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Christie Under Fed Investigation for Use of Sandy Relief Funds; A-Rod Suspension Reduced; Interview with Joe Tacopina; Plane Lands at Wrong Airport

Aired January 13, 2014 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Zain Asher, many thanks. Thanks for the advice.

And thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So you thought the bridge was Chris Christie's first big scandal?

Well, CNN has just found out the feds are also investigating his use of Hurricane Sandy relief money for state tourism ads that starred him and his family right during the election.

Also, this hour, someone get that pilot a GPS. The FAA and pretty much everybody else right now wants to know how the heck a 737 with more than 100 people aboard ended up landing at the wrong airport.

And, more big strikes for the lightning rod in baseball's biggest scandal, A-Rod, still defiant despite allegations from the guy who says he injected him with performance-enhancing drugs and fighting his season long suspension at this hour as well.

We're going to hear from his lawyer in just moments.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Monday, the day after the Golden Globes, January 13th, and welcome to LEGAL VIEW. We are live from Los Angeles this morning.

And our very top story broke just moments ago. In the New Jersey capital on the other side of the country, the state assembly says that it's forming a new committee solely for the purposes of investigating that infamous four-day traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge.

The panel can and will subpoena top officials and former officials, as well, in search of whatever connections may exist between an apparent political vendetta and Governor Chris Christie himself, or maybe there is nothing at all.

But that is not Christie's only big problem this hour, because he is also facing a federal probe of these tourism ads that came in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

These ads were paid for with federal relief funds, your money, which is OK, but the issue is, who were the ads prominently featuring and at the time that person happened to be running for reelection?

Yes, it's Christie, center stage with his family, and, yes, the voters were considering who to elect.

With CNN's exclusive report, here is Chris Frates.


CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: When Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, Chris Christie led from the trenches.

And his skillful response to the devastating super storm rocketed him into political superstardom.

But, a new federal investigation into how the New Jersey governor spent some of the Sandy relief money could threaten to wash away the foundation of his political brand.

CNN has learned that federal investigators will examine the state's $25 million tourism marketing campaign, a campaign that was paid for with Sandy recovery money.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Jersey Shore is open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The word is spreading ..

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: ... because we are stronger than the storm.


FRATES: A campaign that featured Christie and his family during an election year.

Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone, a vocal Christie critic, requested the investigation and tells CNN, it is now moving ahead.

But he says this is not about politics.

REPRESENTATIVE FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: This was money that could have been directly used for Sandy recovery.

And as you know, many of my constituents still haven't gotten the money that is owed them to rebuild their homes or to put their -- to raze their homes or to help.

FRATES: Pallone says promoting New Jersey after the super storm was a good idea, but he has a big question about how much taxpayer money was spent to make those ads.

The winning bid? A $4.7 million campaign featuring Christie and family. The next lower bid that lost out was nearly half the price at $2.5 million and wouldn't have featured the governor.

The ads caused controversy as they hit the airwaves while Christie was running for re-election. Democrats slammed him arguing it gave the incumbent governor an unfair advantage.

At the time, Christie aids said the winning bid provided more value.

But after an initial view, the office of the inspector general at the Department of Housing and Urban Development has concluded that there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale investigation, according to Congressman Pallone.

PALLONE: Taxpayer dollars that could have been used for Sandy relief were used for ads promoting the governor, because he was in them, with his family, during an election campaign.

FRATES: But as bad as the George Washington Bridge scandal has been for Christie, if the investigation shows he improperly spent Sandy funds, it could get far worse, tarnishing the signature achievement that has helped propel him toward the White House.


BANFIELD: And Chris Frates joins me live from Washington.

So what is the governor's office saying? Are they releasing any comments?

FRATES: Ashleigh, we just got a comment a few minutes ago. A spokesman tells CNN, quote, "The 'Stronger Than the Storm' campaign was just one part of the first action plan approved by the Obama administration and developed with the goal of effectively communicating that the Jersey Shore was open for business during the first summer after Sandy.

"Federal agency reviews are routine and standard operating procedure with all federally allocated resources to ensure that funds are distributed fairly.

"We're confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history."

So that's just out of the governor's office this morning, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: But that doesn't mean the political story's ended. There has to be some follow-up that at least critics are talking about and that the governor's defending.

FRATES: That's right, Ashleigh. There's a couple of things going on here.

Now you have a state assembly committee that is going to have subpoena power over the governor, is going to continue investigating that "Bridgegate" and was that politically motivated?

Did Christie aides use political retribution to tie up traffic lanes to hurt somebody, a Democratic mayor, in this case, who did not endorse Christie? Then you have this separate issue of the Sandy funds, and that could be very bad if, in fact, this review comes back and shows he inappropriately spent some of that money.

And Congressman Pallone tells me that we can expect a several month investigation into the Sandy funds and that the big, public report will put out.

So, the public will get a sense of what the inspector general finds in that report sometime in the next few months.

So, this is going to be a drip, drip, drip for Christie. You're going to continue to have things drip out on "Bridgegate" and you're also going to have, at some point, a big, public report on whether or not he spent those Sandy funds properly.

BANFIELD: Well, you know, a lot of people called him a media darling. And he is a media magnet, no matter what, and this just sort of adds to that.

So, your drip, drip, drip, means a lot of fodder for the press, clearly.

Chris Frates, thank you. Good to see you.

FRATES: Thank you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: I want to bring in my brain trust on this, defense attorney and CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos, as well as Lisa Bloom, legal analyst for

Lisa, normally, you are sitting where I am in Los Angeles, and now you're in New York and I'm here. How did that happen?

Let's start with -


BANFIELD: We're going to have to fix that.

Danny, just first and foremost, when we are talking about the kind of investigation that could happen, is the most critical aspect here subpoena power?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, subpoena power is a tremendous power.

It allows congressional bodies as well as courts to bring anybody in to testify like we've seen in so many movies.

"The Godfather" is full of those classic scenes of somebody testifying before senators.

But let's take a step back here. Federal statutes, criminal statutes, focus on the benefit to the politician alleged to have misused funds or been engaged in corrupt practices. So, I think one of the problems here is they're alleging that his benefit was that his family was in a commercial, and indeed, the commercial cost $2 million more than the next bidder.

But there are many ways to argue that that might have been a superior product.

In fact, and no one's advanced this one yet, Governor Chris Christie was the face of reconstruction. In a way, you could argue that he was a talent in that commercial, that he brought it more of a benefit to New Jersey by being in it.

That is always a potential defense. This is another difficult case to make even with an expansive reading of federal statutes.

BANFIELD: So, Lisa, when it comes right down to it, is there any crime that you can see actually committed here?

It's not illegal for a governor to be in a tourism ad even during an election, last time I checked.

BLOOM: Yeah. It seems to me that Chris Christie has a good defense to this one, at least based on the facts that we know so far.

He is presumed innocent. And I'm sure his argument will be, look, bringing tourism in ultimately benefits everyone economically.

It benefits the Sandy victims. It benefits small businesses. And so putting those ads out there benefited everyone.

Also, state and local officials reviewed all of this, approved it and this was done very openly. It was a television commercial after all.

So unless more facts come to light, I'm not seeing this one as potentially bringing Christie down.

BANFIELD: OK, Lisa Bloom, Danny Cevallos, stand by, if you will. Thank you for that.

Other things to come, as well, including a plane that was bound for Branson, Missouri, didn't get there. It ended up landing at the wrong airport entirely.

And while it is kind of funny to say that, that could have been an absolute disaster. We'll tell you why and how this happened in the first place.

The wrong airport had a pretty short runway. So, the technology of these massive planes, when you and I can get just about anywhere on a GPS, why can't they? What on earth went wrong?

Also, the big story so many people are talking about, Major League Baseball player Alex Rodriguez, fighting mad and fighting a decision that keeps him out of the game for an entire season.

And now a former clinic director comes forward, saying he personally did the injections for A-Rod with banned substances.

We're going to get the LEGAL VIEW on it, next.


BANFIELD: Talk about a bad weekend for A-Rod, on Saturday, an arbitration court upheld most of that unprecedented suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, banning him for 162 games.

It had been 211, so take that for what it's worth.

But then, on Sunday, Anthony Bosch, founder of the anti-aging clinic Biogenesis, went on "60 Minutes" to give his side of the A-Rod story, claiming he not only witnessed A-Rod using performance-enhancing drugs, but he, himself, injected A-Rod with the drugs.

But CNN's John Berman tells us, A-Rod is going down swinging.


ANTHONY BOSCH, CLAIMS HE GAVE BANNED DRUGS TO ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Testosterone, insulin growth factor 1, human growth hormone and some different forms of peptides.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A new damaging blow for embattled baseball star, Alex Rodriguez, the former chief of the now defunct anti-aging clinic Biogenesis telling "60 Minutes" that he personally delivered and injected Rodriguez with banned substances.

BOSCH: Alex is scared of needles, so at times, he would ask me to inject.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've injected him -



BOSCH: Personally.

BERMAN: An arbitrator has banned Rodriguez for 162 new games, the entire upcoming season.

But A-Rod says he's not done yet, releasing a statement saying, "I have been clear that I did not use performance-enhancing substances. In order to prove it, I will take this fight to federal court."

MIKE WISE, "WASHINGTON POST" SPORTS WRITER: My advice to Alex Rodriguez would be the same advice I gave Lance Armstrong years ago. Just fess up.

BERMAN: Rodriguez and 13 other players were suspended last year after Major League Baseball said it discovered they had used performance- enhancing substances. RODRIGUEZ: This has been a very difficult --

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR/SENIOR WRITER, ESPN: Why he continues to fight in this capacity, no one but him really knows.

BERMAN: Rodriguez says he still plans to travel to Tampa for spring training, a technicality that was not included in his suspension, whether he will be back to play in 2015 will be up to the Yankees. With baseball still engaged in its battle with performance-enhancing drugs.

ANTHONY BOSCH, CLAIMS HE GAVE DRUGS TO A-ROD: Unfortunately, this is part of baseball. This is part of baseball. When you ask these guys to play 100 plus games back to back, jump on a plane, get off a plane, all these road trips, their bodies break down. This has always been part of the game.

BERMAN: John Berman, CNN, New York.


BANFIELD: Joining me live now is Joe Tacopina, who is the attorney representing Alex Rodriguez. Joe, great to see you. Thanks for doing this. I have to ask you this. I have heard you talking on CNN, even this morning, announcing you are going to go further, you're going to take this to federal court, likely to file the appeal today. My question really comes down to this. When I hear you say that your client is just 100 percent innocent, has done nothing, is absolutely clean, no holds barred, absolutely clean, the first question is, Joe, then why on Earth is any of this happening, any of it?

JOE TACOPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There is a clear agenda on behalf of Major League Baseball, particularly Commissioner Bud Selig, to make himself look tough on steroids. Alex Rodriguez is the easiest prey out there by far. And let me explain.

There is a commissioner in office now, who lorded over baseball steroid errors for 20 years, turned a blind eye when Bonds, Maguire, Sammy Sosa were breaking records when everyone in their right mind knew they were taking steroids. I mean they were hitting 70 home runs like it was nothing. Their cap sizes were tripling. I mean their heads were growing. And it was okay for Selig then because it increased the revenues of Major League Baseball, it increased his personal profit as part-owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

When Congress starts dangling their anti-trust exemption in front of Major League Baseball, and the Mitchell Report comes, then he has to become tough on steroids. The actions taken by Major League Baseball against Alex Rodriguez in this investigation are frightening. If I'm a Major League Baseball player right now, I'm horrified by what went down. There was criminal conduct in an effort to try to get Alex Rodriguez.

BANFIELD: What I'm hearing from you and please correct me if I'm wrong, because this sounds terribly egregious that Bud Selig wants to take down an innocent man, 100 percent innocent man, just because of an agenda. That does sound pretty preposterous.

TACOPINA: Really? Well, if you know anything about Bud Selig, or his reputation, or his legacy, it wouldn't sound that preposterous, Ashleigh. If you know anything about the evidence in this case, there'd be no other scenario that you could embrace, other than the fact that he's innocent based on the evidence and the evidence alone.

I mean science puts the lie to Tony Bosch and his statements. The only evidence in this case comes from the one man, Tony Bosch, an individual who has all the motive to get up there and lie about Alex Rodriguez. An individual who was given a sweetheart deal by Major League Baseball, given millions of dollars in services, booked deals, an agreement to take him off of the civil suit in which they sued Bosch and his brother. Most importantly, most importantly, Ashleigh, the part I can't come to grips with, Major League Baseball in their deal with him, in order for him to testify, agreed to go to federal prosecutors in Miami, where Bosch is under investigation for pedaling steroids to minors in south Florida. And Major League Baseball said we're going to go to bat for you - pardon the pun - in Miami, and try get you leniency for that prosecution because you testified in a labor arbitration against Alex Rodriguez. Just imagine - imagine that.

BANFIELD: So the shady behavior goes both ways. That's what I have to say. I completely hear what you are saying about the evidence that you feel and certainly this witness and not all witnesses in any kind of criminal court are your best witnesses. It doesn't mean their witness testimony is discounted.

On the other side of that shady players, there are these allegations that Major League Baseball has paid off players and bought documents, et cetera. On both sides of the equasion, it is pretty ugly. What I don't understand, and I'm sure this is something that irks you as well, is that a lot of the investigation, facts and details are not public. If you do prevail, and you want to go to a federal court, that will be public. That may not bode well for your client, for his legacy, for his future, for so much more (INAUDIBLE).

TACOPINA: I couldn't disagree more. It is the reason we are going to federal court. As a matter of fact, here, I will make an offer on your show on national TV. We would consent and agree to allowing all of the transcripts from the arbitration, all the under oath transcripts to be released and unsealed If Major League Baseball agrees to do it.

How about that? It won't bode well? I am not afraid of those transcripts. I'm not afraid of the testimony and the evidence brought before the arbitration panel, because any fair and unbiased fact- finder, anyone without an agenda, or anyone concerned that they would not get fired if they didn't vote for Major League Baseball, would look at these facts and that evidence and say, no way, would I want my brother, sister, son, convicted or found liable on that sort of evidence.

BANFIELD: Can I ask you this. I often hear it repeated and I think it is a very strong fact on your side. Is that my client, Alex Rodriguez, never tested positive. How can we get the most extensive punishment in the history of baseball for this kind of behavior if I never tested positive? All I can say to that is Lance Armstrong didn't either. That's pretty powerful in the public eye.

TACOPINA: So different.


TACOPINA: (INAUDIBLE) It is so he easy to say Lance Armstrong didn't either. That's a very different testing regimen with them - that went on with Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong came out and talked about it, admitted it, and it was found he used masking agents. Tony Bosch, a guy who pretended he was a doctor when he wasn't, didn't use masking agents, said under oath he never used masking agents, didn't even know what they were.

There is an example that puts the lie to Tony Bosch. Tony Bosch claims that on a date certain in October of 2012, when he went to Detroit, when the Yankees were playing the Tigers in the playoffs, before games 3 and 4, he claims he injected Alex Rodriguez with testosterone. That's what he said in his direct testimony under oath. Unfortunately for him, Alex Rodriguez was randomly drug tested before game 4 of the playoffs and tested negative, which is scientifically impossible if you were to believe Bosch.

BANFIELD: There is one scientifically possible allegation, though extraordinarily far fetched and something of a made for TV movie, that was the Bosch allegation that he had withdrawn blood from your client, A-Rod in a bathroom in a club, which was wild. Before I get to that, I want to outline and play this for our audience and for you, the menu of performance-enhancing drugs that he alleges his client at the time, his alleged client, A-Rod, was actually taking of performance- enhancing drugs. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once Alex Rodriguez was fully under your protocol, what were the various banned substances that he was taking?

BOSCH: Testosterone, insulin growth factor 1, human growth hormone, and some different forms of peptides.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of them banned.

BOSCH: All of them banned. Alex is scared of needles. So at times he would ask me to inject.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've injected him?



BANFIELD: So that's pretty strident stuff when you hear that on national television on a show like 60 Minutes, where millions of people watch. He went further and said, we were in this nightclub, there we were in the stall, almost withdrawing blood and making these transactions. And I know you said that sounds preposterous but it sounded that way when we heard about Lance Armstrong and how he went about his business during bike races. So maybe it's not that preposterous. I guess the question I have for you, when all this is said and done, do you in your heart believe this man is ever going to swing a bat again?

TACOPINA: Actually, I do. I do believe he is going to swing a bat again. At the end of the day, even if this unprecedented, unsupported by law or by agreement by the collective bargaining agreement, even if this 162-game suspension were to stand, which we're hopeful that it won't, it's one season. Alex Rodriguez has plenty more baseball left in him. He is still in great shape. He has taken care of himself. He is one of the most conscientious individuals when it comes to his own health. He will play baseball again. The most they can do is take one year away from him and from the Yankees, nothing more. He still has a few years left after this one year. He will be back and he will be in spring training.

BANFIELD: You have an open invitation to be back on this program at any time. I think you already knew that. It is good to see you, Joe.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Coming up, a passenger plane, we have all been on them, bound for Brandon, Missouri, it ends up not at Brandon, Missouri but it ends up at the airport seven miles away. We are going to talk with a former NTSB investigator for the burning question, are you kidding me?


BANFIELD: Here is something you don't want to hear after a flight. Ladies and gentlemen, you are not where you should be. You have landed at the wrong airport. That's exactly what came over the intercom on a Southwest flight that was supposed to land in Brandon, Missouri, but somehow it got re-diverted and changed over to a much smaller county airport 34 miles away. Here is Rene Marsh with more.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A hard landing and the smell of burning rubber, two indications to passengers on Southwest Flight 4013 that something was wrong after their plane landed at the wrong airport coming within 300 feet of a steep embankment at the end of the runway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounds like a really rough landing. We were all like moving pretty close to the seats as we were landing because the runway, I guess, is too short for the plane.

MARSH: The plane carrying more than 100 passengers was scheduled to land at Missouri's Branson Airport Sunday night, but instead showed up at Taney County Airport, about seven miles from the intended destination.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the planes ended up landing at point lookout airport and it needs mutual aid.

MARSH: The runway at Taney County Airport is about half the length of the runway at Branson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a call saying the plane has landed at an airport nearby and we're thinking surely not a jet plane could land there.

MARSH: Officials say if the pilot didn't brake when he did, the plane could have overshot the runway and tumbled on to a nearby highway. Passenger, Scott Shiffer (ph), captured the aftermath on video, which shows passengers being evacuated from the plane before being bussed to the larger airport. This is the second case of a plane landing at the wrong airport.

In November, a Boeing 747 Dreamlifter cargo plane landed at the wrong Kansas airport on a runway half mile shorter than it usually uses. Despite fears, the Dreamlifter would be stuck indefinitely. The jumbo jet eventually took off without incident. Southwest is hoping for a similar successful outcome for their Boeing 737.


BANFIELD: Rene Marsh, thank you for that.

The FAA and the NTSB are now investigating this incident. That plane, by the way, we are told is supposed to be taking off from the airport where it is sitting right now in the next few hours, in fact. With all that in mind, I'm joined by Peter Gold (ph), who is the former NTSB managing director. Peter, thank you so much for being on the program.