly. But what they saw was a typical for them. I mean, so much rain in a short period of time that they still have flood watches in the region.

Whether or not they have a tornado, they could surveying the damage later. Several homes were damaged and businesses in region.

Look at the amount of rain though. We're talking about even as much as 12 inches of rain has fallen in the region. Some places as much as five or six inches in a few hours. So, that's a concern as still more showers are in the region for them today.

For the rest of us, let's get to what is really good out there. We're talking about that warm air starting to build in. Notice where the warm front is. Still seeing some of the cool air. Most importantly even though there's a cold front towards the end of weekend, it's not going to cool you off as much as what we just in the beginning of this week.

So, let's take a look at what is out there right now. Notice, here comes another system starting to make its way through. Notice the showers. Yes, we're going to be talking about rain up into the Northeast as we go through the weekend, quickly clearing out by Sunday. That's the good news.

What we're looking at, we could see one to two inches in the Southeast. About two to three inches of rain in that region. But overall warm. A little bit rainy Saturday.

BERMAN: Really warm.

ROMANS: We'll take it. We will take it.

BERMAN: Nice to be outside, as long as you don't mind getting soak.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

All right. New overnight, Dennis Rodman losing basketball team returning home. If you're Rodman, do you want to win in North Korea? That's my question. Rodman no where in sight. We're live with why the basketball star stayed behind in North Korea.

BERMAN: And shocking new video coming in overnight you'll want to see. A police shootout caught on camera. That's coming up next.


ROMANS: Breaking overnight, some of the NBA players who went with Dennis Rodman to nor Korea are on their way home, after an exhibition game in honor of Kim Jong-un's birthday.

Rodman is not with them. Apparently, he's staying behind. He possibly even going skiing with his good friend Kim.

So, what could those two men be talking about? Could Rodman bring up American Kenneth Bae held prisoner there in North Korea? Could he be bringing him up after all?

Karl Penhaul following developments this morning from Beijing.

What do we know?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTENRATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, we have two separate sources that, yes, maybe Dennis Rodman is going skiing. We know that Kim Jong-un was educated in Switzerland. And one of his pet projects was to build a ski resort. And that resort opened over Christmas. So, he maybe wanting to show Rodman that.

Another source told us that Rodman will be hanging with Kim Jong-un for the next couple days.

Now, as for the issue of Kenneth Bae, of course, a fire storm of controversy when Rodman said repeatedly that he wouldn't be bringing up the issue because it wasn't his job. He wasn't a politician. But that was a reverse diplomacy, if you like, because since that moment, that put the Kenneth Bae issue front and center of media and U.S. government concerns. I think it's fair to say even though Rodman may not have brought it up and Kim Jong-un knows well that Bae's family, supporters and U.S. government want him home now and right now.

But we put it to Charles D. Smith, the power forward that did return home today said we asked him, is there a possibility that Rodman may be bringing Bae home with him. He just gave me a rye smile. But he had this to say about what he said for the benefits of that trip.


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: The big question now, what is Dennis Rodman's mission while he remains in North Korea? Is it just a party with a dictator or is he preparing some kind of diplomatic slam dunk, Christine?

ROMANS: Wow. All right. Karl Penhaul -- thank you, Karl.

Breaking overnight in this country, a major water emergency in West Virginia. The White House signed on to a disaster declaration after a chemical spill contaminated a river, a river that serves as the main source of water for 200,000 people. Those people being told do not drink the water, do not bathe in it, do not cook with it, do not use the water for any reason.

It's not clear how dangerous the chemical is for humans, but many have been flooding emergency rooms to get checked out. Some hospitals have cancelled elected surgeries and stores are running out of bottled water.

BERMAN: It's very, very seriously there.

All right. Happening today: CNN has learned that the FBI has began interviews in the death of Kendrick Johnson. The Georgia teen disappeared a year ago today. He was found a day later, dead in a rolled up gym mat at his high school.

The Justice Department is investigating his death and now, local officials handled the case -- how local officials handled the case. His parents believe someone killed their son and covered up the evidence.

ROMANS: New this morning, police in Pennsylvania will speak about the fears of road rage killer may strike again. Twenty-eight-year-old Timothy Davidson of Maine was shot dead on Interstate 81 Saturday, after calling 911 to report someone was chasing him on the highway.

Police believe the same person who killed him is responsible for an earlier shooting in which no one was injured. Investigators in Kentucky reportedly plan to contact Pennsylvania authorities to see if the incident there is connected to Saturday's killing. He was just driving home from Florida.

BERMAN: You hear that? The heart pounding ending to a high speed police chase in southern California. Obviously, as you can see, it was all caught on camera.

This started when police in San Diego tried to pull over a driver for using a cell phone behind the wheel, but the suspect took off instead, leading officers on hour-long chase that ended in a hail of gunfire.

Rather stunning to hear that to think it all started from a guy on a cell phone. Police say four officers opened fire when the driver came to a stop. The driver pointed a gun at them they say. The suspect is in critical condition. We're told police found drugs and also a gun in his car. A lot of going on.

OK, we'll be right back.


BERMAN: Guess what I'm doing this weekend?

ROMANS: Do laundry.

BERMAN: No. Option two, watching football -- lots and lots of football. There are eight teams still alive, really one only matters. The other teams, they think they're going to the Super Bowl.

Andy Scholes joins us with a preview of the action this week.

And, Andy, give it to us.


You know, hopefully, this weekend's games live up to last weekend's games because the wild card round was absolutely awesome.

Now, the first game is tomorrow. New Orleans Saints head to Seattle. Now, New Orleans was blown out earlier this season in Seattle. This time around, Saints head coach, Sean Payton, he's pulling out all the stops to get his team ready. He's gone as far as to paint the Seahawks logo on the practice field, even blew out two huge speakers while trying to simulate the noise. We'll see if the strategies work.

Saints and Seahawks, kicked off at 4:35 Eastern tomorrow afternoon, that game is followed by the Colts and, John, your Patriots. Now, the Colts are still riding high after their comeback against the Chiefs this week.

Rachel Nichols caught up with the star quarterback Andrew Luck.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: Your general manager compared you to Michael Jordan the other day. He said that you have the ability to raise your game in the fourth quarter to meet the moment.

Why do you think you're a guy that plays up when the stakes go up instead of shirking from them?

ANDREW LUCK, COLTS QUARTERBACK: I'm not sure. I know I'm no Michael Jordan by any means. I don't know. A tenth of what he's done.


SCHOLES: You can catch the whole interview on "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS." That's tonight at 10:30 Eastern right here on CNN.

All right. Houston Rockets strolled into practice earlier this week and noticed the giant inflatable bear, but they didn't think much of it. But then check out them when they are leaving. Clutch the bear comes alive.



SCHOLES: You know what, Taylor Parsons right there. Even gets Dwight Howard. Dwight's reaction is awesome. Kicks Clutch right in the stomach. But Clutch has been doing this for years. He comes up with some of greatest pranks you'll ever see.

BERMAN: I always loved news about inflatables. Andy Scholes, thank you so much. Great to see you this morning. Go Patriots.

ROMANS: The top headlines and everything you need to know, is right after the break.


ROMANS: Heartbroken and humiliated. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, apologizing after his employees are tied to a traffic scandal. This morning, new reaction as new evidence in the bridge closing case is set to become public.