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Chris Christie Holds State of the State Address; Interview with New Jersey Assembly GOP Leader; Interview with New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski; Dad Killed for Texting in Movie Theater

Aired January 14, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie using the power of his office to defend himself against accusations that he abused the power of his office.

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD in Trenton, New Jersey.

The politics lead. Usually, a state of the state address does not attract this much attention, but when you're talking about the man who polls show is the 2016 front-runner, well, it's a national event. New Jersey Chris Christie, under multiple legislative investigations and otherwise, defending himself right now to the people of the Garden State and throughout the nation.

The national lead. A former cop appearing in court today for allegedly gunning down a man for texting in a theater. A live police news conference this hour.

And the world lead. He has the blood of hundreds of innocent people on his hands from 9/11 and other attacks, but now from his cell at Gitmo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is now speaking out about spreading Islam through violence. What is behind his supposed reversal?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We're coming to you live from the New Jersey Statehouse, where our politics lead, Governor Chris Christie is currently giving the most closely watched state of the state address of his political career, perhaps in New Jersey history, frankly, right here in the capital city of Trenton.

A week ago, this Republican governor in this traditionally blue state was probably hoping the big takeaway from the speech would be his policy ideas on education reform, lengthening the school year, lengthening the school day. But that, of course, was before damaging e-mails came to light showing that some in his inner circle apparently orchestrated a massive traffic jam on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, apparently out of political spite against the Democratic mayor who did not endorse Christie for reelection last year.

So far, there is no evidence tying Christie directly to those decisions and he denies that he knew anything about it, but today facing multiple legislative and other investigations over so-called Bridgegate, Governor Chris Christie opened his state of the state address by addressing this issue which has potential damage to his image and to his possible hopes of running for president in 2016.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Mistakes were clearly made. And, as a result, we let down the people we're entrusted to serve.

I know our citizens deserve better, much better. Now, I'm the governor. And I'm ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch, both good and bad. Now, without a doubt, we will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure that this breach of trust does not happen again.

But I also want to assure the people of New Jersey today that what has occurred does not define us or our state.


TAPPER: Now, you can't call these second-term woes because technically Christie's second term hasn't begun yet. He will be inaugurated a week from today.

As CNN reported first, Christie is also a federal audit right now over whether he and the state of New Jersey misused relief funds from Hurricane Sandy on a Jersey tourism ad campaign featuring Christie and his family.

Christie did not directly address that particular investigation in his speech.

But let's talk about what today's speech means for Christie going forward with political commentator Ryan Lizza. And he also of course is the Washington editor "The New Yorker." And Matt Arco, Statehouse reporter for Politicker New Jersey.

Gentlemen, thanks for being here.

Your reaction. You work here. You live right outside Trenton. What did you think of the speech and what did you think of addressing the scandal?

MATT ARCO, POLITICKER NEW JERSEY: Well, look, it's something that he had to add into the speech. Right? This is last-minute stuff.

Just a couple of days ago last weekend during his press conference, the two-hour press conference, he said that he wasn't going to be addressing that. But I think it's thawed a little bit. It's gotten larger. So it's something that he couldn't ignore.

And I think the idea of why he addressed it is because now he's -- if he was just talking to New Jersey voters, that's one thing. But he has a larger audience. He has this national audience and he needs to prove, I think, to national Republicans that he's somebody that can, you know, handle a controversy like this and pull through.

So that's certainly why that was added to the speech now.

TAPPER: Ryan, what did you think, what did you make of how he addressed that?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I thought he had this phrase in there that...


TAPPER: Mistakes were made?

LIZZA: Mistakes were made that I was just kind of was blown away. Every politician, every pundit knows that that's a phrase from at the very least the Iran-Contra controversy and I think it's been used through the years and basically mocked as this passive voice way of pretending to take responsibility for something when you're not.

I think if we weren't talking about the bridge controversy and we were talking about the content of the speech, frankly, if the bridge controversy weren't happening, we would not be there.

TAPPER: Probably not.

LIZZA: But he's still a big enough deal that we would be looking for clues about his 2016 campaign in the speech.

Not a lot there for conservatives. He talked a lot about low taxes and talked about an issue that Republicans haven't really talked about much recently, which is crime. But, aside from that, the big headline was his education program.

TAPPER: Education reform, yes.

LIZZA: So, I think he's sticking to this plan, his political plan, as the moderate Republican who is going to do things a little bit differently from the way the last two presidential candidates have.

ARCO: No, absolutely.

And on that bipartisan, which, of course, is something that we saw during his reelection. And I don't know if it was six or a dozen references there, but bipartisan, it was definitely an underlying theme. It was an underlying theme during his reelection campaign. It wasn't a surprise that that came up.


TAPPER: It was the same theme in the vote that came in for him. Democrats voted for him, women voted for him. Latinos voted for him.

ARCO: Absolutely.

TAPPER: And pardon the pun, but he was trying to build a reputation as a bridge-builder. This bridge scandal obviously undermines that.

How solid is Republican support for him here in New Jersey, voters and also legislators?

ARCO: Well, as far as the voters in New Jersey, a recent Monmouth poll just came out that showed that voters in New Jersey don't see that concerned right now.


TAPPER: He's at like 58 or 59 percent?

ARCO: Right. His approval rating for the first time since Hurricane Sandy or superstorm Sandy dropped below 60 percent, but it's at 59 percent, which is still pretty good. And I think overall in New Jersey voters tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.

How that plays nationally, that might be a different story. And as far as Republican lawmakers' reaction to it, it's been very quiet inside that building, let me tell you.

TAPPER: That's interesting.

ARCO: I don't look at that as them backing away from him.

But from folks that for years kind of get their marching orders, their talking points from the front office, you know, it's been very quiet. So that just tells you that the office itself is hunkered down.

TAPPER: Nationally, too, Ryan, nationally, there's not actually been an outpouring. Look, he's chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and this year was supposed to be the year where he runs all over the country raising money and building up goodwill with Republican governors.

And other that a few here and there, South Carolina, I'm thinking of specifically, there hasn't been an outpouring of support from Republican governors for him.

LIZZA: No, that's absolutely right. There has not been.

Folks in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, Republicans in both of those chambers, they are not going out there going to bat for him. Briefly, I think some of it is the fallout from the Sandy bill. Remember, last year, when that was put on the floor of the House, it was a confrontation between John Boehner, the speaker of the House, and Christie, so no love lost there.


TAPPER: Christie yelled, berated the -- on behalf of his constituents, in his view, pass this bill. We need those funds. Republicans saying, there's a lot of pork in the bill. We don't want to do that.

And it became a very ugly confrontation.

LIZZA: Absolutely.

All the sort of -- the centers of -- the power centers of the Republican Party, whether it's the ideological talk radio wing, they don't love Christie. They see him as a moderate and they didn't like what he did with that bill. The power centers of the House of Representatives don't see him as ally.

The governors, you would expect to be rooting for him because, look, what is the Republican Governors Association? It's a big money machine. Right? He's going to be out there raising money and dispensing that.

TAPPER: Right. I think he's going to be there this week in Florida. He's going to be in Florida raising money for Governor Rick Scott and the RGA.

But I have seen, though, some support for Christie expressed by conservatives in social media and talk radio, people who never supported him before looking at the media and Democrats and saying, here we go again. You're holding Christie to a different standard than you hold President Obama. At least Christie owned it, took responsibility. Obama never did that, in their view.

So I have seen some of that, Matt.

ARCO: He had that two-hour-long press conference. He didn't just answer a couple of questions. He stood with reporters for two hours and just let them throw every single question at him. That probably plays well doing that.

But maybe to your point, I don't know if Republicans nationally are just waiting to see if there's more fallout from this because there are more questions. And that's the thing. So, they could be keeping quiet at the moment just to see what...


LIZZA: Why stick your neck out and Defend someone in the middle of a pretty serious scandal if you don't know all of the facts?

TAPPER: Right. We don't know.

Matt Arco from Politicker N.J. and Ryan Lizza from "The New Yorker."

We're going to take a very quick break.

When we come back, we're going to have that press conference in Florida from that shooting, a father shot and killed after a fight with an ex-cop over using his cell phone in a movie theater and the fracas that broke out after that. We're waiting on the news conference with police. We will bring that to you live.

Plus, Governor Christie is done doing damage control for now, but is Bridgegate really behind him? We will talk to the Democrat here in New Jersey who is leading a special committee investigating the traffic snarl.

That's right ahead. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Back to our politics lead. The reason we're coming to you live from the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey, isn't just because it's so nice and the weather is so great here. It's because just a short time ago Governor Chris Christie wrapped up his annual state of the state address amid multiple legislative investigations and others into so- called Bridgegate.

Christie began his state of the state address by, once again, apologizing for the scandal.


CHRISTIE: Now, without a doubt, we will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure that this breach of trust does not happen again.


TAPPER: Governor Christie in his marathon news conference last week following the release of those damaging Bridgegate e-mails said he was shocked, said he was blindsided by the revelations within and he also said that the Assembly has every right the investigate the scandal.

And it won't just be Democrats on the Assembly committee probe. Our next guest says he has reason to believe a substantial number of Republicans will be on that committee investigating the governor as well. He's Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick. He joins us now.

Mr. Bramnick, thanks so much for being here.

What did you make of the governor's speech? We were told by a reporter that there hasn't been a huge outpouring of support from the governor by Republicans in the Assembly and in the state Senate, not backing away, but not a huge embrace. What do you think of what he did?


He said, number one, investigate me. I will cooperate. We're all going to participate in that investigation. Four members of my party, we're going to vote for the investigation, and I'm going to serve on that committee.

TAPPER: Now, you know these cast of characters. You know Bridget Anne Kelly. You know Mr. Stepien, the former Republican leader, that some people -- Republican Party leader -- some people think must have been playing some sort of leadership role.

What do you think happened?

BRAMNICK: I don't know what happened, but I'm as disappointed as the governor.

I trust this governor's word. When he said he doesn't know, this is a former U.S. attorney who indicted over 100 politicians. The last guy who is going to lie to the cameras, in my judgment, is Christopher Christie. That's the last possible guy.

TAPPER: Is this the kind of thing that happens in this state? I don't mean to be prejudiced. I'm from Philadelphia, so obviously I have some bias. But is this the kind of thing that happens in your state, where somebody will close off lanes to create a traffic jam because that mayor didn't endorse somebody of the opposite party?

BRAMNICK: I have never heard anything like that, and I hope not.

It's a tough political state. And this governor had to be very tough to do the historic reforms that, in my judgment, were not going to happen unless Chris Christie was here. So, he has to be tough. But closing lanes and for political purposes, assume that happened, that's out.

TAPPER: Do you agree with supporters -- other supporters of Chris Christie that, if there's any evidence that comes out -- I know you don't think there is.


TAPPER: But if any evidence comes out, that he ordered this or even was aware of it, his political career is done?

BRAMNICK: Well, I can tell you that I trust this governor. I highly doubt that he would ever deny involvement when he was involved. He's not that type of guy, the straightest talker I've ever seen in the statehouse. That would be beyond my wildest dreams.

TAPPER: But just humor me. If it came out --

BRAMNICK: Well, if a governor lies about what he knows, I don't care what governor that is, that's troublesome. That didn't happen here.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you so much, Mr. Bramnick. We really appreciate your time.

BRAMNICK: Thank you.

TAPPER: We should point out that the New Jersey -- the new -- right in Florida right now is a press conference going on about that theater shooting, the shocking event in Florida where a former policeman shot a man who was texting in the movie theater. They got into a squabble. Apparently, the man who was texting threw a bag of popcorn at the former policeman and the former policeman took out a gun and shot and killed him, wounded the man's wife.

We are waiting for that press conference.

We're also waiting for an update on that school shooting in New Mexico.

We will go to do that as well when we come back. THE LEAD continues here in Trenton, New Jersey.


Coming to you live from beautiful Trenton, New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie just wrapped up his State of the State speech, and once again addressed his office's bridgegate scandal.

Continuing our politics lead, I want to bring in a lawmaker who watched Christie's address, with great interest, New Jersey state assembly deputy speaker, John Wisniewski. He's the Democrat who is leading the special committee investigating the traffic snarl, apparently created through Christie's office. He's raised the possibility of impeachment against the governor.

Assemblyman Wisniewski, good to see you in person.


TAPPER: First of all, tell me -- impeachment?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, we're not there yet. I mean, people have asked that question and obviously an assembly committee could always vote article of impeachment, but we have no evidence that the governor ordered the lane closure.

TAPPER: Or even knew about it, right?

WISNIEWSKI: He says he didn't know about it. We find that little hard to believe. But we're not at anything close to impeachment.

TAPPER: But you're going to find that hard to believe? I get the skepticism. That's healthy in an investigating committee. But you don't have -- there's no evidence. I mean, there's no proof?

WISNIEWSKI: There's no document that says, you know, an email to Chris Christie closed the lanes or I closed the lanes --

TAPPER: Right.

WISNIEWSKI: -- or Wildstein close the lanes. There's nothing like that. But there's senior staff during the election year that knows about this. It's hard to believe that the entire senior staff gets an email that says laws were broken and his chief counsel doesn't pick up the phone and say, hey, governor, you ought to know that they are accusing your appointees of breaking the law?

TAPPER: Tell me what you thought of the speech just now, the State of the State address. He did -- he did raise the bridgegate scandal at the same time (ph).


I thought he gave a great speech. I thought it was, you know, appropriate that he again raised the issue about the bridge scandal. He pledged to cooperate. We're hopeful that he will cooperate.

And I thought he made some interesting proposals. He didn't talk about how he's going to fund those proposals and that's always been the Achilles heel of the New Jersey budget, a lot of great ideas with very little money.

TAPPER: Right. And he is against any tax increases. That's an issue for assembly Democrats.


TAPPER: He talked in the speech about working in a bipartisan fashion. No state has worked in a bipartisan fashion more than New Jersey. I think a lot of people who are just tuning in to Governor Christie right now. If their first introduction is this bridge scandal --


TAPPER: -- they might be surprised to hear that claim. I know you and he don't always see eye to eye.

But step back from the scandal for a second. Have you guys worked well together? Has there been a bipartisan cooperation in the history of getting things done?

WISNIEWSKI: Every bill signed by this governor is a bipartisan bill, by definition.

TAPPER: Right. Because it's a Democratic state senate and Democratic assembly.

WISNIEWSKI: And so, I think the --

TAPPER: But have you worked well, is what I'm saying?

WISNIEWSKI: No, I think it's been a very difficult relationship. I think the governor has set lines in the sand and has said this is what we're doing so it's my way or the highway. So, I don't think it's been a very happy relationship. I think he's been able to claim a bipartisan history because as I said, a Democratic legislature with a Republican governor makes every bill bipartisan, but it doesn't really speak to the true nature of bipartisanship in which both sides give a little. That's not how this governor operates.

TAPPER: You said something a second ago about the governor's senior staff knowing that laws were broken. You're referring to documentation from almost 2,000 pages of documentation that came out later.


TAPPER: Explain exactly, because our viewers might not know the details of what you're saying. What are you talking about?

WISNIEWSKI: The executive director of the Port Authority, when he found out about the lanes being --

TAPPER: Mr. Sampson? WISNIEWSKI: No, Pat Foye --

TAPPER: Pat Foye, OK.

WISNIEWSKI: -- the executive director, the operational day to day guy at the Port Authority, found out about the lane closure, immediately ordered them opened immediately and fired off a very angrily worded email in which he said, I believe, federal and state laws have been broken and all of the agency protocols and rules have been violated. Now, that was copied to, among other people, Regina Egea, one of the people slated to be the governor's new chief of staff, and Charlie McKenna. And so, you have --

TAPPER: Explain who Charlie McKenna is.

WISNIEWSKI: Charlie McKenna is the governor's chief counsel. And so --

TAPPER: Who's now on board, he's set to become the new attorney general?

WISNIEWSKI: The acting -- the current chief of staff is set to become the attorney general.

TAPPER: I'm sorry.

WISNIEWSKI: The current chief counsel is set to go to the school's development --

TAPPER: I'm sorry, it's musical chair --

WISNIEWSKI: There's a lot of people moving around.

But the fact is, is these are people very close to the governor. They see him every day. It's a campaign year. Anything that's going wrong in the state, they are likely to talk to him just so that he's not caught unaware, that a reporter doesn't say, what about the lanes in Fort Lee, somebody's accused your staff of illegality.

TAPPER: Right.

WISNIEWSKI: He's going to know about that so he knows how to respond.

So for him to say he doesn't know -- and then on September 11th -- which is two days after the lanes were close -- he's with Wildstein, David Sampson, the chairman of the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director and himself at a 9/11 event where they are all talking. It's hard to believe that they got this very tersely worded emails, they knew that there was a lot of mayhem going on in Fort Lee and nobody raised the issue? It's just really hard to accept that it happened that way.

TAPPER: I understand your skepticism. Again, I find it very healthy.

Playing devil's advocate --


TAPPER: -- is it not possible that they wanted to keep him out of the loop? Obviously, Bridget Anne Kelly lied to him and his staff. You believe that, right? When they confronted, when they asked the staff, do you know anything about this, you believe that she lied to him, that part?

WISNIEWSKI: The governor gave over 100 people for 60 minutes to come clean. It seems for a man who was a U.S. attorney, who did prosecutions before breakfast, he lacked any healthy skepticism or inquiry about what happened.

He fired Bridget Kelly. Now, if it were me, I would at least sit down with the woman and say, why did you do this? Who told you -- how could you come up with this? He said, I didn't talk to her.

TAPPER: Just again, my understanding is that his counsel told him once this came out and they saw these e-mails, don't have anything to do with her. I think that's fairly standard, right?

WISNIEWSKI: It could be. But somebody should have sat down and said, Bridget, what were you thinking?

TAPPER: Right.

WISNIEWSKI: Why would you do this? They let her go. They never talked to her. That's the same thing that happened when Mr. Wildstein left. Pat Foye said, after Mr. Wildstein, the executive director of the agency said, nobody here has spoken to him about why the lanes were closed.

And so, this lack of skepticism on a very important issue that really goes to the abuse of public resources and nobody is really asking hard questions, it's just hard to believe that nobody really knew.

TAPPER: Well, we know that you're going to ask hard questions. We thank you so much, Assemblyman Wisniewski.

We have to go right now to Florida where that press conference is taking place about that deadly theater shooting. Police say a father was killed for texting during the previews. A fight took place.

Here's the Pasco County Sheriff's Department starting a briefing right now.

UNIUDENTIFIED MALE: He was at the rear of the median section.

REPORTER: To be clear, was Sumter County deputy that got involved, did subdue Reeves?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I interviewed him, he advised me that he was seated about five seats away. He saw the muzzle flash. The theater was dark. He was not sure the status of the weapon. When I retrieved the weapon, it was jammed. The weapon was not able to fire again.

REPORTER: But did that deputy call -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The deputy identified himself and actually grabbed the weapon, the end of the barrel?

REPORTER: Did he say he got any resistance from the guy, though?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Initially for a couple of seconds. He grabbed the gun. But then he let go, and did what the deputy said.

REPORTER: Do you believe he was trying to fire the gun again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. That's only something that he would know.

REPORTER: Do you know, did he show up initially in the theater with the gun or did he retrieve it at some time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't know at this point.

REPORTER: Can you talk to us before this -- him saying that he got threatened or attacked?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the time, when I was on the scene, our initial response was to get him secure, provide medical assistance to those that were shot and get the traumatized theater goers out of that area and interviewed. So I didn't have a chance to do that, no.

REPORTER: But he did, in the police report, there is talk that he said that he felt like something hit him. He didn't know what the object was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The major crimes detectives in their follow-up interview secured that information but not me personally.

REPORTER: Is there any information that we heard at the hearing about the person who called in in December, the young woman who said that she recognized the defendant and said that, you know, she was on her cell phone -- I think -- I don't know if it was at the same theater and that -- can you tell me that story?

SHERIFF CHRIS NOCCO, PASCO COUNTY, FLORIDA: We're looking into that right now. We got that information. We have detectives looking into that. So, unfortunately, I can't give you any more information on that right now.

REPORTER: Do I have it right so far?

NOCCO: I can't give you -- I only give preliminary information until we get all of the details. Yes.

REPORTER: But you are looking --

NOCCO: We are looking at it. We did get a call from a citizen stating that while she was in the theater, she was texting and somebody who she believes was harassing her. So, what we're doing is looking, going back now. Our detectives will be investigating it and see if we can pull video and see, you know, is it the same person? And just -- we're going to look into this matter.

REPORTER: We heard also an attorney say that they believe that the initial aggressor was -- I'm sorry. Reeves' attorney said that they believe the initial aggressor was Oulson. At -- during the course of your investigation, do you believe that, (a), that he is the initial aggressor, and if being an initial aggressor means arguing with somebody, is that ever a reason to shoot somebody?

NOCCO: Curtis Reeves is under arrest for second-degree murder. He's the person that we have arrested. We worked with our state attorney's office. His public defender is going to do everything possible to get him off. Our job is to convict to him and bring justice to the victim's family.

We believe that all of the information we've gathered, all of the evidence I'm working with the state attorney's office, we are correct in our charges of second-degree murder.

With us also is investigative questions, we have Detective Prouser (ph), and Detective Harris, those questions and inquiry about, you know, statements he may have made afterwards. I have (INAUDIBLE) questions.

REPORTER: Do you think this is a possible stand your ground case?

NOCCO: No. I would say from the very beginning of any type of investigation, if we believe a crime has occurred, we're going to look at every possible angle.