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Governor Chris Christie Faces Bridge Closing Scandal; Some West Virginia Counties Water Supply Affected by Chemical Spill; Warming Up This Weekend; Chris Christie's Damage Control

Aired January 10, 2014 - 07:00   ET




GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: I am embarrassed and humiliated.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Round two. First a marathon press conference, now the lawsuits and flood of newly released documents coming out this morning. Can Chris Christie survive what comes next?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: New this hour, the United States now sending security officials to Sochi among renewed fears of a possible terror attack at the Olympic Games. Can team USA be kept safe? We're live in Russia.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Caught on tape, the dramatic police chase that ends with this, the suspect jumping off a bridge to get away. She survived, but did she escape?

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY starts right now.

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

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Friday, January 10, 7:00 in the east. And new this morning, the question, will more dominos come falling down for New Jersey governor Chris Christie. A thousand page of documents about to be released about the traffic scandal now known as bridge-gate. They could shed more light on who knew what when about the shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge as political payback.

BOLDUAN: And now a class action lawsuit is coming after the governor has fired staffer and other appointees all facing legal action. As for Christie, he says he's sad, embarrassed, and humiliated, but most important for this political future, that he had no idea what was going on. Let's start with Pamela Brown in New Jersey for us. Good morning Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Kate. During his nearly two-hour press conference, Chris Christie made it clear he knew nothing about the scandal. But what he didn't do is resolve the mystery around so-called bridge-gate. In fact this could be just the beginning. What we have seen so far, just a small fraction of the documents collected by the New Jersey state assembly as part of its investigation. Later this morning, it will be posting 907 pages online. Of course we hope to learn more about bridge-gate and see whether Christie's story will hold up.


CHRISTIE: I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey.

BROWN: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie embarking on an apology tour for the so-called bridge-gate scandal.

CHRISTIE: I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. I knew nothing about this. I had no knowledge. I had no knowledge of this.

BROWN: In in response to the four day long traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge last fall.

CHRISTIE: By 9:00 this morning Bridget Kelly was fired. By 7:00 yesterday evening, Bill Baroni was asked to leave my organization. That's pretty swift action for a day's work.

BROWN: Several New Jersey residents have now filed a class action lawsuit against the governor and former staffers and appointees. The suit seeks damaged for being trapped on the roadways causing them to be late for and/or miss work, being docked pay and injured as a result of the clogged local roads.

After his mea culpa news conference, Christie traveled to Fort Lee to meet face to face with the city's mayor.

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH, (D) FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY: He was gracious, he was apologetic, we believe sincere. But, you know, it's an ongoing investigation.

BROWN: The scandal has created a fire storm of commentary.

BILL RICHARDSON, (D) FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: This has been damaging. There's potential illegality here. There were little kids on the bridge that can't get through.

RUDY GIULIANI, (R) FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: He didn't act like a person who had knowledge before the fact. He acted like a person that got blindsided, because he never would have made some of those remarks that he made.

BROWN: The damaging e-mails at the center of the scandal have David Wildstein pleading the fifth. Wildstein's silence leaves many questions unanswered. Were Christie's staffers going rogue or were they executing orders from their chief?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER: It they are prosecuted successfully, they may well turn on the governor and say, hey, we're not talking this fall by ourselves. We were led to believe this is what you wanted.


BROWN: The FBI now teaming up with the U.S. attorney's office here in New Jersey to see whether any federal laws were violated. Meantime the New Jersey governor's office saying no public schedule is set for today.

But Chris, still a lot of unanswered questions. Whose names were redacted in those damaging text messages? Why didn't Christie call for an outside counsel to investigate the traffic jam? And why didn't he question his now ex-employee about why she lied to him? Of course we'll be pouring over these documents released this morning from the state assembly. Back to you, Chris.

CUOMO: Thanks, Pamela. So a lot of these questions are political, but they could have legal implications based on what the answers are. So let's go through what is remaining, what seems to be working for the governor, what seems to be outstanding based on the news conference. Who ordered the lane closings? If the closings where the result of political retribution, what were they about? To help us break that down, who else, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. It's great to have you this morning.


CUOMO: Let's start with what makes sense. We sat through the entire thing together yesterday.

TOOBIN: We did.

CUOMO: What boxes do you think he checked in terms of offsetting what investigators will be looking at?

TOOBIN: Well, certainly he apologized. Sometimes politicians give these very grudging apologies. I don't think anyone can say that.

CUOMO: He could have not apologized and said I did this and this and I thought it was OK at the time, and that would have sparked more investigation.

TOOBIN: There was no parsing of words. He was clearly sorry. I think he also established, at least to my satisfaction, that this was not political retribution for the mayor refusing to endorse him.

CUOMO: So he also made it that there was no plan, right? That's what we're saying. The allegation is that this local mayor, who was a Democrat and shouldn't have endorsed you anyway, didn't endorse you and then you punished him. He said there was no such plan and knew nothing about that.

TOOBIN: Correct. However, the great unanswered question to me is why did they do this?

CUOMO: Let's save the outstanding stuff.


CUOMO: In terms of what he did yesterday that will help him with investigators, it will help him with pundits and people going forward. He said he was sorry unqualified. He said there was no plan here he knew about. What else in terms of what he said about the people who were involved that you believe may help him get past this?

TOOBIN: He took decisive action. He fired two very senior close aides.

CUOMO: Action -- i-o-n, right? He took action. He got rid of them both. One of them who was very valuable to him because of his future aspirations, his campaign manager. He kicked him out every possible way he could. That's got to mean something. So that leaves us now with what didn't he take care of yesterday. What's the first one?

TOOBIN: The first one is why did they do this?

CUOMO: Look, why is it -- we both know as lawyers, why is always the most important question. Why? Why did you do this? Why did you play such small ball with a guy who you knew wouldn't endorse you? What kind of grievance would it have been?

TOOBIN: And who did it.

CUOMO: Remember, we still don't know.

TOOBIN: We have these e-mails, but the e-mails clearly suggest that they had discussed this issue previously. If someone sends you an e- mail, time to shut down the traffic, which is effectively what Ms. Kelly wrote, in ordinary circumstances, you'd say what do you mean? Obviously there had been previous discussions of this. What were they talking about, why, all of that is unknown.

CUOMO: Maybe you'll pull me off of these. Two of the main men involved, Baroni and Wildstein, who are they? They were working at the Port Authority. They were the governor's guys there. They both retire at the same time basically as soon as word of this problem comes out. You didn't hear anything about why he -- why the governor didn't dig into that at the time. You know what I mean? Why didn't he dig into that?

TOOBIN: Very. They were not elderly figures retiring at the end of their careers. They resigned obviously in the wake of what appeared to be a scandal, and governor Christie showed no curiosity about why that was the case.

CUOMO: And then why didn't he ever complain and dig into what happened with these lane closures? If they were causing such undo trouble, and the first things guys do in this position, believe me, I know, is turn around and say, what the heck were you thinking closing these lanes? Why did you do it? Where was that curiosity?

TOOBIN: That is all part of the core question of what happened here. I guess one way of putting it is, we sort of know what didn't happen. We know that the initial accusation that he punished this mayor for not endorsing him, I think it's pretty clear that's not what happened here.

CUOMO: This is the big one for me. You are the man. Of course there are a lot of moving pieces, government's very big. But on these types of things, the game, the strategy, usually you're of one mind. These are your appendages, these people. They're your hands, they're your legs, they're doing the things for you. But usually you know. That's a big question here that he's going to deal with going forward. Why would your people so close to you do this and you have nothing to do with it?

TOOBIN: And I'd one more to that. If you have top aides who are engaging in political retaliation, which clearly the email suggests they are, involving this bridge closure, what else were they engaging in for retaliation about?

CUOMO: And even if everything he says is true, what does this say about his ability to put the right people around him, which, as we both know, makes a great leader?

TOOBIN: He said, you know, I can't supervise 65,000 state employees. But you can supervise your deputy chief of staff and your main political adviser. And that's the question that among others he's going to have to answer.

CUOMO: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much, appreciate it, as always. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, breaking overnight, a state of emergency for West Virginia counties where some 200,000 people are being told right now not to use the tap water because of a chemical spill in the supply. And this morning, the president is offering federal assistance for response efforts there, signing an emergency declaration. "EARLY START" anchor Christine Romans is here with more detail on this. It sounds like this emergency is not anywhere near over.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: No. Good morning, Kate. West Virginia's governor warning people not to use the tap water for anything, not drinking, not cooking, not washing. Still many residents fear it may be too late.


ROMANS: Thousands of West Virginia left scouring empty store shelves, desperate for bottled water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is actually the third place I've been to trying to get water so I've resorted to ice.

ROMANS: After a massive chemical spill contaminated the water supply for hundreds of thousands. Residents warned not to use their tap water for any reason.

GOV. EARL TOMBLIN, WEST VIRGINIA: Do not drink it, do not cook with it, do not wash clothes in it, do not take a bath in it.

ROMANS: Two hospitals operating on backup water have canceled elective surgeries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's clear that that has migrated through to our finished water.

ROMANS: The situation now declared a federal emergency with the White House approving aid for all nine counties. Early Thursday the water company discovered a hole in a 48,000 gallon storage tank at a chemical company, but didn't report the spill until four hours later according to a county official, which resident began reporting a foul order in the air. It isn't clear how much or how long the chemical had leaked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It took some time to understand what the nature of this chemical was.

ROMANS: The chemical is a type of methanol used in preparing coal. It's not toxic but is harmful if swallowed. Still residents flooded emergency rooms for fear of contamination after the order was issued. Using absorbent booms like sponges to soak up the chemical, the water company is now working to clean up the spill as the state promises to bring water from elsewhere now that so many grocery stores lay bare.


ROMANS: Residents are asking questions how long this went on before they were notified. Even if you just come in contact with this chemical, it can cause skin or eye irritation. The local water company says the chemical was diluted in the river, but still it is harmful and you should not use the water for anything.

Now, the president's action in declaring this federal emergency area there means that FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security can now coordinate their relief efforts. But still, an unraveling situation in West Virginia this hour.

CUOMO: It needs a lot of attention and needs it right away.

We have new developments in the massive international effort to secure next month's winter Olympics in Sochi. Federal law enforcement agents from the United States are heading to Russia right now to help shore up security to keep the game safe. Nic Robertson has more from Moscow. Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the last couple days, six bodies found in four different vehicles, a couple of them rigged with bombs. That's just 150 miles from the Olympic village in Sochi, so a concern for Russian security officials. So far they are saying that the same weapon or same type of weapon, at least, the same pistol was used in the killing of the six men, but they're not saying why it's happened, if it's linked to terrorism or if it's linked to Sochi at all.

It's not unusual for Russian security officials to say not a lot, but of course that is raising concerns for all people at the FBI. The director of the FBI saying there will be a dozen different types of law enforcement officials, specialists on hand to help the Olympic team, and has said himself that the Sochi Olympics will present some particular safety and security challenges because of where it's located in the region and the terror threats in the region around.

So far, Russian Olympic officials were talking to us, saying no worries. We've got a handle on all this. The security we've got in place for the Olympics is good. We checked it last year, 37,000 security officials in place. And the Russians right now, confident although they're not giving answers on these latest round of attacks.

Back to you, Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right, thanks so much for that. Nic Robertson reporting.

To our other headlines right now. Three Americans are killed when their surveillance plane crashed in eastern Afghanistan. Each of those victims, members of the International Security Assistance Force.

Also new today, an update on last month's black hawk chopper crash that killed six Americans in southern Afghanistan. Military officials are now confirming it was brought down by Taliban insurgents.

New this morning, Islamic extremists in Syria with ties to al Qaeda have a proposition for visiting Americans: join our fight and bring terror back home to the U.S. FBI director James Comey says that tracking Americans who have returned from Syria is now a top priority. According to the New York Times, at least 70 Americans have either traveled there or tried to since the civil war began some three years ago.

President Obama is said to be close to a final on changes to the NSA's surveillance program. CNN has learned that he is considering issuing new transparency reports detailing how many times the NSA asked phone companies and how many individual records were exposed. He also wants to limit access to classified networks. These changes could be announced as early as next week.

In about an hour's time, the final jobs report for 2013 comes out. We'll bring you the numbers live to you as soon as they come in. There are great expectations. We may see the biggest annual gain since 2005. Nearly 2.3 million jobs added in 2013 if the prediction for 193,000 new jobs in December holds. Unemployment expected to stay at 7 percent flat, the lowest it's been in about five years.

And a heart-stopping ending to a high speed chase in southern California all caught on camera. Ganwin (ph) officers in southeast San Diego tried to pull over an unidentified driver for using a cell phone while driving. The suspect took off instead, leading police on an hour-long chase that ended in a hail of gunfire. You can hear how many shots are fired. Police say four officers opened fire when the driver came to a stop. They say he pointed a gun at them. The suspect is in critical condition. We're told police found drugs and a gun in his car.

CUOMO: Scary job they have and cameras are everywhere. PEREIRA: The cameras are everywhere, and it just happened that a local crew was there and saw this all kind of play out. It -- really, really scary. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about that situation.

Weather, we've been talking about it. It's kind of dominated our life in the last while. Has it not?

Indra Petersons, you've got a little better news coming to us. Things are a little more mild.

INDRA PETERSONS, METEOROLOGIST: It dominates my life every day, Michaela. What are you talking about? Hello.

Yeah, we are warming up, but of course we're not there yet. Let's take a look at what we're seeing on the current radar. Snow right now in Boston, even some freezing rain currently being reported in Philly, also outside towards D.C. You're not expecting a lot because slowly we are going to start to transition here as a warm front makes its way north. So anything of that nature is going to start transitioning into rain. You can actually see, there's the warm front; there's the cold front.

This is going to be the story as we go through the weekend. Let's walk you through it again. Here's the cold front that's still bringing a little bit of that cold air responsible for what's going on in the northeast right now.

There comes the warm front, warming it up, transitioning it to rain as we go through the afternoon.

Here comes the next system. So this guy will be bringing some rain to the Midwest today. Then overnight tonight into tomorrow, seeing rain from the northeast down to the southeast. By Sunday, it clears offshore. A little bit cooler, not a big yielding, about 10 degrees cooler, and then dry for most of the northeast down to the southeast. So that's kind of how it pans out.

Let's take a look at how much we're expecting. It will be rain, so about one to three inches in the northeast. About several inches kind of around the Carolinas and then farther south in the southeast only about one to two inches. So not a big deal.

Keep in mind, temperatures will be a good 20 degrees above normal into the northeast as that warm front makes its way up. We love that. Then the cold front, obviously, slides through, so you're going to back off just a little bit by Sunday.

But overall, pretty nice out there. Kind of weird, though, we're talking about freezing rain and snow and then temperatures 20 degrees above normal tomorrow. So a little combo.

BOLDUAN: The rollercoaster continues.

PETERSONS: It never ends -- always busy. It dominates my life.

BOLDUAN: We were just trying to keep you busy. That's exactly right. PETERSONS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Indra.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, sometimes sorry is enough. Sometimes it is not. Chris Christie is just starting damage control and hoping no more damage comes by way of documents about to be released and the FBI getting involved. The question, does he still have a chance to 2016? We have a panel taking it apart.

BOLDUAN; And also ahead, caught on tape. A routine traffic stop ends with an unbelievable stunt. Wait till you see what happens.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Time for our political gut check of the morning. We are just hours away from the release of hundreds, almost a thousand new documents that will give insight into the scandal surrounding Chris Christie. Could the data dump mean more trouble for the New Jersey governor?

Joining us to discuss what the data dump could mean and the future for him: Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist; Francis Wilkinson, a member of the editorial board of Bloomberg View; and Marc Lamont Hill, CNN political commentator and host of "HuffPost Live". Welcome, everyone.

Ana, let me start with you. So you and I have been e-mailing back and forth. Republicans yesterday, I was waiting to go gauge more of their reaction to all of this. It seemed that they either were staying as far away from it as possible or saying let's take a wait and see approach.

Now that we have heard from Chris Christie, do Republicans say, "All right, it's time to move on. We need to support our guy"? What do you think the reaction is going to be?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think we're in a pause stage, Kate. Look, people like me who like Chris Christie, who could think of him as a nominee, who could think of supporting him as the nominee, we are prone to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Now, there is a right wing that's never liked him, that's never trusted him. They're probably not as willing to give him that benefit of the doubt. The donors, on the other hand, that are close to Christie, I think they are in a wait and see mode. We want to see how this process develops.

Yesterday, Chris Christie did very well in that press conference. He apologized. He took responsibility. He took ownership, and he answered questions for almost two hours, 90 questions he answered. I've had root canals that are shorter and less painful than that press conference yesterday. So I think people are ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, those that like him. But I don't think that we've seen the end of this. This is going to be a long process. There's investigations to go on. And we've gotta see how he develops, how he comports himself from now on. I think he's got to be absolutely transparent and cooperate with every investigation until we get to the bottom of everything.

CUOMO: And it's been very easy so far. I know that was difficult for him to go there. Ana's completely right. But he's been very high on responsibility, very low on personal accountability. He's blamed everybody else.

But, Marc Lamont Hill, let me come to you with something. Is this a little bit of an example of Chris Christie of how the White House should be dealing with scandal, that he came out, he dealt with it head on as soon as he could, and he did accountability, not with himself, but he got rid of people, and that a lot of people are criticizing saying, "You guys don't do that" with the IRS scandal, Benghazi. Nobody's gone. You don't seem to really look -- you don't deal with it aggressively. Fair comparison?

MARC LAMONT HILL, HOST, "HUFFPOST LIVE": No, because unlike Benghazi this is an actual scandal, right? Something really happened. So, yeah, I think the response needs to be different.

But Chris Christie got in front of this the best way imaginable. He was honest. He was up front. He answered questions unequivocally. he didn't give the kind of legalese answers. He gave strong answers.

Now, a Senate could say he's doing this because he knows this is the only way he knows this is the only way to stay in position as governor, but also for 2016. Others would say this is proof that he didn't know anything. The investigation will bear that out, and we'll figure it out.

But, no, the White House made an absolutely different move because it was a different circumstance.

BOLDUAN: And, Francis, you make an interesting point. You basically say no matter how he came out and handled this yesterday, essentially, his aspirations if he wants to run for president are essentially over. You wrote in your column really interestingly, "Unless Democrats in Trenton are political and competent, this story is going to be unveiled in slow and excruciating detail over the next year," and essentially meaning he's not going to be able to come back from it.

WILKINSON: I don't think he will. There's a possibility he can, but I don't think he will. He's in a position right now of claiming that he's not an awful person, he's merely an awful manager. That is not a great position to be in if you're running for president. Running for president is really hard under the best of circumstances. This is going to weigh on him constantly, and this is the very beginning as Ana said. This is the very beginning, not the end.

CUOMO: Francis, let's follow-up on why. NAVARRO: Look, I think that if -- I think that if what we saw -- if what we've seen so far is what there is and there is nothing linking this directly to Christie, I think the man has a shot at surviving, and I would not underestimate him. I think putting him out is premature.

But I also think we've got to put 2016 at a pause. I know all of us don't want to do that. But what Chris Christie needs to do now is focus like a laser on New Jersey, on setting that ship straight, and then national politics can come on. But right now, donors, political folks, Chris Christie, his operation, they got to hit the pause button.

HILL: And I agree with you that we can't say too soon that Chris Christie's career is over. I mean, people have recovered from far worse than bridge scandals.

But I also think it's too premature to say that we know all there is to know. We just don't know that. Documents are coming out today. More people will come out. You may have more mayors and local officials talking about acts of vengeance from the Christie administration. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but we've seen it from Jersey City. More could come out. Again, if Democrats are smart, and I think they are on this, they're going to have stuff bubble up --

CUOMO: Except you've got to be careful about hypocrisy on this. I think the best thing the governor has going for him, other than the way his -- he came out and his countenance when he did it, is that this is small ball going after this local mayor who didn't really matter to you.

BOLDUAN: That's the thing that keeps getting me.

CUOMO: But the hypocrisy will be for the left.

Francis, speak to this, that this idea that I didn't know anything about what my main, most trusted people were doing in a governor's office is very, very unusual. Fair point?

WILKINSON: Can I go even one step further? This conduct is very unusual. This is not standard retaliation, "I'm going to cut some funding to your district. You're gonna be stripped of a committee chairmanship, whatever." This is bizarre behavior. And I think as this unfolds and it becomes a better-told story, we know more about it, we're going to realize that this is very unusual behavior, and I think it's indicative of an unusual political culture.

HILL: It's sociopathic behavior. Now, I'm not saying Chris Christie's sociopathic. It could be the person in the office who did it unbeknownst to Chris Christie. But somebody in the office has some real issues because this isn't like you said, stripping funding. This is people --

CUOMO: For someone to go rogue with a guy that's so --


NAVARRO: No, look, I agree with you all, that this is some of the strangest behavior I have seen by staff ever, frankly. And as somebody that has worked for principles, I can't imagine anybody doing something of this level unless they thought the principal wanted it. Now, they could have --

HILL (?): There you go.

BOLDUAN: There is that atmosphere question again.


NAVARRO: And I do give -- I do -- I give Christie -- I want to tell you this. I give Christie the benefit of the doubt because he was so adamant that he had nothing to do with this.

CUOMO: Yeah.

NAVARRO: And let's remember that this is a guy who's a former D.A., a former prosecutor. He gave himself zero wiggle room for there to be any link to him.

HILL: And so did Bill Clinton. So did Anthony Wiener.

NAVARRO: So he better be sure -- he's gotta be sure of what he's saying because he's a prosecutor, guys. He knows that if there is paper out there, if there are people out there that can link him, it may very well happen.