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Wildstein Claims Christie Knew of Bridge Closure; Amanda Knox Vows To Fight New Murder Conviction; "American Promise" Documentary Follows Two African-American Boys At Elite Private School

Aired January 31, 2014 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

We begin with breaking news. A new questions, are Governor Chris Christie's one time political allies now turning on him. It seems that this might b the case because tonight, one of those former allies has just issued seems to be a direct challenge to New Jersey's governor's flat out denials in connection with the bridge closing scandal, this denial.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I had no knowledge of this, the planning, execution or anything about it. And then I first found out about it after it was over.


COOPER: That is Governor Chris Christie denying any connection to the four day traffic jam of the George Washington bridge that some of this top aides created allegedly as the former political payback. The governor first ignored the allegations, then mocked them, then came word of the e-mails including one from his deputy chief of staff Bridgett Kelly to David Wildstein, his appointee to the agency running the bridge. Quote "time for traffic problems in Fort Lee," she wrote. Got it, he replied. And the next day Governor Christie was holding that marathon news conference to the state capital.


CHRISTIE: I was blindsided yesterday morning. That was the first time I knew about this. It is the first time I have seen any of the documents that were revealed yesterday. I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue and I knew nothing about this. I had no knowledge of this. I first found out about it after it was over. I didn't know about it. I'm more focused on why the truth wasn't told to me. I found this out at 8:50 yesterday morning. I found out at 9:00. We didn't even know about the existence of the e-mail. I mean, the first time we saw and we got them, it is in the Bergen Record Web site. And I think given what was revealed yesterday, I was shocked by it. I'm not happy I was blindsided. I'm not proud I was blindsided. And it was the first I knew of any of the e-mails contained in the story.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, it was interesting to not close the book on this, not even among friends and supporters who warn what might happen if his blanket denial developed some holes.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: I think if he is telling the truth and handled it that way this thing turns out to be a problem but one that has another side to it. If he is not telling the truth, and particularly with the U.S. attorney's investigation, I think we will find that out, then of course, his political career is in great jeopardy and all of these bad things will happen.


COOPER: Today development that could, if true, be a very bad sign for the governor. It comes in a letter from the lawyer for that Christie appointee, David Wildstein, this guy here, to the port authority of New York in New Jersey.

He writes, evidence exists tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed contrary to what was said publicly in the two-hour press conference. Evidence exists, he says. He does not say what kind of evidence it is. He doesn't say where the evidence is or why the evidence, if it does in fact come from the client, was not provided along with the subpoena, the e-mail that got the scandal started.

He also does not say there is evidence that Governor Christie knew about it before the fact. This is the governor leaving a function at a Howard Stern party just a moment ago not answering questions at all. Earlier tonight, his office issued a statement.

It reads, quote, "Mr. Wildstein's lawyer confirms what the government has said all along. He had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened. And whatever Mr. Wildstein's motivations were for closing them to begin with." The statement continues, "as the governor said in December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closing -- were lanes were closed when it was reported by the press. As he said January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th."

A lot of ground to cover with us tonight. On the phone is Shawn Boburg of the Record in Burton County, New Jersey -- excuse me, Burton County, New Jersey, Kate Zernike who broke this new development in "the New York Times," senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin joins us and chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

So Kate, let me start off with you. Does what the lawyer for Wildstein is saying, does it directly contradict what the governor of New Jersey has said?

KATE ZERNIKE, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think in the governor's statement, he said this -- what it says that I had no prior knowledge. In fact, as your montage there, showed the governor who said I didn't know about it while it was going on. Wildstein is saying that is wrong. Wildstein is saying evidence exists to this. He also says I have evidence that the governor 's statements about me were wrong. I can prove those statements wrong saying I can prove that.

COOPER: But is the governor saying he didn't know the lanes were closed while it was going on or he didn't know the alleged political reasons behind the lane closure while it was going on?

ZERNIKE: Both. He is saying I didn't know the lanes were closed. I didn't know about the planning for this prior. Now, he is saying I didn't know prior to this and I didn't know the motivation for them. I think the broader point of -- the letter Wildstein's lawyer is Wildstein is calling Governor Christie on lie. Wildstein who has been, who really Governor Christie's eyes and ears at the port authority is now saying no, no, what he said in that two press conference is wrong and I can contradict that.

COOPER: Wildstein has also, it seems, like has taken issue with some of the things that Chris Christie has said about Wildstein, about himself.

ZERNIKE: And I think that is what the interesting personal dynamic here is that Chris Christie stood up at that two-hour marathon press conference and said look, it has been, you know, my friendship with, say Wildstein has been overstated. We weren't even acquaintances in high school. I barely knew him. I was on the, you know, I was the class president and an athlete. I had no idea what he was doing. I think there is a feeling among Wildstein's friends that this really antagonized David Wildstein and him to say, OK, I will prove you wrong.

COOPER: And next week what happens? I mean, you expect it to be a busy week.

ZERNIKE: Yes. So next week, the legislature has issued subpoenas to 18 people including David Wildstein as well as Governor Christie's campaign in his administrations and those subpoenas are due in on Monday. So, I think next week, we will start to see some of these information leak out. We will also see who among those people are going to plead the fifth and say I'm not talking.

COOPER: Jeff, some were saying that Christie and Wildstein were high school buddies. Christie, as Kate pointed out, shot that down completely. I do want to play the sound bite of what he said.


CHRISTIE: David and I were not friends in high school. We were not acquaintances in high school. We didn't travel same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time.


COOPER: I mean, this is a guy who clearly can do some damage to the governor. It seems like maybe he was antagonized.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Anderson, it is revenge of the nerds today, you know. I mean, you know, this is obviously a complicated political story. But there is such an interesting personal dimension here.

You know, David Wildstein was this guy who was most well known in New Jersey as a blogger, someone who followed New Jersey politics intimately. He finally gets his chance to be in the or somewhere near the inner circle of the governor and here when everything hits the fan the governor just throws him under the bus. Well, David Wildstein is not finished talking and he is looking for a deal.

This purpose of the letter was to get the port authority to pay his legal fees which they have not agreed to do. But I think the larger purpose is that he wants immunity. And the action is really going to be with Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney who is the only person in the process who has the power to grant immunity. And basically, what Wildstein is saying come to me, Fishman, I will give you jewels if you give me immunity and perhaps he will.

COOPER: Well Jeff, does that then call into question perhaps the veracity of what he is saying? Or just have put his credibility on the line if he is, I mean, he clearly he is wanting something from this.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean, that is the tradeoff that always goes on here is that the angrier you are, the worse you look as a witness. And to me what is most important part of that letter are the two references to documentary evidence to facts that he says prove that Christie was not telling the truth at the news conference. Because, you know, Christie's people can always discredit Wildstein as bitter and bittered, you know, president of the AV club who resents the class president.

But, if he has e-mails, if he has texts that refute Christie, then Christie is really in a world of trouble.

COOPER: Dana, there are a world of unanswered questions there.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, one Jeff is pointing out that the fact the documents that back up what he is alleging in this letter. I spoke with the man who was co-chair of the investigation going on in New Jersey today. They have none of it and they are hoping they get it on Monday when the subpoenas are due. One of those subpoenas did go to David Wildstein asking for the documents and information that he has pertaining to this. So, that is going to be interesting to see if they get that.

But I think that if you really look carefully at what this letter said, it doesn't necessarily negate what the governor said in the past. Meaning, it says that they have some evidence that makes clear that the governor knew about these lane closings while they were happening. Well, in his press conference, the now famous January press conference, he said that he read reports about it. You have to actually ask whether or not there really is a smoking gun here. On the surface, it doesn't look like it. It looks more like, what Jeff was saying, that the main purpose of the letter was to convince the port authority to pay this guy's legal fees and they are dangling it out there saying, you know, you better pay it or else, you know, we are going to spill the beans on Chris Christie.

COOPER: Shawn, I want to bring you in. You were in here -- you broke the news that got all this started existence of the e-mails between Christie staff and appointees about lane closure. What are you hearing about all these from your sources now?

SHAWN BOBURG, REPORTER, THE BERGEN RECORD (via phone): Well, what I'm hearing ties in with what your other guests have said. There are two issues here. There is a political issue and that is holding Christie accountable to previous comments and whether they were truthful. And there is going to be a lot of scrutiny about what he knew and when he knew it.

I think what you are seeing in the letter which is very carefully worded is possibly cared to federal prosecutors. And that touches to the other aspect of this, legal, the criminal investigation. There is insinuation that David Wildstein has information to offer. Obviously, he is looking for immunity in this.

But what the letterer leaves out is what sort of evidence, number one, exists. And number two, is there evidence that Christie knew the motivation behind the lane closures. It is one thing to know that lanes were closed. The potentially criminal aspect here, if there is a federal crime that has been violated, is the purpose for those lane closures. So, there is distinction, very carefully worded and crafted letters today and there is a lot of unanswered questions.

COOPER: Those are very important distinctions to keep in mind in all of this. And there is a lot, again, we don't know.

Dana Bash appreciate you being on, Shawn Boburg as well.

We are going to take a quick break. I want to talk more about the political repercussions when we come back. David Gergen is also joining -- is going to join the conversation.

And just ahead, also Amanda Knox as you never really seen here before, bearing her soul, revealing her fears days before an Italian court found her guilty of murder again.


COOPER: More now in tonight's breaking news, the central figure, the New Jersey bridge traffic scandal claiming that Governor Chris Christie knew about the lane closings, an allegation governor once treated as a joke.


CHRISTIE: I work the cones, actually, on that. (INAUDIBLE), everybody. I was actually the guy out there. I was in overalls and a hat. But I actually was the guy working the cones out there. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, certainly not a joke now.

Joining the conversation is senior political analyst David Gergen. And back with us, Kate Zernike of "the New York Times" and senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Kate, the documents you wrote about in "the Times," a lot of it was redacted. There were e-mails that Wildstein provided between him and Bridgett Kelly. Has he provided un-redacted documents? Do we know?

ZERNIKE: No. He hasn't yet provided them. His lawyer has said he will turn them over. The legislature is expecting them. The legislature says they haven't gotten them yet. But I think that is what makes this latest development important is that or interesting, at least, is that what we know about the scandal so far, we know from David Wildstein. We know from David Wildstein that it was Bridget Kelly who sent an e-mail from this administration saying time for traffic problems in Fort Lee. So, the possibility that David Wildstein has more information is very real.

COOPER: David, you said all along that Christie might be able to weather this politically as long as it is shown he actually, you know, knew -- didn't know about this advance or order the lane closures. We still don't know from this letter whether that is the case. What do you think this revelations mean for the governor politically?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they are very great for him, Anderson, if this letter proves to be accurate. Contrary to what we heard earlier, I read the letter as directly contradicting what the governor said in two press conferences namely, he said he didn't know anything about the lane closings until the whole episode was over. This letter says he knew it. There was evidence tying him to knowledge while the lane closures were there.

If that is the case, that's paralyzed revelation for him. Let's take a good example, a telling example. The Newark star ledger, the largest newspaper in New Jersey, a left-leaning newspaper to be sure but also a newspaper that endorsed Governor Christie in 2013, has come out tonight to say if this letter is accurate he must resign. He must resign. If he won't resign he must be impeached. That is very tough stuff if you want to run for the White House.

COOPER: Jeff, do you think all this makes it more likely that Chris will be called in by U.S. attorneys as currently looking in the matter?

TOOBIN: That's a certainty. But here is the important point about he is being called in. The U.S. attorney is not going to call him in until Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney has examined all the documents, has subpoenaed everything. And once you start subpoenaing one set of documents those raise questions about other documents which he will need. So, all of this is going to take a long time to be resolved.

This is not a question of weeks now. It is months. And politically that's a disaster. Legally, I still think Christie is probably not in any legal jeopardy. But for a guy thinking about running for president a months-long criminal inquiry is nothing but bad news.

COOPER: Jeff, I mean, Wildstein has taken the fifth already. Does he continue to do that? I mean, how this --?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean, he is going to continue to take the fifth until and unless Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney, gives him immunity. The legislative committee that is getting the documents on Monday, they don't have the power to just grant immunity. Only the U.S. attorney in this system has the power to give immunity. So we are still not going to hear from David Wildstein for some time because I'm certain the U.S. attorney is not going to make that decision too quickly.

So again, it will be extended over weeks and months until or unless he may ultimately decide not to give immunity. But all of this is going to take a considerable amount of time. And that's just not good for a politician.

COOPER: Kate, what is known publicly about the status of the U.S. attorney investigation?

ZERNIKE: Well, what another letter today which was explaining that Christie's former campaign manager is going to take the fifth and not turn over documents, what that says is there was a grand jury. That (INAUDIBLE) has convened a grand jury. So, that is sort the most we know. We know they are looking into evidence also about related allegations in Hoboken as Governor Christie would held hurricane Sandy relief money if mayor -- exactly. So we do know that the U.S. attorney is looking into this pretty aggressively.


David, some said the governor should, you know, basically want a complete investigation, a full investigation by U.S. attorney who is appointed by President Obama, but that might be the best outcome for him. Do you agree?

GERGEN: You are never quite sure about that kind of thing, Anderson. I have been in situations where presidents had asked for special prosecutors. And you can get a wildcard as a special prosecutor and they will start also officiating expeditions. It is well beyond your control. So, you don't know whether you want to go to a federal prosecutor.

I do think it is in his interest if he wants to have a political future to have a full house cleaning on this and all of the documents out and everybody testifies and see where it plays out. If he is innocent he is innocent. And I think he can revive himself. But if he is not, it is over.

COOPER: David, Jeff, good to have you on. And Kate Zernike, great to have you on. Thanks very much.

Let's know what you think about all about this. follow me on twitter. Let's talk about it there @andersoncooper, tweet using #AC360.

Just ahead on the program, Amanda Knox speaking out about her new conviction for the murder of Meredith Kercher. How could an Italian court re-trial her after an appeals court found her innocent nearly three years ago and what happens next? Did they actually look at new evidence. We will found out ahead.

Also, a security scared several hotels near the Super Bowl site in New Jersey. Has met team's bomb squads were deployed. We will tell you what they found ahead.