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Hoboken Mayor Accuses Christie Lieutenant of Threatening to Withhold Sandy Funds; Olympic Security Concerns; Credit Security Threatened

Aired January 20, 2014 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEWSROOM": "LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: New Jersey's newest scandal hitting the fan this morning, the lieutenant governor firing back with the mayor of Hoboken, calling her claim that Governor Christie played politics with Sandy relief money, quote, "completely false, illogical and offensive."

Also, this hour, a terror threat for the Olympics, and it comes from beyond the grave, a chilling video supposedly from the suicide bombers in the Volgograd attacks promising something similar for Sochi.

And stunning presidential proclamation that has a lot of parents on high alert, the leader of the free world declaring marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and not much different than smoking cigarettes.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's Monday, January 20th. It's Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

A day before Chris Christie is formally beginning his second term as New Jersey's governor, his lieutenant governor is denying that she ever played politics with Superstorm Sandy relief money.

That accusation comes from the Democratic mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey. Her name is Dawn Zimmer, and she's seen here to Christie's right at a post-Sandy news conference.

Now, Mayor Zimmer is claiming that she was told the state wouldn't send disaster aid Hoboken's way unless she, Zimmer, supported a real- estate development deal pitched by a company with ties to Chris Christie.

She says the threat was delivered in person by none other than the lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno.

Guadagno addressed those claims in public head-on just 90 minutes ago. She spoke at a MLK event in the town of Union Beach, New Jersey.


LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: Mayor Zimmer's version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false, but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined.

Any suggestion -- any suggestion -- that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false.

Standing in Union Beach as we are today with some of the mayors whose towns were devastated by Sandy and also being a Sandy victim myself makes the mayor's allegations particularly offensive to me.

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


BANFIELD: Pretty strong words.

Our CNN's Erin McPike is following the latest in this controversy in New Jersey.

So, Erin, why is this all coming out now? Because it's been a year since Sandy, and we certainly have a lot of Chris Christie news happening now.

And while you're at it, throw in the proof and the evidence in all of this.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, that's the big question. Why is Dawn Zimmer just coming out now?

She said it's because, during the election, nobody would believe her. So far, the only evidence that we may have is Dawn Zimmer's journal.

But, right now, this is a big classic case of he said/she said.


MCPIKE: Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has gone public with allegations that Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, delivered what she called a threat on the governor's behalf to withhold much-needed Superstorm Sandy relief funds for her flood-damaged city if she did not support a development project.

MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER (D), HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: The fact is, she came, the lieutenant governor pulled me aside and said, essentially, you've got to move forward with the Rockefeller project.

This project is really important to the governor. And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor.

MCPIKE: On Sunday, Zimmer met with federal prosecutors for several hours, turning over a journal that she says details the alleged ultimatum and other documents at the request of the U.S. attorney's office.

Christie's spokesman, Colin Reed, calls her characterization "categorically false," saying, "It's very clear, partisan politics are at play here as Democratic mayors with a political axe to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television."

This new controversy comes on the heels of Christie's now famous bridge lane closure probe.

That investigation is going full throttle into his administration's involvement into the controversial lane closures to the George Washington Bridge.

Christie spent the weekend fundraising in Florida for fellow GOP Governor Rick Scott and talking to prospective donors to a Christie- for-President campaign.

When asked last night at a closed door event when the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal will end, Politico reports that Christie replied, "I don't know."

And as if all this wasn't enough, questions continue to mount about whether the governor misused funds in Sandy relief commercials featuring his family while running for re-election.

The public relations nightmare for Team Christie has reached such a fever pitch that Rudy Giuliani is calling it all.



BANFIELD: So, Erin, just quickly, do we know factually whether any relief money was actually withheld? Because that's pretty darn critical at this juncture.

MCPIKE: Ashleigh, we don't know that specifically.

Christie's administration says that, if anything, Hoboken got special treatment.

And we want to correct something slightly that we said at the beginning of that piece, which is that this is actually a she said/she said story, not he said/she said.

BANFIELD: Yeah. And, of course, the claim being made is that one of the "shes" says it goes all the way up to the governor, but that hasn't been made -- that hasn't been connected either.

But what you just alluded to and that is that some of the money -- the lieutenant governor herself said in her protestations just 90 minutes ago that she, herself, is a Sandy victim. And she was. She sustained damage in the storm as well.

And, effectively, that was supposed to take her out, right, of any dealings with Hurricane -- Superstorm Sandy relief money.

So how does this get connected to her if she is not even supposed to be speaking about relief money.

MCPIKE: Ashleigh, that's the big question. She didn't take any questions about that her press conference earlier today. She just made that statement.

Obviously, we expect to be hearing more from her during the next week or two, but, Ashleigh, I also want to point out to you what's happened in the last hour or so this morning.

And that is that a demonstration has now formed. We haven't seen this in the three weeks we've been out here until today.

You might see a sign that says, "Jail Christie," one that says, "Just Recovery, Not Cronyism," and another one that says, "Shame on You."

This is all coming the day before Christie's second inauguration, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Erin McPike, live for us in Trenton, New Jersey, thank you.

I want to bring in our resident expert on all things political. Wolf Blitzer's live in Washington.

Wolf, we often talk about what the truth is, what the headlines are and then what the optics are and the effect those optics have.

When it comes to Chris Christie, it's not that simple, it seems, especially if you look at poll numbers in New Jersey, in New York and then across the country.


So far, he hasn't really suffered all that much in the polls and during his fundraising as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association over the weekend in Florida.

He seems to have been pretty well received by rich Republicans who went down there to pay their respects, raising some significant funds.

He's got a lot of problems. He's acknowledging he's got a lot of problems in an interview that was just published, that first interview that was done, with Yahoo! News.

Now, he says, I will learn from this. I know I will. I don't know exactly what it is yet that I'll learn from it, but when I get the whole story and really try to understand what's going on here, I know I'm going to learn things.

So, he acknowledges himself he's a got lot of work to do. He's got a lot of effort to rebrand himself, if you will.

He had very good branding going into the scandal. Now, not so much.

BANFIELD: And when it comes to the branding, it matters who you're talking about and who's receiving that branding and who's ultimately being affected by the branding, because if you read a lot of the coverage, there is this suggestion that conservative Republicans who heretofore weren't big fans of Chris Christie are now looking at what they said is the media piling on and are coming over to his side. So, effectively, it could be having the opposite effect that his critics wanted it to have. Does that make sense?

BLITZER: Yes, it does. He's getting a lot of support now, not just from Rudy Giuliani and other Republicans, more moderate Republicans, but you heard Haley Barbour was on "NEW DAY" this morning, the former governor of Mississippi, the former chairman of the Republican Party, as well.

So, he's getting some support. There is a whole effort now to paint the so-called "liberal news media" as out to get Chris Christie and that's generating support for Chris Christie among some more traditional conservatives, tea party supporters, included.

Even though on some of the substantive issues they may not necessarily agree with him on all of that, there is a certain amount of sympathy generating in those quarters for Chris Christie right now.

Look, when all is said and done, Ashleigh, as you know, we'll see what the evidence shows.

There is a U.S. attorney now who has what are described as the contemporaneous notes that the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, has provided that U.S. attorney yesterday.

Now, if she made it all up, Dawn Zimmer, if it's not -- these aren't really her contemporaneous notes, and if they do a forensic exam of those notes, they'll be able to determine, precisely, was it written last week? Was it written two months ago, three months ago?

I think they can make those kinds of determinations based on the ink quality and the paper and all of that, they'll be able to determine whether she did write all those words, when she did write those words, and that's a strong piece of evidence if, in fact, they can prove it's legit.

BANFIELD: I hear you. I'm always a big fan of evidence, and I like it when people actually get adversarial over evidence, as well.

So, you hit the nail on the head, Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: And I will make one more point, Ashleigh.

If, in fact, she's lying, Dawn Zimmer, it's one thing to go ahead and lie to the public, if you will. That's pretty bad, obviously. But if you're lying to a U.S. attorney and federal authorities, that is a crime.

And she would have to be really, really going off a way, way deep end, if Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken, is getting involved in anything along those lines.

Now, can there be different interpretations on that conversation that the lieutenant governor and the mayor of Hoboken may have had in that parking lot? Did the lieutenant governor, for example, raise the issue of that development project without necessarily linking it to receiving aid, receiving Superstorm Sandy aid?

That's an issue that can be discussed and debated, but these are all the questions that are certainly going to be emerging.

BANFIELD: Wolf Blitzer, thank you for that. Do appreciate it.

Joining me here live in the CNN New York Center is a former defense attorney, as well a current defense attorney and also former New York prosecutor, Paul Callan.

So, what Wolf just brought up is so critical, different interpretations of the same conversation. Who knows if there's a recording device? And then what you say officially under oath to the U.S. attorney could be totally different things.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, I think Wolf is right on the money.

The biggest danger here is lying during this investigation, the cover- up, whether it is the mayor of Hoboken or somebody in the Christie administration.

That's where probably you're going to see criminality develop. That's usually what happens in these investigations.

But the second point I think Wolf made is the most important, which is -- and it's a very subtle point about how horse-trading is done in politics.

And there's a big difference between saying to the mayor of Hoboken, if you don't go along with the governor's selection of a developer for the Hoboken waterfront, the governor is going to be very upset with you.

And if you say that in the context of discussing Sandy funds, Hurricane Sandy funds, you don't even have to be talking about the funds. You just have to be visiting Hoboken on a Sandy-related issue, and you know the message is sent.

And if I could give a second quick example, if you were to look at the president of the United States, look at U.S. ambassadors, OK? You think any of those have contributed heavily to the president.

If the president or his adviser said, I'm going to make you ambassador to Mexico if you give me a big political contribution, that's a crime.

But on the other hand, if you give a big political contribution and -

BANFIELD: And you become the ambassador to Mexico --

CALLAN: No crime there.

So, it's all very subtle in politics, how the horse-trading occurs, and we don't usually see criminal prosecutions resulting from this kind of horse-trading, because we'd be leading all the politicians away in handcuffs. BANFIELD: Well, unless you have, you know -- look, Wolf talked about the evidence in that potential journal and what kind of forensics might be able to be attributable to the entries in that journal.

But they have something in New Jersey called official misconduct.

CALLAN: Yes, they do. And I have looked at that statute --

BANFIELD: Do it quickly.

CALLAN: -- and I will tell you, that statute requires you to seek some sort of a personal, political, inappropriate gain for what is being sought after. And I think it's going to be a hard one to win.

BANFIELD: It's a stretch.

CALLAN: And, by the way, one other thing, the last mayor of Hoboken is in prison, Mr. Cammarano, I think he was, a nice lawyer, a young lawyer, a long history of mayors in Hoboken in prison.

I'm only saying a lot of political corruption in Jersey.

BANFIELD: And we are not suggesting for a moment that means that this one is, as well.

CALLAN: No, we're not. We are not suggesting that.

BANFIELD: The investigation continues.

Paul Callan --

CALLAN: But it's a subculture in Jersey.

BANFIELD: Boy, you're tough. You're tough, a tough cookie, Callan.

Thank you. Don't go anywhere, because I have a lot more for you.

The president not going, intelligence leaders saying they wouldn't go nor send their families, and we're just talking about the Olympics, yeah, the place where we're all supposed to come together. kumbaya- style.

Well, now, there's some serious terror threat for Sochi in Russia. We're going to look at why the threat to the games is so credible this time around.




BANFIELD: This video, that just surfaced over the weekend, showing two extremists. They are leveling a threat against the Olympic games in Sochi. These are the two that claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd, effectively bombing themselves, taking themselves out, but leaving behind the video with an advance warning, moving ahead to the Olympics.

They warned that they have a present for the Olympic tourists as a payback for Muslim blood that has been spilled. And all that is raising huge security concerns just under three weeks before the games. The torch got a warm welcome in Volgograd today despite all of this. Have a look.

Despite the cheers there, people around the world are on edge about what has happened in that city just about 600 miles from Sochi where the Olympics will be. Russia's president says the country has a perfect understanding of the threat, and how to stop the threat, but that doesn't seem to do much for U.S. lawmakers because several of them are saying they are extremely concerned. Phil Black has more from Volgograd.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, it was three weeks ago that a man walked into this train station behind me, approached the security screening area and blew himself up, killing 18 people. The next day, someone else performed a suicide attack on a bus nearby killing another 16. Now, a jihadi video has emerged with two men claiming responsibility for those attacks. They also warned that they are but a taste of what people should expect during the winter Olympics in Sochi.


BLACK (voice-over): Mounting concerns in Russia this morning as the Olympic torch relay makes its way for the bomb stricken city of Volgograd. Two extremists in this video claiming responsibility for two back to back suicide bombings last month that claimed 34 lives, and warning that more attacks could come during the Sochi Olympic Games.

In the hour-long video, the purported suicide bombers are seen constructing explosives and explaining their motives all before heading to their targets triggers in hand. The two men apparently part of an Islamist militant group vowing to prepare a present for the Olympics and all the tourists who'll come over. Members of Congress are very concerned.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL MCCAIN (R), TEXAS: If something does happen, what is the evacuation plan and emergency response plan that would take place?

BLACK: Others worried about Americans heading to Sochi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would not go and I don't think I would send my family.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR: I am very concerned about the security status of the Olympics. I do believe that the Russian government needs to be more cooperative with the United States when it comes to the security of the games.

BLACK: Russian President Vladimir Putin deploying a security force at 40,000 police officers and soldiers to the region. In an interview with ABC News, Putin says that he will do whatever it takes to keep athletes and visitors safe, and pledging that Russia has adequate means of security. Security around the Olympic venue on high alert. Metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs are visible as the games get underway in just over two weeks.


BLACK: Russian officials say they are not revising their security plans for the Sochi games because they believe they already have everything in place. When the Olympic flame arrived here this morning, there were more police officers and members of the security forces to meet it than members of the public. It seems the lesson from the Volgograd attacks is that even if Sochi is locked down successfully, there are still many other potentially vulnerable targets in other parts of the country. Back to you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Phil, thank you for that. It is minus 25 where Phil is. We really appreciate his reporting today.

Do you remember the holiday hack attack, the Target thing that affected so many millions of Americans? There was Target, but then there was also Neiman Marcus, and it turns out that may just be the beginning, folks. This thing is far from over, and there are some details that you need to hear if you buy stuff like anywhere.


BANFIELD: If you shop using plastic, you might want to check your bank statement ASAP. Millions of credit card accounts have been compromised. This mostly over the Christmas holiday at Target and at Neiman Marcus stores. Now, we're hearing at least six other major retailers may have been hacked as well. In other words, the security breach could get a whole lot worse and the cost could be huge.

I want to bring in CNN's legal analyst, Paul Callan. So Paul, the first question most people have is, if I'm affected by this, what is my recourse? Can I sue always comes up, but can you?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you could sue, but it would be very hard to get a lawyer to take the case because your damage may be very small. What we see in these cases are lawyers swoop in and they do a class action lawsuit. If millions of consumers have had their information stolen or hacked, and it is as a result of the carelessness or negligence of the store in not maintaining security, they banned all of those cases together. You have a huge class action lawsuit that could be crippling to retailers that don't provide adequate security.

BANFIELD: Sometimes these big retailers, how culpable are they or how negligent, they may want it to all go away. Here is the big question. As a Joe Schmo, I do a lot of online shopping, I'm actually party to this whether I sign a document or not. I am part of it. Even though I don't have to take action and call up and sign a document to be part of the class action suit, I am automatically, if I shopped at that store, part of it. CALLAN: Well, yes and no. You are because what happens is a notice gets sent out by the federal court that there is a class action. Unless you opt out, you are in. So, a lot of people see it and think it is something from a bill collector and they throw it away, but so -- a lot of people are in the class action suits and they don't know it.

The ultimate irony of it, I think, is that it's a very small amount of money that gets recovered by the consumer. You know who gets the money -- mostly, the lawyers. They're the ones who aer flying around in Gulf Stream jets, the lawyers who handle these class actions suits.

I think the second thing we have to say in fairness to the retailers, technology is moving so quickly here and people now are using such fast computers, that they are getting ahead of security measures that even the best experts have. So the stores are going to come in and say, hey, we do a good job in trying to protect things, but the sophisticated attacks on our systems, we just can't handle anymore. So that's what you -


BANFIELD: But again, they may not want the headlines and opt for the settlement, regardless of their level of negligence. They may have no negligence. They may have done all of their diligence in implementing security apparatus that some kid in Russia was able to get ahead of them on. I want to get back to the money. How much of this settlement, this class action settlement money, ends up left on the table by people like me who can't stand junk mail and assume it is all junk mail?

CALLAN: A huge amount remains on the table.

BANFIELD: Read your mail if you are getting something from these retailers.

CALLAN: You should look at it definitely. Whether you have really extensive damages, it's a different thing. Maybe you should be opting out of the class action because you want to hire your own lawyer. Let's say your identity was stolen and as a result you lost your job, you lost your credit, you might have a really big individual case as a result of the negligence.

BANFIELD: And if you don't opt out of your class action, you can't sue on your own.


CALLAN: That's right. So, look at your junk mail before you throw it out.

BANFIELD: Oh, I hate that advice! Paul Callan -

CALLAN: And it it's in federal court, it's not junk. That's rule number two. BANFIELD: And by the way, jury summons look like junk mail a lot of time too, so don't be junking that. And check your bank statements. Big lesson for today. Big takeaway, take your bank statements no matter what. Thank you, Paul.

CALLAN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Marijuana is not nearly as dangerous as alcohol. Those are not my words, those are the words coming straight from the mouth of your president -- the President of the United States. And it's not all he's saying. In a very provocative interview right now, he's also talking about how some people don't like him because he is black and how some people give him a pass because he is black.

Want to know more about that? You will in just a moment.