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What's Truth Behind Christie Bullying Allegations?

Aired January 20, 2014 - 18:28   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the governor, his allies, and the bullying scandal that won't go away.

DAWN ZIMMER, MAYOR OF HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: She made a direct threat to me. "If you tell anyone, I'll deny it."

LT. GOV. KIM GUADAGNO, NEW JERSEY: I deny wholeheartedly those allegations.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist; and Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard." Is Governor Chris Christie's team bullying New Jersey mayors? What would it mean if he runs for president? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two very different views of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Today we have a "dear diary" moment and she said/she said. This isn't Melrose Place. It's New Jersey. For those of you who were watching football this weekend, let me catch you up.

First, the mayor of Hoboken goes public with her diary. Supposedly, Christie sent his lieutenant governor to threaten the mayor that he'd withhold Sandy relief money unless the mayor approved a development deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZIMMER: When the lieutenant governor comes, pulls you aside in a parking lot and says that these two things are connected, "I know it shouldn't be, but they are. And if you tell anyone, I'll deny it." I mean, she felt almost guilty about saying it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Keep in mind, this is the same mayor who once told CNN that withholding the funding was not retaliation.

This morning the lieutenant governor trashed the mayor's story and, watch, she doesn't look guilty; she looks furious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUADAGNO: The suggestion that anyone would hold back Sandy relief funds for any reason is wholly and completely false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: But this afternoon, the mayor denied the denial.

Here's a little advice. Democrats looking to destroy Christie have to make sure their stories are serious and air-tight. Otherwise, the only credibility they'll damage is their own.

JONES: Well, nobody is arguing with you about that. I certainly think we should slow down and enjoy this. It's going to take a very long time. Much more is coming.

And in the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and "Weekly Standard" editor Bill Kristol are here to help us sort this out.

Now look, I know that good conservatives like yourself want everybody to believe this is just some media fixation; it's not fair; the media is just being so mean to Chris Christie.

Now, we now have an actual federal investigation. This woman has sat down with federal investigators and she said she's willing to go under oath and say this actually happened. Isn't this now a real news story, even in your estimation?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I think we should let -- if we have a federal investigation, shouldn't we let the federal investigation investigate?

That's the story. The story is the mayor says one thing; the lieutenant governor says something else. Chris Christie fired two staff, which is to his credit, says he didn't know anything. I don't know who's telling the truth. You're entitled to talk about it all you want. The liberal media loves it. Oh, my God, he's allegedly the Republican front runner. It's a chance to blow the guy up early. Let's obsess about this.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We can look at motives, though, as to who's telling the truth. You know, and you're right, somebody is going to go out on a limb, right, and say one of them is telling the truth.

But the -- Bill's line. The -- but Mayor Zimmer, though, has no incentive not to tell the truth here. She actually has been complimentary of Governor Christie in the past. She's actually appeared with him several times in public. Unlike other Democratic mayors in New Jersey, she actually has some credibility here. She's got nothing to lose.

JONES: There's nothing to gain by it. ROSEN: Nothing to gain by making it up. You know, Lieutenant Governor Guadagno, though, on the other hand, has a lot to -- has a lot to lose if she's not telling the truth.

CUPP: Look -- look, listen, I know Democrats are ecstatic about this Hoboken mayor who can't seem to stick to one story. And even the guy charged with investigating the Christie scandal seems to have already made up his mind. Take a look at Rudy Giuliani's reaction to Assemblyman John Wisniewski over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have said with all of his senior people in the midst of a re-election year, it's hard to believe that he knew nothing until January 8th.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: When you announce before you even investigate that you don't believe the subject of the investigation or the person who's the ultimate focus of the investigation, it would seem to me the assemblyman has an ethical obligation to step down, to recuse himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Now, we know today that he said he's not going to do that. He said today on CNN. But it seems to me there's a partisan push from the left to get ahead of the facts. Why not, as Bill said, wait for the investigation and then do your -- you know, your celebration dance?

ROSEN: Rudy Giuliani really should get his facts straight before he goes on TV, because he's just been all over the place on this.

First he called this thing a little prank. You know, a 91-year-old woman stuck by emergency service with this traffic jam. You know, this was not a prank.

But more importantly right now, these subpoenas, this investigation by this committee, is bipartisan. Every Republican on the committee voted for these -- to issue these subpoenas. Voted for this investigation --

CUPP: They want to get to the bottom of it, sure.

ROSEN: So the idea that Rudy Giuliani is saying that, you know, that the committee chair should recuse himself, maybe they should all recuse themselves if they're just asking for --

CUPP: But he didn't. He's admitted he doesn't believe him.

KRISTOL: It's a bipartisan investigation in which the governor is cooperating to get to the bottom of it. That's the way it's supposed to work. That's the way it's supposed to work. Unlike, if I might say, certain other investigations where there have been attempts to cover up or intimidate people in the Clinton years or Benghazi, where they try to prevent people from testifying and so forth. In this one, everyone is cooperating. So that's good government at work here in New Jersey.

JONES: Let's do a couple things here. First of all, let's just be practical. This is your superstar.

KRISTOL: He's not my superstar.

JONES: He's the Republican party's big superstar.

KRISTOL: He's not. In the world you move into liberal media and rich donors, Christie is the favorite. But he's not the actual favorite among Republican voters. Look at all the polls.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Mike -- Mike Huckabee would beat Chris Christie right now for the Republican nomination, which isn't to say that Chris Christie wouldn't be a strong candidate, as well. Scott Walker would be a strong candidate. Mike Pence would be a strong candidate.

ROSEN: Democrats think --

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Democrats think. Democrats --

JONES: You're throwing him under the bus already.

ROSEN: I'm going to agree with you because I think, actually, if Democrats overplay this, all we're going to do is make conservatives who have hated Chris Christie actually like him.

KRISTOL: Let me just say this. I was in the first Bush White House. We lost terribly in '92, and I remember this chortling in December of '91 when Mario Cuomo, the Democratic superstar, said, "I'm not running." And I remember "Clinton? This guy from Arkansas? Are you kidding?"

I remember, I said, to my credit, and my boss, Dan Quayle, was very strong (ph) about this, said, "Don't underestimate the guy. He's a pretty good politician. He got elected in a state that's full of conservatives."

JONES: This is fascinating. Suddenly everybody is running for the hills away from this guy. Hey, listen --

KRISTOL: I'm not.

CUPP: Not everybody.

KRISTOL: I'm defending him. I'm happy to defend him. He deserves due process. He's been a good governor. He's been a good governor. And also the charge is bullying? Really? Is that a serious charge. If there's a law that's been broken, obviously, that needs to be investigated. JONES: First of all, both of these things would be -- both of these things would be illegal, and we both know it. You've been around this game for a very long time. A very, very, very long time.

KRISTOL: Surprisingly long time.

JONES: Chris Christie has to be born on -- he's got to be born on Krypton to be able to do all these things at the same time. He's got to run the state. He's got to run the Republican Governors Association. He's got to run for president, and he's got to deal now with a federal investigation. How can one man do all of these things at the same time?

Don't you think he should at least step down from the Republican Governors Association and focus on this crisis?

KRISTOL: No, he should focus most of all on running the state. I've always thought that. I like Chris Christie, incidentally, but he was re-elected governor of New Jersey. And it's going to be important to his future ambitions that he does a good job, actually, as governor of New Jersey.

He should cooperate with the investigation. I think he has plenty of time to go around the country and raise a little money for other Republican gubernatorial candidates. He should not run for president in 2014. I don't think he was doing that anyway.

ROSEN: Here's the thing. Am I the only one at the table from New Jersey, I think, right? I actually am from New Jersey and, more importantly, the first political job I ever had was working for the governor of New Jersey. And, you know, the guy who actually cleaned house, Brendan Byrne.

The New Jersey governor's office has an enormous amount of power, much more so than many other states. They actually appoint the attorney general. They have more political appointees in state government than most any other state.

And so you really can actually, you know, just be a politician in that state as opposed to governing. And what everybody says about Christie for the last year and a half is that he has completely only focused on beefing up his margins, running for president, masquerading everything that he was doing to help him. That's the point that Dawn Zimmer is raising.

CUPP: I think people would disagree and say that he's done a lot for the state.

ROSEN: But the point that Dawn Zimmer raised is important, because what she's saying is, look, he's -- he's using the cronyism for extra purposes. So what she's saying is --

CUPP: And we have to believe her for that to be an important -- an important revelation.

But the question about the RGA, and I've always thought it was a little naive of Christie to suggest, "Nothing is going to change for me at the RGA." No, things are going to change for a little while. Your kitchen is going to be a little hot.

Let me ask you this. You've advised President Obama, BP, during crisis management events. Would you tell Chris Christie, don't go to Florida, stay home, hide, look guilty? Or get out there and do the job you said you were going to do?

ROSEN: Well, I don't think going to Florida and raising money for other governors who are also under some cloud is particularly useful for him.

Really, the problem that he's had is that he can't stay home and face the media. He can't travel and face the media. Florida might have been the right thing, because everyone in Florida wanted him. Whereas Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, said yesterday, "Don't come to my state. I don't want you in my state."

KRISTOL: Did I miss his two-hour press conference, in which he answered every possible question? Let's face the media.

JONES: Fair enough. Hold on a second, guys. We're going to be able to talk about this for a while, because I think Governor Chris Christie's problems are going to be bigger, last longer and be messier than anybody here thinks.

Now when we get back, I'm going to give you 146 reasons why Chris Christie should be worried, when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JONES: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Hilary Rosen and Bill Kristol.

Now, I am shocked -- shocked -- at allegations that Chris Christie is a shady politician. Give me a break. This is a guy who launched his political career in 1994 with a false ad that he aired more than 400 times. He got sued for that and had to apologize. Nobody talks about that any more.

He -- even his so-called landslide re-election last year was a sham. He deliberately scheduled Cory Booker's Senate election to take place three weeks ahead of his election. Most Democrats voted in Booker's race. Most Republicans voted in Christie's race. So of course Christie did well, but that's an abuse of power as obvious as any traffic jam. Plus, it cost taxpayers about 25 million bucks.

So, surprise, surprise, here we are. New week, new scandal, new hole in this guy's straight-shooter image, and we still have 146 weeks left until election day 2016. So --

CUPP: That's pathetic.

KRISTOL: If that's the best you've got against Christie --

JONES: We've got more. KRISTOL: -- I'm going to endorse him. Oh, he had an ad once that was controversial. He won a landslide.

JONES: He had to apologize.

KRISTOL: Apologize for what? That's never happened to any other politicians.

JONES: He falsely accused the guy --

ROSEN: The Democrats actually --

KRISTOL: Barack Obama had no issues in his ads. Bill Clinton. I mean, unbelievable.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: I'm sorry, go ahead.

ROSEN: We didn't actually need this to happen for us to be credible against Chris Christie, to have a credible candidacy against Chris Christie. He's still outside -- you know, you should like him more. He's outside of the mainstream. He's vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times. He's --

KRISTOL: You like that. That's true.

ROSEN: He's -- you know --

CUPP: Now Democrats are accusing Christie of the far right extreme? What?

KRISTOL: My tax dollars need to go to Planned Parenthood.

ROSEN: He taxes on the middle class and left the wealthy open. So, I'm just saying, Democrats and independents have lots of reasons to be confident about Chris Christie. This is something he did to himself.

KRISTOL: Those are fair policy debates to have. But I think what Van did shows how scared Democrats are.

The truth is, you don't -- you're not confident you can beat Christie on the merits. Are we going to have an election where -- Obamacare, that's a great success. Christie, terrible? I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: I've got something to say. I'm not scared of these numbers. You want to talk about something that's scared of, these numbers, you should be scared of.

Look at these numbers. Brand new poll from Pew. In a year, this guy's unfavorables have gone from 17 to 34 percent, doubled his unfavorable, doubled his unfavorable numbers.

KRISTOL: This is also pathetic. You're in the middle of wall-to-wall coverage of CNN and everybody else on this alleged scandal. And his numbers got a little worse. Bill Clinton's numbers weren't great at the height of the Gennifer Flowers scandal. Last I look, he still won the election in November 1992. People's numbers got -- Barack Obama's numbers went down when Jeremiah Wright, the wonderful pastor for President Obama, before he's president, was so close to.

You know, when scandals blow up, your numbers go bad for a while. Let's see where Christie is --

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: You brought something up earlier, and I think it's right on. "Politico" over the weekend interviewed a bunch of conservative activists in states like Iowa and South Carolina and New Hampshire, who were not huge Christie fans, and they said all of this coverage is actually softening them to Chris Christie. And you mentioned that this might actually win Christie sympathy from the very people he would desperately like to get voting for him in 2016.

What would you tell Democrats like Van who maybe run the risk of going too far against Christie to drum up, you know, hatred and vitriol when in fact -- well, when in fact this might turn far right Republican on to him?

ROSEN: Here, obviously, politics are extremely polarized. You know, people are threatened by Hillary, so they look -- they think Christie is out there. They think the reason we're going after him is because of that, so they're naturally going to come and support him more.

But I think that nothing will change the outcome if these hearings show that this came closer to his office than he said. That he really had other aides -- I mean after all, it took him four months to get to this point of actually firing two aides.

When, you know, his entire office was covering this up four months ago.

So, you know, nothing will help him if real bad facts come out. And if no facts more than what's come out happens, you know, then it's going end up --

CUPP: For all we know his entire office was covering this up.

ROSEN: That's what those e-mails said.

KRISTOL: This is why this whole discussion --

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Yes, we're going to know.

ROSEN: Yes, his chief of staff, his communications director, all those people were actually trying to figure this out.

KRISTOL: All this speculation at this point is silly, honestly.

JONES: Fair enough. But he is getting sworn in tomorrow, supposed to be a big day for him. I think it's going to be a tough day rather than a big day for him.

And I think the last thing he would want to hear on the day he's getting inaugurated is to hear his wonderful bipartisan partners, Democrats, saying stuff like this. I want you to hear this and get your response to it.

KRISTOL: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. FRANK PALLONE, JR. (D), NEW JERSEY: If in fact it's true that the Christie administration was linking this development project to Sandy aid, that's a serious charge and something that I think would be illegal and would result in, you know, impeachment or resignation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Stay with me on this. Big if, he said if -- big, big if.

But part of our job is to speculate. If in fact it's true what he said, wouldn't you agree that impeachment would be in order? You've been pooh-poohing this all night long. Don't you think these are serious allegations if they're true, they're impeachable?

KRISTOL: I don't know. I mean, we have to see really what the, quote, "allegations" really are. But I would agree, if Chris Christie is impeached or forced to resign, he probably won't be the Republican nominee in 2016. But let's let the process work itself out.

And I think I'm a whole -- I mean, look, what's amazing is the media -- the intensity and insanity almost of the media coverage of this, of what is a he said/she said or she said/she said story at this point? And it does show fear of Christie.

And I think it shows that Democrats correctly understand against a strong next generation Republican candidate like a Chris Christie, but there are many others also, or even not a next generation candidate, someone like Mike Huckabee who's been around a little bit, that they have a tough race in 2016 and they're desperately trying to wipe out any Republicans they have an excuse to wipe out at this point.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: I think there's hype, but I think it's hype he brought on himself. This is a guy who's gone around and dared everybody, and in fact made his brand criticizing Republicans. That's half his brand.

But, you know, the arrogance he's shown about how he knows everything better, he's the governor of a blue state and he's so great and he's doing this. I think in many respects this backlash is something that he's brought on and that is what the people of New Jersey are feeling. That is what these Democrats are feeling and these mayors who are more independent are feeling. This is kind of just --

KRISTOL: But he is eating some humble pie. Maybe that will improve his character. And maybe they'll like him more. You know what does not destroy, it makes you stronger.

CUPP: And he's got so many perceived or real enemies on the left and the right. And you don't need this scandal because Democrats had so much more to work with, then why are you giving him so much attention? Why not just let him collapse -- pardon the pun -- under his own weight?

ROSEN: Yes. Well, believe me, these hearings are not easy for him. He's got a lot of questions to answer. I'm just going to ignore that point.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSEN: You know, he's got a long way to go here. And you know, this whole thing might collapse.

Or, look, what he said yesterday is I'm hoping -- I'm going to learn from this. I'm going to come out stronger. This national crisis is what I need in three years before a presidential primary to test me in the national media.

You know, one or the other will be true.

CUPP: Well, I hope he does learn something from it and I hope he survives. That remains to be seen.

Stay here.

Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Do you think Chris Christie should step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUPP: We're back with Hilary Rosen and Bill Kristol.

And now, it's time for the final question.

Van?

JONES: OK, I get to go first.

So, look, probably, the reality is -- you have been talking about investigation, investigation. Probably, we're going to have the worst of all possible outcomes. There is not going to be a smoking gun that says Christie is guilty. There's not going to be any big exoneration. It is going to be subpoena after subpoena after subpoena, and this drip, drip, drip of this new cycle. Doesn't that from your point of view make Christie pretty much permanently toxic and not really a viable candidate anymore for the presidency?

KRISTOL: You sound like John Sununu, the older John Sununu when he was Bush's chief of staff telling me and the White House, and I think it's August of '91, that that's exactly what was going to happen to Bill Clinton, with Whitewater, and all this other problems he had, and he would be toxic and, God, let's pray that he's the nominee. I think he did pretty well in '92. He did pretty well again in '96.

JONES: Does this process, though, worry you?

KRISTOL: No, because it will be over. It will be resolved one way or the other. Either Chris Christie broke the law and did something he really shouldn't have done, or he didn't. If he didn't, I think it's a very small bump in the road.

And then you know what? We have primaries. We have voters. It's a democracy, people get to vote and don't have to listen to the liberal media and have to listen to people like us.

They get to judge Chris Christie up on stage with other impressive young Republican candidates. I feel good about the Republican field and I hope Chris Christie is part of it.

CUPP: Well, Hilary, Bill mentioned the Clintons. If they proved anything, both Bill and Hillary, it's that you can survive scandal after scandal after scandal. Is that only if you're a Democrat or is it only if you have a compelling personality? In which case I'd argue Chris Christie has a lot (ph).

ROSEN: You know, much of your ability to survive a scandal, you know, as crisis communication, is always about who is speaking for you and who is not speaking for you. So, in Chris Christie's case, you know, when you have Republicans like Lindsey Graham who's got a tight primary saying, don't come to my state of South Carolina, that's a problem.

When you have the "Manchester Union Leader", the most conservative newspaper in an early primary state, saying we are taking this seriously because our voters don't like abuses of power, then all of a sudden, you've got other people in Chris Christie's camp saying, you know what, I'm a little worried about you, guys.

CUPP: I think that's a fair point. Would you also then concede that if Democrats in 2014 tell the president, please don't come to our state right now, would you come agree that that's also a problem for Democrats?

ROSEN: Look, I think Democrats telling Barack Obama to stay away is a problem for Barack Obama getting things through Congress, but that's not the issue here. The issue here is whether these problems for Chris Christie are going to endure (ph) to other Republicans. I think that's possible.

The one -- I would just close on one final point of advice for Chris Christie, though, which is --

CUPP: I'm sure he's watching. Go ahead.

ROSEN: If you are watching, do not go and have Rudy Giuliani be your defender against a bullying charge. Hello? I mean, you could find actually somebody a little sweeter, softer, more engaged and a little more trustworthy on that particular charge than Rudy Giuliani. He's the one who keeps being on TV.

KRISTOL: Chris Christie on line one for Hilary Rosen.

JONES: That was good advice.

KRISTOL: No, I think he could be better. He could do worse than give you call.

JONES: I want to thank you both, Hilary Rosen and Bill Kristol.

You can go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Do you think Chris Christie should step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association?

Right now, 39 percent of you say yes. Sixty-one percent say no.

The debate will continue online at CNN.com/Crossfire, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.