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Chris Christie Scandal; Wall Street Dives; Ready to Cut Snowden a Deal?

Aired January 23, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: With God as my witness, for the next hour, this is the last time you will hear these two words: Justin Bieber.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead. You want answers Governor Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal? Well, you can get in line behind federal prosecutors. They just hit members of the governor's reelection campaign with subpoenas. Those are like engraved invitations, but you have no choice but to RSVP.

Also, in politics, an Empire State squabble. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promised universal pre-K for kids by raising taxes on the wealthy, but now his fellow Democrat, Governor Andrew Cuomo, says, hey, put it on the state's tab. And yet de Blasio plans to hike those taxes on the rich anyway. What gives?

And the national lead. At the time, it was the biggest heist of cash ever pulled off on American soil, the Lufthansa heist. Maybe you remember it from a little movie I like to call "Goodfellas." Well, now, 35 years later, several reputed mobsters have been arrested for it. How did they get caught after all this time?

Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with some breaking news and our money. While the country was distracted losing its mind over the arrest of a certain Canadian pop star whom we have promised not to name, the stock market here in the U.S. took a nosedive, dropping more than 170 points before the closing bell mercifully rang just moments ago, ending the worst day there since August.

Let's go right to our Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, why did the Dow drop off a cliff today?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Maybe it was the Biebs' fault. But we're not going to mention his name, are we?


KOSIK: Today, I think you can pin the sell-off on a couple of things.

There was a report, Jake, out of China showing a much weaker-than- expected reading on manufacturing. And China matters to Wall Street because it's one of our biggest trading partners. So if China isn't doing well, that affects us.

Also, Wall Street is knee-deep in fourth-quarter earnings. And those corporate report cards that are coming out every day, they're a bit underwhelming. Investors are asking if these higher stock prices that we see on the board are warranted considering what kind of money the companies are bringing in. So, the way investors are thinking, they're actually thinking twice and they are selling.

The reality is, Wall Street wants to see better, especially on how much revenue these companies are bringing in -- Jake.

TAPPER: But, Alison, I understand there was some good news today, especially for a company that you and I talked about a lot and we cover a lot on this show, Netflix.

KOSIK: Yes, Netflix. We talk about the popular "House of Cards" coming out, by the way, season two coming out next month on Netflix.

Meantime, Netflix is quickly becoming the darling of Wall Street. Shares of Netflix jumped more than 16 percent today. The movie- streaming company reported earnings after the closing bell last night and they show the company is just growing and growing. In fact, in the last three months of last year, more than 2.3 million American households signed up for Netflix's streaming service.

The picture was strong overseas, too. Another 1.7 million subscribers over there signed up. And Wall Street has been loving Netflix shares lately after some hiccups a few years ago. It was the best-performing stock in the S&P 500 in 2013. Right now, you can get a share of Netflix, Jake, for 395 bucks -- Jake.

TAPPER: OK. I will go do that after the show. Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange, thank you so much.

Turning now to our politics lead, this just into CNN. We have confirmed that Governor Chris Christie's gubernatorial reelection campaign, as well as the New York Republican State Committee, have received subpoenas from the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey. The state investigative committee has also issued a subpoena for Christie's reelection campaign.

They are being represented, the campaign, by the law firm Patton Boggs, who says the campaign and state party plan to cooperate in the investigation and all subpoenas are related to the lane closures of the George Washington Bridge last year.

CNN also confirms that the FBI interviewed two aides of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and that they corroborate her story that she told them that Christie's lieutenant governor in a conversation linked Sandy funding to the backing of a development project in Hoboken. Zimmer says she was just told it was a direct message from the governor.

And a member of the Hoboken City Council told NBC News that Zimmer told him about the entire conversation last summer. Christie's campaign and Christie's administration, of course, deny it.

For more, I want to bring in Matt Arco, Matt Arco, Statehouse reporter for PolitickerNJ.

Matt, good to see you.

How big of a deal is this, the U.S. attorney's office issuing subpoenas for the reelection campaign and the GOP state committee? What does this tell you about the state of the investigation?

MATT ARCO, POLITICKER NEW JERSEY: I mean, it's moving forward.

Ever since anything -- ever since this whole thing started, and we saw evidence of what was coming out and the e-mail transaction, it was rumored that the U.S. attorneys would get involved, but then, bam, it happened today.

You have these two organizations with ties to Chris Christie, obviously, his reelection campaign, that were hit with federal subpoenas. This is -- it's pretty shocking news. I say it's shocking. It's certainly unprecedented in my career covering New Jersey politics, but certainly also people a little bit older than me as well.

But it was -- you know, we somewhat saw this coming, just the way the investigation was going, but it is certainly -- is big news in Trenton.

TAPPER: And, Matt, this seems to suggest that they are looking at Bill Stepien, the former campaign manager for Christie, the person that he wanted at one point to serve as the head of the state committee, but fired a few weeks ago, as the possible person who may have been behind all of this.

ARCO: Right.

Bill Stepien has been with the governor for years. That's where the investigation is going now, presumably. But the Democrats in the legislature have made it clear that they have their target set on Stepien just because he's been very close to Chris Christie. Their assumption is -- or they want to get closer to Christie, I imagine, and who knows exactly what is going on inside the U.S. attorney's office, but it's pretty close to Christie.

TAPPER: But, Matt, there's still as of now no evidence tying any of this to Christie himself, right?

ARCO: That's absolutely correct.

TAPPER: What about these reports that aides to the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, as well as a Hoboken City Council member, back up her version of events, that she at least contemporaneously told them about the conversation with the lieutenant governor, the alleged conversation, the one that the L.G. denies, and Zimmer's telling that she would deny it?

Does this give more credibility to Zimmer's claims?

ARCO: Well, all I know is that federal officials met with obviously the mayor of Hoboken, but also with the mayor of Hoboken's staff earlier this week.

I don't want to say whether or not it gives credibility, because I don't know exactly what questions they're asking her and exactly how that is moving along, but I can tell you that the federal investigation and the federal inquiry into all this has progressed with the mayor's administration in that they have been interviewing folks.

TAPPER: When I was in Trenton on Tuesday and I did the show from the Statehouse with you, one of the things I heard from Democrats up there is that they were kind of skeptical of Dawn Zimmer's story. Has that changed at all today, now that there are people who vouch for her telling that story at the time?

ARCO: I think the answer is, it depends on who you ask, and I think it's still, the answer is, it's also a lot of he said/she said. And I think there is still skepticism out there depending on who you talk to, but at the same time, folks were stunned when the allegations came out. And I think it really just depends on which side of the aisle you're on, on all that.

TAPPER: Matt Arco, thank you so much for your time.

In more politics news, whether it's the debate over birth control mandates or legislation tightening regulations on abortion, Democrats have seized every opportunity they can to paint the GOP as waging what Democrats refer to as a war on women.

Now, Republicans have vowed to aggressively counterattack this year for the midterms. They just announced in the last hour that their top women in the House of Representatives, conference chair, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers will deliver the GOP response to the president's State of the Union message next week.

Earlier today, another prominent voice in the Republican Party looked to try to turn the tables on his liberal counterparts. Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee suggested that the GOP's war is not against women, but for women.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without uncle sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.


TAPPER: That was Huckabee speaking to a crowd of follow conservatives at a Republican National Committee luncheon here in Washington, D.C.

While his comments were meant to show his party's attempts to empower women, the verdict is still out on how well his words will go over with female voters. CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins me now with more.

Dana, these comments already generating plenty of buzz. Give us a sampling of some of the reaction.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me tell you first, I was actually in the room listening to Mike Huckabee.

And when he said that, I went, huh? Did he really say that? And I was walking around talking to many of the members of the Republican Party who were there at this meeting. And sort of the consensus was that they liked the idea, but maybe he shouldn't use the word libido. And certainly the idea that he said that is getting a lot of buzz was a question asked to Jay Carney at the White House briefing and here is his response.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I haven't seen that report, but whoever said it, it sounds offensive to me and to women.


BASH: So the bottom line is that they actually chose Mike Huckabee to give the keynote address because you know this, Jake, he generally is a conservative who can turn a phrase and send a message in a way that many other conservatives can't.

But this is a little bit more than they bargained for.

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, I'm no expert on this.

But 98 percent of women have used birth control at some point in their lives. I don't know that that is how -- I could see why people might say this is maybe not the best way, especially because Democrats will pounce on it and take it out of context.

He was suggesting that's how Democrats view things, but...

BASH: That's exactly right.

And, again, it wasn't so much about whether or not women use birth control as whether or not the government should be involved in helping in any way for them to get that birth control. That's the message he was trying to get.

Look, one friend of his actually, somebody who is a big supporter, said to me in the hallway, can you just send him a text and ask him not to use the word libido? I said, no, that's your job. That's the bottom line.


TAPPER: No, I have also heard from Republicans saying, right idea, wrong way to say it. (CROSSTALK)

BASH: Wrong way to say it.

But, remember, also, bigger picture, he's the kind of person who Republicans are kind of looking towards across the country for 2016.

TAPPER: Right.

BASH: He's made so secret about the fact that he probably is making moves to see if he can run again for president, and he certainly does appeal to conservatives.

The question is whether or not that kind of message is going to go beyond it and that's the big, big goal of Republicans at this winter...

TAPPER: Very quickly, we have learned that Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is going to give the Republican response to the State of the Union address. We normally don't pay much attention to the person that's going to give the response, because usually they give a speech and then they fall off the face of the earth.

BASH: Marco Rubio is going to love to hear that.


TAPPER: Well, it doesn't always go so well. Rubio is a good example with the water.

BASH: Exactly. No, you're exactly right.

TAPPER: But what's the significance of this? Is this part of an appeal that Boehner and others have talked about reaching out to women?

BASH: Of course. She is the senior most woman in the House.

But she also is someone who has given birth not once, but twice to a child in office, which is a record. They rolled out this out with a pretty schmaltzy video of her with her kids. It's a very relatable scene for women out there. It's no accident that she was chosen.

TAPPER: Midterms are important and the women's vote is going to be absolutely crucial.

Dana Bash, thank you so much.

When we come back, a "take it or leave it" deal for leaker Edward Snowden. The U.S. government says he can see his family again and return home to the States, but he has to do one thing first.

Plus, a heist so daring it was part of the mobster movie "Goodfellas." Only, it actually happened, millions in cash and jewels stolen from JFK Airport. And now police say they have a wise guy who was involved. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now it's time for our national lead. If Edward Snowden is prepared to plead guilty, Attorney General Eric Holder is prepared to let the Justice Department talk to his lawyers about how he can return home here to the U.S. A Justice Department official says so and told our justice reporter Evan Perez.

But it's unclear what a deal like that would entail. Now, Snowden just gave a Q&A online and responded to this question I asked him moments ago on Twitter. I asked, under what conditions would you agree to return to the U.S.? He responded, returning to the U.S. I think is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself. But it's unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistle blower protection laws which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself.

Snowden went on to say that the 100-year-old law under which I've been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest and forbids a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating because it means there's no chance to have a fair trial, Snowden says, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury. Maybe when Congress comes together to end the programs, the PCLOB just announced was illegal -- we'll get to what a PCLOB is in a minute -- they'll reform the Whistleblower Protection Act and we'll see a mechanism for all Americans no matter who they work for. They get a fair trial.

Snowden's chat comes on the same day that an independent federal watchdog released a scolding review of the NSA programs that collects America's phone records. Here's what the PCLOB is -- the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded that the program is not legal, as the Obama administration has claimed, under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. And the board says the program should be shut down.

Now, Snowden seemed to agree during his chat, saying, quote, "Americans should look to the White House and Congress to close the book entirely on the 215 BR provision."

Let's talk about this with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey has made it abundantly clear in the past that he believes Snowden is no hero, saying that he believes Snowden should be in prison.

So, Jeffrey, that's your perspective on him. What sort of deal do you think the Justice Department may be considering giving Snowden a hearing exchange for a guilty plea? Is there any way for him to avoid prison? This isn't clemency they're putting out there obviously.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. It certainly seems unlikely that there will be a deal that would include no prison at all. Remember, the Department of Justice also has clients. They represent the entire government. Think about how angry people at the NSA still are about Snowden, regardless of what anyone else thinks of him. The Justice Department represents the whole government, including the NSA. So, if they were to give him some sort of deal that involved probation or immunity, or nothing, I just can't conceive that the Justice Department's client, the NSA, would sit still for that. Now, that remains a broad array of possible negotiating points but a guilty plea to some sort of prison time would seem to me absolutely indispensable in the deal.

TAPPER: And Snowden seems to suggest, in the answer he gave to me on the ask Snowden Twitter online chat, that the law would have to be changed, extending whistleblower protections to contractors such as him before he could consider coming back to the United States because there wouldn't be any protections for him.

TOOBIN: Well, Jake, just do a little mind experiment that as difficult as it is to get anything through Congress today, the Justice for Edward Snowden Act is not going to be a top priority of the United States Congress. I mean, they are not going to change the law just to initiate negotiations with Mr. Snowden.

Now, that still leaves some room for negotiations under existing law but -- I mean, to be even remotely realistic, he's going to have to plea or not plea or stay in Russia or return under current law, not under what the law might be in the future.

TAPPER: Now, in that 60 minutes profile of the NSA that was much criticized for being too soft on the NSA, there was somebody, an NSA official who suggested something along the lines of clemency or a discussion of it, about Edward Snowden.

I want to play something President Obama said in December to my friend, CBS News' Major Garrett, before the president left for vacation.


MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS: You, sir, would certainly be consulted if there was ever going to be a conversation about amnesty or a plea bargain of Edward Snowden?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is true, Major, and I guess what I'm saying is --

GARRETT: That you would rule it out forever, that you would never consider it?

OBAMA: What I'm saying is that there's a difference between Mr. Leggett saying something and the president of the United States saying something.


TAPPER: I can't read all of these different signals and I remember asking an ally of Snowden, what do you make of Mr. Leggett putting that out there and then the president knocking it down? He said he didn't understand all the kabuki. Is there any tonal change going on between what Leggett said, what President Obama said, what Eric Holder put out today? What do you think?

TOOBIN: You know, I think it is difficult to know what is going on behind the scenes here. Certainly, there is the possibility for some sort of deal. The Justice Department's idea of a deal is maybe something along the lines of what happened to Chelsea Manning. Chelsea Manning got 35 years in prison. That's obviously something that is going to appeal to Edward Snowden at all.

Edward Snowden wants a complete walk, immunity, clemency. Is there room somewhere between 35 years and a welcome home party? Maybe. But it sure teams like, based on what I've seen so far, even atmospherically, they are not close to a deal at all.

TAPPER: And lastly, Jeffrey, this independent privacy board says the NSA's bulk phone collection should end. The president said he had spoken with members of this board before the report came out. What will the ramifications be of that recommendation, which obviously the president doesn't seem to agree with?

TOOBIN: Well, I think there are sort of two tracks here. You know, we've had two judges come out completely differently on whether this metadata program is legal. This privacy board came out three to two that it was illegal.

So, the appeals process is going to go forward. At the same time, the president is working on some sort of change in the program and if you recall from his speech, it was really the most vague part of his speech, which was that there will be some third party that will control the data but I don't know when or how or who. All of those parts are going to move forward at the same time and I think the only reasonable conclusion is that the situation is very unsettled and there is no one-track to resolution.

TAPPER: That's right. The phone companies have made it clear they don't want to do this.

TOOBIN: That's right. So --

TAPPER: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

TOOBIN: Thank you, sir.

TAPPER: When we come back, she was in the stand for every one of his Olympic wins, but now Michael Phelps admits his mother was nervous for her safety at the Olympic Games. So, what does he think of these warnings for athletes and their families at Sochi?

Plus, it was bad enough that hundreds of thousands were left without water. Now, weeks later, the company behind the chemical leak in West Virginia admits there's more in the water than they originally said.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now, it's time for the world lead. Just weeks before the start of the Winter Olympics, all the focus is supposed to be on figuring skating darlings and underdog Jamaican bobsled teams, not "black widow" bombers and extremist groups. But with the recent terror attacks in Russia, not to mention the disappearance of four suicide bombers who may have entered the Sochi security zone, security experts, spectators and some athletes all admit that safety has become a top concern, if not worry. That's despite assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin, that tens of thousands of police and military forces will be on hand to keep the game safe.

As for the athletes competing at Sochi, many say they are taking the warnings seriously, but will not let terror concerns keep them from participating. Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps says he expects the Olympians to do what he's done in the past, focus on the competition.


MICHAEL PELPS, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: I actually didn't really know of any issues going on for like when I was competing and I was talking to my mother the other day, she was saying how nervous she was to go over because she didn't know it was going to happen. And, you know, as an athlete, we don't notice anything. We're there to represent our country and we are there to compete at the highest level.


TAPPER: The security concerns may even be impacting ticket sales which have been sluggish at best. Olympic organizers say around 30 percent of the available tickets are still up for grabs and they may resort to seat fillers if those tickets are not sold.

Also in world news, after days and nights of chaos and few hours of precious calm in Kiev, Ukrainian anti-government protesters have now agreed to a short truce while opposition leaders meet with President Viktor Yanukovych for a second round of talks. The protesters have been calling for government's resignation along with early elections and overturning of anti-protest laws.

Anxiety has been building since November when the president ditched a trade plan deal with the European Union to deal with Russia's Vladimir Putin instead. The clashes have left the site of the protests in Kiev looking like a war zone, littered with the burnout shells of police buses and smashed remains of Molotov cocktails. At least five people have been killed and hundreds more injured.

In India, police are investigating a crime being called both inhuman and outrageous. A 20-year-old woman says she was gang-raped by a group of then and orchestrated by the elders in her village. Thirteen men are under arrest in connection with the crime, but police say the woman lost count of how many men actually attacked her.

The rape was allegedly ordered by tribal elders to punish the woman for falling in love with a man from a different ethnic group. This is the latest in the series of high profile gang rapes in the country. In 2012, a 23-year-old woman was raped and beaten by several men on the bus, and last year, three men were convicted for raping an American tourist. Scrutiny over these cases has prompted Indian lawmakers to take a more aggressive approach when handling crimes against women. They now fast-track the arrest and questioning of anyone implicated in a rape.

Coming up next, he made promise the rich would pay more to fund a preschool, but now, the state has agreed to pick up the tab. So, why does the New York City mayor still plan to hike taxes for his wealthiest residents?