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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Fallout from Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" -- Legal and Political; State of Emergency in West Virginia after Chemical Leak; Jobs Report Disappointing

Aired January 10, 2014 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The governor says he's sorry about the traffic jam, but now he's being sued, a class action by people claiming gridlock led to lost wages.

And beyond the incriminating e-mails, what is in those 900-plus pages of documents that investigators are just about to release.

Two-hundred-thousand people in nine West Virginia counties are being warned, do not drink the water, don't even bathe in it or anything else for that matter.

Hospital emergency rooms are filling up, the governor, even the White House, declaring a state of emergency there.

And fans of the band Insane Clown Posse calls themselves "Juggalos." However, the FBI calls them a gang.

And that's why they're suing, suing the FBI, claiming they are being persecuted, even prosecuted because of their face paint and their crazy tattoos. It is the craziest First-Amendment fight you have ever seen.

Hello and welcome. It's Friday, January the 10th. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. This is LEGAL VIEW. Thanks for being with us.

You have seen the gridlock. You've seen and heard the outrage. We've read the e-mails. And we've witnessed an almost two-hour long news conference, replete with regret and recriminations.

But, today, the Chris Christie bridge-traffic scandal, not only isn't it winding down, it's becoming more serious than ever, because, today, there is a class-action lawsuit that's been levied, a contempt citation against an ex-official and 900 pages of documents from a state legislative committee, documents you can bet are going to be cross-checked against every syllable that was uttered by the New Jersey in his remarkable appearance this time yesterday.

Our Joe Johns has been following all these developments in Washington. First the documents, just exactly what are we expecting to see and what are these documents?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Anybody's guess, Ashleigh, still waiting for the documents to be released, more than 900 pages that, at best, could shed some light on what happened in the bridge controversy.

They are coming from the same committee in New Jersey, the legislature that has been at the center of the storm in this story from the start.

We are also being told not to necessarily expect any bombshells, but that the new documents might provide a little more context.

And that's about all we know, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And then what about this lawsuit, the class-action lawsuit from those that say they were wronged by what happened on that bridge?

JOHNS: Right. It's in federal court. They want this to be certified as a class action to represent a large number of people who suffered loss of wages and so on.

It's filed against Governor Chris Christie, Bridget Anne Kelly, David Wildstein and some of the other players in this.

The plaintiffs are people who say they were inconvenienced and delayed by the bridge closures. They say they were deprived of liberty and property due to the delays. They allege official misconduct and conspiracy.

But the balance of the claims seem to allege negligence, meaning that they say there was an actual harm caused by the bridge delays and the state had a duty to do something about it but they didn't.

Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: And then on the other level, the New Jersey U.S. attorney announced that the investigation has begun there.

Do we know anything about subpoenas that could be coming from the feds to the actors and players in the scandal?

JOHNS: At this stage, we're told it's a very preliminary investigation, the Department of Justice and the FBI checking to see whether any federal corruption laws may have been violated.

It's certainly obvious they will look at any public money that was spent on this and any public statements that were made before or after the fact.

However, details of that are sketchy, and some people, frankly, have said, not everybody, but some people have said, making a federal case out of this might be a little bit of a stretch.

BANFIELD: And other people have said that, you know, that U.S. attorney who's pretty newly sworn in, was a big Democratic contributor as well, so there could be a lot of politics involved here, according to some critics.

I want to talk about that one player yesterday who got a lot of ink, other than Chris Christie, and that was David Wildstein, who's the former director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority.

He appeared before a legislative committee, stood up and effectively put that hand up and said, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to answer your questions. I have a Fifth Amendment protection.

And that led to a contempt charge. Can you explain it?

JOHNS: It's pretty simple. When you are called before an official body like this and you know there is potential for perhaps a criminal investigation, you do have a right to say, I'm not going to testify because I don't want my words used against me.

Quite naturally, a legislature is not going to take kindly to that, and they have a right to say, you are in contempt for not effectively testifying.

And part of the rational for that obviously would be, at that time, we didn't know that there was any legal exposure for David Wildstein.

Nonetheless, a lot of questions being asked out there, and any attorney worth his salt would have told him to plead the Fifth, at least for now.

BANFIELD: I hear you. I agree, Joe.

It looks ugly on TV whenever anyone stands up and says no, but this is our fundamental constitutional right in this country.

And when things are happening at rapid pace, as they are on this story, who knows what exposure could exist down the road?

Who knows what immunity that legislative committee is promising, how extensive it really is?

And, again, if you are a good lawyer, as you said, if you're worth your weight in salt, you really need to help your client protect himself just in case.

So I think that needs to be outlined for anybody out there who wants to indict that man just for keeping quiet. It's our right.

Joe Johns, thank you for that.

By the way, I should mention, he accepted the governor's in-person apology, but the Fort Lee mayor who's at the center of this, Mark Sokolich, he told our Wolf Blitzer that legally, bygones may not be bygones.

Have a listen.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": The FBI has now been brought into this investigation on a federal level by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. When you hear that and when you hear one of the Port Authority officials who had appointment, David Wildstein, now refusing to testify, taking the Fifth, pleading the Fifth Amendment before the state legislature, this seems to be escalating, this potential for criminal wrongdoing.

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH (D), FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY: It certainly does. You don't hear those initials, that being the FBI, unless it reaches a level of criminality.

And, sure, you know, look. You don't close the busiest bridge in the world without having any basis to do so. And, quite frankly, your only basis is to dole out retribution.

It's not something that's acceptable, and I'm sure it breaks laws. What those specific laws are, I don't know, but it's not something you do.

So, we -- I think everybody now recognizes the severity of it, which brings me to the next point, if I may.

You cannot imagine how grateful we in Fort Lee are to the folks that are doing what they need to do to determine the facts, the assembly subcommittee for transportation and their incredible work on determining precisely what transpired, who's responsible and to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

We in Fort Lee are eternally, eternally grateful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I want to bring in my legal panel on this one, because there is a lot to chew on, Defense attorney and HLN legal analyst Joey Jackson.

I'm also joined by attorney Heather Hansen. And, Heather, let me begin with you. The landscape broadening when you talk about potential litigation in this case, I think we are only at the surface, at least of the questions.

HEATHER HANSEN, ATTORNEY: I agree.

BANFIELD: What's the biggest problem that you foresee at this point for the governor?

HANSEN: The civil cases. I think that the criminal case is, as Joe said earlier, it is limited.

There really isn't a whole lot to go after for criminal unless they find some wire fraud, unless they find some kickbacks, in which case, they will blow open.

But the civil cases, there are so many possibilities there. And even if they don't go very far, Ashleigh, as long as they get to discovery, then you're opening all of the players up to depositions and they're not going to want to testify about what went on behind closed doors. BANFIELD: And what about this notion of sovereign immunity? We always hear how hard it is to go after the government when something doesn't go your way.

How protected is Chris Christie and these other players in the state of New Jersey under sovereign immunity, Joey?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: It could be hard, Ashleigh, but when you are an official of the government and you act outside of your statutory authority, guess what happens to your immunity?

BANFIELD: It goes away.

JACKSON: So, as a result of that, the argument here is that these were egregious actions.

And, of course, the lawsuit -- and Heather addressed the civil aspects of it -- it's predicated upon one notion, and that's that our elected officials should at least behave as adults and shouldn't engage in retributive acts.

Now, I don't know if that was the case. Obviously the e-mails seem to suggest it was. There will be an ongoing investigation.

As to the criminal aspects, I'll reserve judgment at this point. It could go down that line.

But when you're talking about officials who engaged in actions that were seemingly purposeful, forget about immunity. People want answers.

BANFIELD: So, one of those people who have alleged to have done these things and the e-mails certainly support that allegation, if anything, is Bridget Kelly, one of the top aides.

And she was fired, and Chris Christie really let her have it, publicly, yesterday.

There's already a report out there from a friend of hers that she was thrown under the bus. This wasn't fair.

If she decides to roll over, if there is anything untoward about what Chris Christie might have said and she decides to roll over, how credible could any indictment of hers against Chris Christie be?

HANSEN: It depends on what she has to support it, Ashleigh. You've got to imagine that with the closeness of the relationship where she worked with him, there's got to be e-mails, there's got to be text messages.

And when you see how clearly --

BANFIELD: No, I'm going to stop you right there, because if I'm the governor and a lawyer himself, the top lawyer in New Jersey for -- I don't know -- six, eight years, you know if you sent an e-mail that's incriminating and you would never spend two hours on television knowing that you could have a Bill Clinton "I-did-not-have-sex-with- that-woman" moment.

HANSEN: You would hope so, but look at the other politicians who have been in those positions. You don't always remember.

We're talking about 904 pages of documents that are coming out today. You don't always remember the things that you've said or the things that have been said by your underlings that can be brought back to be blamed on you.

JACKSON: The "I-don't-remember" defense.

HANSEN: There is a lot out there. Every day, the interactions that you have with your staff every day, can you really say for sure that there's not an e-mail or a text -- Chris Christie's got to be pretty darn confident.

JACKSON: That's a fair point, Heather.

BANFIELD: Those are strong things E-mails and texts, that's an electronic trail.

What about a meeting in which it was just said? And then it's all about the "he said/she said," again, if there is anything to be said --

JACKSON: Unless there are witnesses.

BANFIELD: -- credibility.

JACKSON: Absolutely, Ashleigh. Unless there are witnesses as to that meeting, if there was a meeting that took place, as you mentioned, e- mails and electronic communication --

BANFIELD: How credible is someone who did something like that?

JACKSON: It depends. It depends on a number of things.

But, also, you have to look at the nature of the relationship, and did he know or should he have known that this was occurring?

HANSEN: Should he have known is going to be a big part of this.

BANFIELD: But, legally, that's tricky. That gets to be really tricky.

Heather Hansen and Joey Jackson, stick around, excellent analysis, and there's more of that, ahead, as well.

I want to get the turn now from the LEGAL VIEW to the really bare- knuckle world of politics, and that's where Peter Hamby dances gently every day, joins me live now.

The damage control efforts right now, and there are a lot of different facets of it and a lot of different platforms, why don't you give me the "State of the Union" right now on the damage control for Chris Christie.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, Ashleigh.

Yeah, I think the received wisdom today is that, in itself, politically, Chris Christie did what he had to do yesterday. He came out. He was contrite. He flooded the zone. He answered every single question.

I talked to one person in Trenton yesterday who actually said Christie showed leadership by casting aside Bill Stepien, his senior political advisor, who's really one of his top three or four aides.

This is a guy who maybe would have run Chris Christie's presidential campaign, if he does run for president.

The fact that he cast him aside in such blunt terms yesterday, these are all checking the boxes of crisis management in a political campaign.

It is not over. He is going to get a lot of bad press over the next few days.

BANFIELD: Hey, Peter, seriously, not just bad press from Democrats who are thrilled but there are Republicans who don't like him, and this could be blood in the water.

Isn't it true that they are looking for something to take him down?

HAMBY: Yeah, there is a touch of that. What you see, though, is that a lot of the criticisms coming from the right are coming from conservatives, talk radio blogs, writers, who don't like Chris Christie.

Remember, he's not -- he leads Republican polls. He's actually famous, you know? His name i.d. is really high.

But a lot of Republicans think he is squishy on conservative issues and they don't like him.

So they sense blood in the water. That's who you're hearing this from.

In Washington, though, yesterday, the biggest surprise was Lindsey Graham, a noted sort of bipartisan maverick moderate, who came out yesterday and said, Chris Christie is too slick. He sounds like a bully.

Now, Lindsey Graham has an election of his own in South Carolina this year and is protecting his right flank a little bit, but that was interesting, Ashleigh.

But, otherwise, I think you're seeing criticism coming from mostly the conservative wing of the party.

BANFIELD: And only just the beginning.

Peter Hamby, thank you for that.

Another big story, unless you are flushing a toilet or fighting a fire, do not use the water in West Virginia.

hat warning is now out to more than 200,000 people after a big chemical spill there. Imagine, no drink of water.

So what's the chemical and what on earth are they doing for those people, coming up.

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BANFIELD: Don't drink the tap water, do not take a shower, and don't even brush your teeth with it, it is the stark warning that about 200,999 people are facing this morning in Charleston, West Virginia and some surrounding counties as well, and all of it is because of a chemical spill in the Elk River. It is a chemical called 4- methylcyclohexane methanol, a mouthful for sure, but effectively it is used to clean coal, certainly not something you want to ingest. The federal government has joined the state in declaring an emergency there. Officials say the only thing the water should be used for right now is fighting fires and flushing toilets and that's it. Officials had this update at a news conference just moments ago.

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JEFF MCINTYRE, PRES., WEST VIRGINIA WATER: Obviously we still have no quantified amount. We have run some tests and we can detect the material. There is a material present. We don't know how to quantify it. So, we didn't know yesterday how to quantify it.

Dupont Chemical Incorporated, overnight their chemist worked to help us try to identify a standard method for analysis to be able to quantify. That method is now being rolled out to an Army National Guard unit that has a mobile lab that has, you know, a lot of high- priced equipment that can analyze this, and they're going to start analyzing samples that we've been collecting. And we have done a lot of our own analysis, but clearly using the wrong standard did not provide us the accuracy we need to know exactly the quantities we are dealing with.

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BANFIELD: Wow, that's never good to hear, that you don't know the quantities you are dealing with. A lot of schools, including the University of West Virginia and restaurants are closed. Look at those shelves. Stores have sold out of bottled water in this emergency.

Joining us on the phone from West Virginia is our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. So, obviously, Elizabeth, the very first question, how dangerous is this chemical if somebody were, in fact, to swallow it?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Ashleigh, we know that this chemical is dangerous if you were exposed to it at its full-force. And I emphasize that because that's so important here. This chemical has been diluted. It leached from this chemical company into the soil and into the Elk River, got diluted into the water system. It is very diluted now. We don't -- it may be causing no problems. They made it very clear at the press conference. The water may, indeed, be safe. That's possible, but since they are not sure, that's why they are telling everyone, don't drink it, don't bathe with it, don't do anything with it except flush toilets and fight fires. So at this moment, we're really not sure how dangerous this is because we don't know how diluted it has become.

BANFIELD: And I know as this news continues to be breaking, and the situation is evolving, do you have any sense on whether anybody has actually allen ill? How are the hospitals at this point?

COHEN: Right. We have made phone calls to local hospitals and it appears that there have not been illnesses associated with this. Now, some people have come in and have said they were feeling nauseous and this water has a smell to it. It smells like black licorice. There hasn't been any link that that nausea is because they consumed the water. Sometimes, when people smell something that smells bad, they just kind of feel sick. From what we are hearing from hospitals, there have been no illnesses linked to this water contamination.

BANFIELD: What about the public health response? Look, it's water. If you are told you can't drink the water out of your tap, you have 200,000 people that need to be attended to in an emergency manner. What are they doing to get water to those people?

COHEN: They are doing quite a bit. FEMA, as well as state agencies and other agencies are shipping water in literally by the truck full. There are places that people can go and they know there are certain locations where they can go and fill up containers with water. There are places where you can go to get bottled water. Certainly, it is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but they are trying to get water into this area literally by the truckload.

BANFIELD: I know this isn't necessarily in your purview being a medical correspondent but it is fascinating nonetheless, because public health and public safety all plays in here. How did this spill happen?

COHEN: What they found is when they went to this company, they found a container of the chemical and it was leaking. There was supposed to be a containment process in case of a leak, but that process failed as well. There was a leak and the process that was supposed to contain it also failed. And so, that's how the leak happened.

Now, it's interesting the company did not report the leak. The way they found out about it was that the consumers started calling and say, why does my water smell like black licorice. This chemical gives off a black licorice smell. And from what we have heard from the utility, from the water company, they have been deciding to get in touch with people from this company that did the leaking and nobody will talk to them. They are having trouble getting on the phone with somebody and having a discussion with the company where the leak came from. That's what we are being told by utility officials.

BANFIELD: Not good. All right, Elizabeth, keep your eye on it for us. Report back when you get another update. Thank you for that, Elizabeth Cohen doing our breaking news on that chemical spill -- 200,000 people affected by this. No water.

So, economists seem to be completely blindsided today by those numbers that we expect on these awesome numbers we expect this first Friday of the month. Not so good. Dismal. Does it mean job seekers have just given up? Why would the unemployment rate go down? Those answers coming up next.

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BANFIELD: The newest jobs numbers, sadly, not what you want to hear. A real disappointment, in fact. Just 74,000 jobs were added last month to the U.S. economy. If you are tracking it, it is a lot lower than what was expected; 193,000 were forecast by the analysts. So, strangely enough, at the same time, the unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent. That is down from 7. So .3 of a decline, even though the jobs numbers kind of pitiful. And there's Alison Kosik. So, I think a lot of people often wonder, that's not possible, and it sure is.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You are talking about the disconnect between employers adding only 74,000 jobs --

BANFIELD: -- and unemployment falling.

KOSIK: Exactly. So, this really, if you want to sort of boil it down to an easy way of understanding, there are two surveys done. One where the Labor Department has people calling companies. That's where they get that 74,000 number, the number of jobs added in December. And then the other survey is done to find out what the unemployment number is.

Here is what we found out. The headline is really good, going from 7 percent to 6.7 percent unemployment sounds really good, but then you pull back the curtain and you see what's really going on here. The problem here is that 347,000 people just said, I'm given up. I'm done. I'm not looking for work.

Do you want to hear worse? Half of those people are college graduates. The cherry on top of the mud pie is a lot of people getting into the labor force are high school graduates, only high school graduates, which means the kinds of jobs they are finding aren't those real high-paying wages. They do want to see the glass half full, in this story right now, is the November jobs number. That jobs number was revised higher from 203,000 to 241,000.

And then a lot of analysts are saying look, this number doesn't jive with what we have been seeing happen in the economy. GDP has been getting better. Jobless claims numbers have been going down. The overall economy has been improving. Maybe this number is happening because they are saying the weather or because of the holiday season. They say this may be a fluke.

BANFIELD: We'll watch. I said the first Friday and I must have been hungover on the first Friday, because this is the second Friday. Because of the holidays, we have it on the second Friday. Happy new year!

All right, Alison Kosik, thank you for that.

The controversy we talked about off the top of the show with the George Washington Bridge lane closures, it's just beginning to rev up. Some people say it is the tip of the iceberg. Lingering legal issues that are surrounding a woman who died after paramedics got stuck in traffic. Was that connected? Can that connection even be made? What does this all mean for Chris Christie and his possible White House run? We're going to go live to New Jersey next.

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