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THE SITUATION ROOM
Ex-Official Says Christie Knew of Lane Closings
Aired January 31, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: All right, Jake, thanks very much.
Yes, indeed, happening now, breaking news -- a potential bombshell from the former official who orchestrated the lane closings that shut down a New Jersey city, triggered investigations of Governor Chris Christie's administration.
Did the governor know about those lane closings?
The last time you saw him on CNN, Dennis Rodman went off on an angry rant over his trip to North Korea. Now, Rodman is back in an exclusive interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo from a New Jersey rehab center.
And Amanda Knox breaks down in tears after an Italian court reinstates her murder conviction. You're going to hear what she says about the possibility of being shipped back to Italy. And you'll hear what the lawyers are saying.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news right away. A one-time close political ally who resigned after organizing the crippling lane closures on the George Washington Bridge now says the governor -- the governor, Chris Christie -- knew about those lane closures. And this ex-official says he has information that contradicts what Governor Christie said about him.
Let's bring in Kate Zernike of the "New York Times," who broke this story just a little while ago.
She's joining us on the phone.
Kate, tell our viewers what exactly you've learned. It gets a little complicated, but potentially explosive.
KATE ZERNIKE, "NEW YORK TIMES": So this is a letter from the lawyer for David Wildstein. David Wildstein is the one who actually went to the bridge workers on the George Washington Bridge and said shut down these lanes. What we learned three weeks ago is that a Christie administration official, a deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, send David Wildstein the e-mail saying that it was time for some traffic problems at Fort Lee, that Bridget Kelly was intimately involved, from the Christie administration, telling them to shut down these lanes.
What we had not known so far, Governor Christie had said he did not know about these lane closures, he certainly didn't know that this was meant -- that this was done to punish any mayor, as it seems from the documents released three weeks ago.
What David Wildstein is saying now is Governor Christie -- David Wildstein's lawyer is saying Governor Christie knew about these lane closings at the time they were hoping and he was lying when he said in a two hour press conference three weeks ago that he did not know about this.
BLITZER: The -- and the bottom line being that if this former close associate, a political ally, if you will, of the governor is now undermining what the governor said in that nearly two hour news conference, that could open a whole new can of worms there for Governor Christie?
ZERNIKE: Absolutely. And I everyone has been waiting to see what David Wildstein would do. I mean everyone sort of knows that David Wildstein was the one who was most intimately involved with this, with this -- with the lane closings and could tell us who in the Christie administration he was dealing with. The administration has said this started and stopped with Bridget Kelly, that nobody else in the administration did. They've tried to portray her as a rogue staff member.
Wildstein is suggesting that that was not the case.
BLITZER: Kate, I want you to hold on a minute, for a minute, because we're getting some more information here at CNN ourselves.
And Chris Frates of CNN investigations, has been looking into this part of the story.
Update us on what you're learning, because I know you've called the governor's office, you've called the lawyer representing David Wildstein's office -- Chris, update us on what you're learning.
CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So that's right, Wolf. We've reached out to the governor's office. We've not yet heard back. And we've also reached out to David Wildstein's attorney on this.
But I want to remind everybody that what we're talking about here is Chris Christie when he...
BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on one second...
BLITZER: -- because we're missing your microphone, so we're having some trouble hearing you. But we're going to fix that.
Kate, let me go back to you for a moment. I want to read to our viewers, Kate, exactly what is in this letter, the letter from David Wildstein's attorney that has generated all this commotion right now. And I'll read the whole paragraph to our viewers. "It has also come to light that a person within the Christie administration communicated the Christie administration's order that certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed. And evidence exists, as well, tying Mr.
Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two hour press conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee."
And here's the operative sentence. "Mr. Wildstein can test the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some."
First, Kate, to you, do we have what that evidence is?
Have the lawyer -- the lawyer or lawyers for Wildstein explained what they say that evidence is?
ZERNIKE: No. The lawyer for Wildstein has not responded to follow-up for request what the evidence is. What we know from -- so Wildstein has already turned over a bunch of documents. Wildstein was the one who turned over the documents that showed the e-mail from Christie's office saying "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
In those documents that were turned over by Wildstein in December, released in January, there's a whole bunch of redacted statements. So -- so he and someone else at the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, are discussing these lane closures. And one of the things they're discussing is what the governor's office is going to say and what they should say to the press and, you know, how they should respond to the mayor of Fort Lee. But that's all redacted.
So I think what we do know is that there's some sort of -- there's some very suggestive redactions in there. And I think what Wildstein has been saying all along is, I can, by simply removing those redactions, I can tell you a whole lot more about this.
BLITZER: Yes. And there's a lot of still unanswered questions.
I'm going to play some of the sound in a moment, of what Christie said about Wildstein, what Christie said about his knowledge about those lane closures.
But Chris Frates is here and I -- we were saying, you did get -- tried to get in touch with the governor's office for some reaction, haven't been able to connect with them yet.
And you've called the offices of David Wildstein's attorney? FRATES: Well, that's right, Wolf. And I think what we need to remind our viewers about is what Christie actually said. Now, remember, in his marathon press conference a couple of weeks ago, he said that he didn't know about these lane closures, you know, before they happened and he had learned about them when they became public. And I think we have a little sound on that, so let's show our viewers what the governor said a few weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: And I knew nothing about this until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure. But even then, I was told this was a traffic study.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRATES: So, Wolf, you know, he's saying I was told it was a traffic study. And remember -- let's remind our viewers, also, who David Wildstein is. He was a top appointee to the Port Authority by Governor Christie. He's the guy who wrote "Got it" when another top Christie official said, someone else said, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
And now what we're seeing is his attorney writing today and asking folks to -- you know, suggest that, you know, Christie knew more than what he's letting on. And the key sentence here, quote, "Evidence exists, as well, tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two hour press conference." now, I think what's important here is that this letter leaves a lot of questions open, questions like, well, what's the evidence?
You know, what did Christie know?
And remember that a lot of this whole discussion is predicated on was there political retaliation?
And there's no -- there's nothing in this that suggests that there was any political retaliation, which is kind of the key here.
BLITZER: Well, Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst is here, as well.
What the letter does, at a minimum, suggest is there now has been a total split between David Wildstein and the governor, Governor Chris Christie, that they are on different sides of this story, because in this critical paragraph that his lawyer -- Wildstein's lawyer has written, he is strongly, strongly alleging that Christie lied.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. If you recall the famous two hour press conference, it was basically a two hour exercise in throwing David Wildstein under the bus. They were high school classmates.
Christie went out of his way to say I was one of the cool kids in high school and David Wildstein was a loser and I didn't even know him.
What's happening here is the split is now irreconcilable between them. Wildstein is apparently in the process of taking considerable revenge and arguing that Christie's statements at the news conference were false and, more importantly, saying that he has evidence which suggests text messages, e-mails, some sort of physical evidence that would contradict what Christie said. And I think that's potentially the most significant part of this letter, that it's not potentially just Wildstein's word against Christie's word, is that there's actually physical evidence...
BLITZER: We don't have that evidence yet.
BLITZER: We'll see what that evidence...
TOOBIN: He's claiming that. Yes.
BLITZER: Because let me play another excerpt from Governor Christie at that nearly two hour news conference, what he said.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: And I knew nothing about this, and -- until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure. But even then, I was told this was a traffic study. I don't know what else to say, except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this, of the planning, the execution or anything about it. And then I first found out about it after it was over. And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study. And there was no evidence to the contrary, until yesterday, that was brought to my attention, or anybody else's attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what do you make of that, Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: Well, the key phrase in what he said there was, I found out about it after it was over. This letter very clearly says that Christie knew about the lane closures before it was over. Now, it's just a letter. It's not sworn testimony. It's not proof. But it is a clear indication that a potential ally of Christie, that perhaps the most potential important ally he had in telling his version of what happened is going to say something very different.
BLITZER: And go ahead -- Chris.
FRATES: And I just also want to point out, Wolf, that it says evidence exists. It doesn't say that Wildstein has that evidence. And I think the other thing that's important for viewers to know is that David Wildstein has said that he will talk if he's given immunity from the U.S. attorney. So he's under criminal investigation right now. And he has said, I'm happy to talk about everything I know, if I'm given immunity...
BLITZER: Well, let's...
FRATES: And so that's also something that I think we should (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: -- let me play another clip. And Kate, you're still with us. I want you to weigh in, as well, Kate Zernike of "The New York Times," who broke this story.
Here is the governor speaking about his relationship with Wildstein at that news conference a few weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Well, let me just clear something up, OK, about my childhood friend, David Wildstein. It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school. We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and an athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time.
We went 23 years without seeing each other. And in the years we did see each other, we passed in the hallways.
So I want to clear that up. It doesn't make a difference, except that I think some of the stories, the way they're written, impute like an emotional relationship and closeness between me and David that doesn't exist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Kate Zernike of "The New York Times," you broke this story.
When you hear that clip of what the governor said about his relationship with Wildstein, because now these two guys are on opposite sides of this story and there's clearly been a total rupture between the two of them, what do you think?
What's your bottom line?
ZERNIKE: Well, I think there's a couple of interesting things happening here.
One, I think if you're David Wildstein and you hear the governor say, hey, look, I was a class president and he -- and an athlete and I don't know what he was doing, it makes him sound sort of like a loser and that's not going to -- that's not going to, you know, make David Wildstein very -- feel very good about Governor Christie.
Since then, there have been, you know, for instance, one of their coaches wrote an article -- or talked to "The New Republic" about, in fact, they -- they were close and they were friends.
So I think that probably antagonized David Wildstein, if he was inclined to defend the governor on this matter.
And I think the timing of this is interesting, too. Look, it's the Friday before Speaker Boehner in Governor Christie's state. Governor Christie has been looking forward to the Super Bowl for years. And all weekend, all the coverage is going to say there's Governor Christie in the stands or in his box or whatever, under this cloud of suspicion.
So I think David Wildstein is probably releasing this letter at what he considers a very potent moment.
BLITZER: And we're showing viewers video of David Wildstein when he appeared before the Transportation Committee in New Jersey that was investigating all of this. And there's his lawyer sitting right next to him. He's pleading the Fifth. He's refusing to answer any questions, which is his constitutional right. Everyone hold on for a moment.
Loretta Weinberg is joining us now on the phone.
She's the New Jersey state majority leader. She's a Democrat. She's been very critical of the governor.
Let me get your immediate reaction, Majority Leader, to what the "New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal," all these other news organizations, including CNN, of course, are now reporting about this very potentially damning letter.
LORETTA WEINBERG (D), NEW JERSEY STATE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: OK, I just want to add one thing. I am also co-chair of the joint committee that's charged with investigating all of this.
I think this just proves beyond a shadow of doubt, in my mind, that the people of New Jersey deserve a complete, honest and truthful rundown of exactly what took place in this sordid incident.
And let me add something else that came in this letter from Mr. Wildstein's attorney.
He talks about the person from the Port Authority who counseled Mr. Baroni for his appearance before the Transportation Committee. That was the cover-up that Mr. Baroni was apparently sent in to articulate to the Transportation Committee, not under oath, and not as a result of subpoena.
But in this letter, Mr. Wildstein's attorney adds, "The counseling, as I understand it, was conducted over a period of four to five days, and Mr. Wildstein was present for much of it."
That means that the Port Authority attorney actually counseled Bill Baroni, if, in fact, this letter is truthful, actually counseled Bill Baroni on what to say on the cover-up. So there's another little subtext in this letter that was released today.
But it's the... BLITZER: Loretta Weinberg, hold on for one moment, because I want to continue this conversation. I want you to stay with us. I want Kate Zernike of "The New York Times" with us, all of our correspondents and analysts here.
There's a lot more to dissect, to digest.
We'll take a quick break.
We'll resume our coverage.
Potentially -- potentially very damning evidence against the governor.
We'll have more on what's going on right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with breaking news here in the SITUATION ROOM. A one-time close political ally who resigned after organizing the crippling lane closures on the George Washington Bridge now says Governor Chris Christie knew about those lane closures. This ex- official also saying he has information that contradicts what Governor Christie said about him.
Chris Frates of CNN investigations is here. He's been covering the story from the very beginning. I just want for viewers who are just tuning in right now, this is a potential, potential bombshell even though we don't know the evidence that David Wildstein's attorney says they have.
CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIONS: Well, that's right, Wolf. And I think it's important to put this in context. All we know right now is that Wildstein's attorney is asserting that there's some kind of evidence that he was -- that Christie knew something about these lane closures earlier than Christie has said. That's all we know. We don't know what that evidence is.
We don't know if it ties into any political retribution which is what this case is largely about. So, really, we have to be careful here. There are a lot of unanswered questions. He's asserting. He's dangling a very, very salacious tidbit, and I think we have to be careful about what exactly we know up to this moment.
BLITZER: Now, Dana Bash, you've been looking into this as well. You're getting some new information?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That really backs up what you were just saying, Chris. I spoke with New Jersey assemblyman, John Wisniewski, who is the co-chair of the special investigation in New Jersey looking into this. He says they've received no documents at all from Wildstein or his attorney to back up the claims or even the suggestion that he made in this letter.
He said he's concerned about the fact that he's identifying documents that they haven't provided to us and they're looking certainly for an explanation as to why and they're hoping to actually get that on Monday, and that is actually a very important date because the subpoenas that the committee sent out, the due date is on Monday to get that information in.
BLITZER: Let's bring in the other co-chair of that investigation, Loretta Weinberg, the New Jersey state senate majority leader, the Democrat. One of the key questions, Majority Leader, is whether or not you and the entire investigative unit over there are going to provide immunity to some of the principals involved in all of this in order to get their testimony, because a lot of them -- all of them seem to be pleading the fifth right now.
WEINBERG: Well, we in the legislature do not have the power to grant immunity. I think that many of these folks, I would assume, have to deal with U.S. attorney's office on that issue. But, you know, the revelations really just add to what I've said a little earlier that we need to conduct a thorough investigation and that the people of New Jersey are entitled to the complete truth of what went on in this incident.
And as I said, the media is concentrating on the fact that the letter says that Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made and he can prove the inaccuracy of some. I will join Assemblyman Wisniewski.
We did not get that in any of the paperwork that came in from Mr. Wildstein, but again, I just want to say that there's something else very interesting in here that a Port Authority attorney counseled over the course of four or five days, according to the allegations in this letter, counseled Mr. Baroni before he appeared without subpoena, not under oath, before the transportation committee.
So, we all know that that story was a cover-up. So, that would add that the Port Authority or at least an attorney to the Port Authority counseled him to come and tell that story. So, there's another question raised in here and that is the Port Authority's whole role in this particular incident.
So, we have a lot of work to do on this committee, and I would hope that everybody who receives subpoenas will give us all of the paperwork that we ask for and that we can move ahead to guarantee that the people of New Jersey find out really what went on here.
BLITZER: Is the governor and his staff cooperating with you?
WEINBERG: Well, the documents are not due until Monday. So, I know that many of the people have asked for some extensions. They're putting in impartial documents and need extensions. I don't have all of that information and we won't have that information until Monday.
BLITZER: I know Jeffrey Toobin is here, our senior legal analyst. He has a question for you, Majority Leader.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Senator Weinberg, do you think Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney, who does have the power to give immunity, do you think he should give immunity to David Wildstein?
WEINBERG: I'm not going to pass judgment on that. First of all, I'm not an attorney, although as I've said, I've played one unconvincingly on TV from time to time. But I'm not an attorney and I think that is up to the U.S. attorney's office.
TOOBIN: But you may never know what happened without Wildstein telling what he knows and he will never tell, unless, he gets immunity.
WEINBERG: Well, that could be an outcome of all of this or we might find out what happened as we review other documents that come before us or other people who come before us.
BLITZER: Loretta Weinberg is the New Jersey state Senate majority leader, the co-chair of this investigation. Majority Leader, thanks very much for joining us. Obviously, lots of questions and the reason that this story has become so, so important is because Chris Christie, let's be honest, let's be frank, he was considered a major frontrunner for the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.
He might still be a frontrunner if he is proven to be telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But now, one of his allies is suggesting he actually has been lying about a key aspect of this. That's why he's generating as much interest as it clearly is. Loretta Weinberg, thanks very much. Kate Zernike, you want to add one final point before I let you go. Kate broke the story in "The New York Times" just a little while ago.
VOICE OF KATE ZERNIKE, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think again, we do need to see what David Wildstein intends to turn over. I do think there's one step between this letter and immunity. He has told the legislature that he will provide the unredacted documents. Again, I mentioned earlier that some of these documents were redacted and had some clues as to who else in the governor's office might have been involved. He really does have until Monday to turn in the subpoenas. So, there is time, because I think next week is going to be very big.
BLITZER: Kate Zernike of the "New York Times," thanks very much to you as well. Dana, you have one more point you want to make?
BASH: Yes and that is that this letter, the whole beginning of this letter, the main purpose of this letter is writing to the Port Authority saying that they want his legal fees paid, David Wildstein's legal fees paid. So, this is hardball that they're playing here, and it's not just a letter saying, hey, you know, dangling something --, hey, we have something on Chris Christie. They're trying to get something for Wildstein, which is his legal fee --
TOOBIN: And the theme of the letter is, look at all the corruption that went on at the Port Authority and those people are being counseled by the Port Authority. Those people have worries (ph), yet, you're not paying my legal fees. I mean, this letter is about their request for legal fees and he's alleging that there was a lot of bad activity here, and he should get a lawyer -- BLITZER: Those legal fees are not cheap. All right. Chris, thanks to you as well. We're going to continue to stay on top of this story. We're hoping to get some reaction from Governor Christie's office. As soon as we do, of course, we'll share it with you. We've got a lot more news happening now here in the SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're going to continue our coverage of what's going on in New Jersey right now.
A new suggestion, a very serious allegation that Governor Christie may have lied in that nearly two-hour news conference when he was talking about those lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. In fact, "The New Jersey Star Ledger" and the editorial board has just released an editorial which says this, among other things, "Wildstein," David Wildstein, the former associate of the governor, "claims there is documentary proof that the governor has been lying. If this proves to be true," the editorial says, "then the governor must resigned or be impeached because it will show that everything he said that that famous two-hour conference was a lie."
Powerful words from the "New Jersey Star Ledger" editorial board. Jake Tapper is here with us.
Jake, just when you think the story may be going away, all of a sudden it explodes.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, although I do share some of the caution that others have expressed here about this letter, not that this isn't serious, it certainly is, but it's carefully worded and what Wildstein's lawyer is suggesting is that there exists evidence -- not that he has it -- but there exists evidence that Christie knew of the lane closures during the lane closures, not afterwards, as he claimed in his press conference. He said he learned about it afterwards. I think it was three days of lane closures.
That is not the same thing as saying he knew that the lane closures were politically motivated or he knew that they were a vendetta or even that he remembered. It just says there is evidence that he knew about it.
And then in a separate part of this key paragraph, it says that Wildstein contests information that the governor said about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some. And that's not necessarily about the lane closures. It's about -- if I have to guess, we saw Governor Christie significantly attempted to distance himself from Wildstein at that press conference and a now famous moment of saying, I was class president and a star athlete. I don't even know what David was doing, the world is made up of Christies and Wildsteins, Wolf. And --
BLITZER: He was class president and Wildstein was --
TAPPER: He was off doing dungeons and dragons or somewhere or something like that. So the idea that they had no close relationship, that there was no emotional attachment, that is -- those are the comments that the governor made of Wildstein. Maybe Wildstein has evidence of that, wasn't true, he was distancing himself too much.
I don't know. But that's not necessarily related to the lane closure thing. Again, this might end up not being a serious, but Jeffrey is a lawyer, so he knows about this better than I, but this is very cleverly and carefully written.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is all part of David Wildstein's strategy to get legal fees, which is obviously the explicit reason for this letter but also to get --
BLITZER: From the Port Authority --
TOOBIN: From the Port Authority, his former employer, but also to get immunity from Paul Fishman, because when you --
BLITZER: The U.S. attorney?
TOOBIN: The U.S. attorney, who was the only figure in all of this who has the power to grant immunity. The legislative committee that's investigating does not have this power and what's so important about that is that his story may never be told, unless he gets immunity.
And Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney, is going to have a very difficult judgment to make.
BLITZER: But there are a whole bunch of other people who would like immunity as well, including the former deputy chief of staff.
The Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, is joining us.
Professor Dershowitz, what do you think? You've had a chance to read this letter from David Wildstein's attorney, making this allegation, still no comment, still no reaction from the governor's office. You've been familiar with these kinds of stories over the years.
What do you think?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: Well, first of all, we have to separate out the political from the legal. If he lied at a press conference, that has political implications but it's not a crime, because remember, he has neither been under oath, the governor, nor has he spoken to, as far as we know, any law enforcement officials. It's a crime to lie to a law enforcement official.
And as far as immunity is concerned, it seems to me that the U.S. attorney should grant him use immunity. That is he shouldn't say, we're not going to prosecute you. They already have a lot of evidence, that all would be admissible.
All they have to do is give him use immunity, say, from now on what you tell us, we will not use against you in any criminal prosecution. That way he is compelled to testify and compelled to produce the evidence without the U.S. attorney losing all possibility of prosecuting him.
So, he doesn't have to choose between Christie on the one hand and Wildstein on the other hand. He can have his cake and eat it, too.
I agree, though, that this is an attempt. This is a fishing expedition by Wildstein's lawyer, an attempt to throw out some bait and say, please, we have enough here without any further proffer. Give us immunity.
And I think the U.S. attorney ought to take that bait, give him use immunity, call him in, get the testimony and then insist on sitting down and talking to Christie, let Christie make his commitment, make -- let him sit out his position in a legally binding way, either under oath or as the result of talking to U.S. attorney so we can't just talk and say, well, this is only political. It has to be turned into a legal proceeding as well.
BLITZER: And we know that at the nearly two-hour news conference on January 9th, Christie said I knew nothing about this until it started, to be reported in the papers about the closure, that even then I was told this was a traffic study. Earlier, on December 2nd, Alan Dershowitz, he joked about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, even though it was no joking matter during those three or four days for literally tens of thousands of people who were stuck in traffic.
Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I worked the cones, actually, Matt. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was in overalls and a hat, so I was going to -- but I actually was the guy working the cones out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes. So, what does that say? I mean, that's a political point. That's not a legal point.
DERSHOWITZ: No, it's a political point, but he can certainly be asked about that legally. Look, in the beginning, it sounded like a joke, just a little bit of a traffic jam. Then, it turned out, of course, that somebody died, probably not as a result of this. Other people were kept from going to school.
There were very serious consequences and the consequences could have been much worse. There really could have been multiple injuries and deaths and I think people have taken it much more seriously now and he will come to regret the joking he made but he'll -- as I said from the beginning of this investigation, he needs a criminal lawyer. He is now vulnerable and if he goes under oath or speaks to a U.S. attorney, anything he says that's then contradicted by evidence exposes him to the possibility of criminal prosecution.
Again, as people have said before, it's often in the cover-up of what happens afterward rather than in the primary conduct itself of closing the lanes.
BLITZER: He later, by the way, apologized for that joke as well.
All right. Let me take a quick break. Everybody stand by. We'll continue the breaking news right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: And I knew nothing about this. And until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure, but even then I was told this was a traffic study.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was Governor Christie back on January 9th at that nearly two-hour news conference.
But today, David Wildstein, appointed the Port Authority of New Jersey says in a letter to the port authority legal counsel, Mr. Wildstein contests -- this is the lawyer for Wildstein -- "The accuracy of various statements the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some."
We're continuing the breaking news coverage. We've been calling the governor's office repeatedly trying to get a statement, some reaction from Governor Christie to these allegations contained in this letter from David Wildstein, formerly a close ally of the governor. No longer. Clearly, that doesn't exist any longer right now.
Jake Tapper, when you here these back and forth going on -- now, to me it looks like this is now the word of Governor Christie versus the word of David Wildstein.
TAPPER: That's right. And I think what's important for our viewers to understand are two points. One is, David Wildstein is the one when these e-mails and text messages came forward, he was one of the two people who was directly implicated in the lane closures and in fact perhaps even the worst player in them. There was Bridget Anne Kelly, Governor Christie's deputy chief of staff saying, "It's time for traffic problems in Fort Lee", and then Wildstein was the one who was --
BLITZER: Who replied?
TAPPER: Who replied "got it", and then also he was texting with an unknown person saying that it was OK to laugh at the prospect of all these children stuck in traffic because they were Democratic voters. The children are Democratic voters.
So, Wildstein has been implicated in this. That's one. Two, one of the things that we've seen in this is a refusal of Republicans on a grand scale to come forward and get behind Governor Christie. We've seen a few here and there. Rudy Giuliani, Haley Barbour, but we've not seen widespread outpouring support.
And one of the reasons is there's so much we don't know, that these people are lawyering up, several of them, including Wildstein, but also today, the former campaign manager for Christie, Bill Stepien, taking the Fifth when asked to testify before these legislative bodies investigating this.
So, there's still so much we don't know. So, while I'm saying that this letter doesn't implicate Christie per se, it doesn't mean that he won't be implicated.
BLITZER: Hold on. Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, is joining us.
He's a former U.S. attorney himself. He knows the laws and he knows these kinds of investigations and what is going on. Would it be smart, from his perspective, to have a criminal defense attorney knowing that the U.S. attorney is investigating?
DERSHOWITZ: Yes. But he'd be smart not to let anybody know about that and that's a secret he's entitled to keep. He's entitled to have a person he trusts, who has experience in criminal law, consult with him and give him advice behind the scenes, and he's entitled not to reveal that or disclose it. I will bet you anything that's going on and at least there are some people who are advising him who are experts in criminal law.
He doesn't have to acknowledge that he has a criminal lawyer just like when Richard Nixon had a -- wanted psychiatric assistance when he was the president. He went to a guy named Arnold Hutschnecker, who was a general practitioner so he could say to people he just went to a regular doctor but he was getting psychiatric care.
And that's what people do when they're in trouble and don't want to reveal that they're getting advice from a criminal lawyer. They go to a civil lawyer or a big firm, and the big firm provides them on the qt, advice from people who are experts in criminal law. So, that way he has his political cake and eats it as well legally.
BLITZER: I mean, he hasn't said anything really on this subject, Dana, since that nearly two-hour news conference. He's been very quiet on it.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very quiet on it. And to that point, I should say that Chris Christie's office tells us that he doesn't -- at least the last time we talked about it which was pretty recently -- doesn't have a specific criminal attorney to back him up on this.
But we should point out that the office itself, Christie's office itself, has hired outside legal counsel to help wade through these things. One of the points that I want to make, because we've been talking about this character, David Wildstein, who, of course, is the heart of this breaking news, he certainly has a reputation in New Jersey politics as somebody who, you know, work -- he's sort of a fix- it guy kind of behind the scenes maybe to a fault, but also as somebody who collects information and keeps it, e-mails, texts. He apparently is known as somebody who holds on to things.
If he does have something and if that is true, and if he's willing to give it over, immunity or not --
TOOBIN: Well, yes. Go ahead.
BASH: I mean, that is -- that's not the kind of character you want against you.
TOOBIN: Here's a legal issue, which maybe Alan can help us figure out, because this is something that comes up in investigations often. He's taking the Fifth, as we know. But does he have a Fifth Amendment privilege not to produce the documents that he has?
You know, what's so compelling about this letter is the implication or the statement that there is evidence that contradicts Governor Christie. Can you have -- even if you don't have immunity, can you refuse to produce documents that exist in the world?
BLITZER: All right. Alan, very quickly.
DERSHOWITZ: The answer to that is very clear. You can but then you're given what's called "production immunity" and they can compel you to produce the information. They just can't say they got it from you but they can use the actual material that you provide to them and you're compelled to provide.
BLITZER: All right. Hold on, everyone hold on for a moment. We're going to continue the breaking news coverage on this latest potential bombshell development.
The former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, he's also standing by live. There is he right now. We're going to bring him in to this conversation when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Well, we finally have a statement now reacting to all these latest developments. A statement from Governor Chris Christie's office. This is the Christie administration's response to that letter from David Wildstein, the man who resigned from the Port Authority amid all the allegations of the bridge, the George Washington Bridge, lane closures.
Here was the statement, let me read it precisely. This is Governor Chris Christie's reaction to this latest potential bombshell.
"Mr. Wildstein's lawyer confirms what the governor 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. As the governor said in the December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and he said in his January 9th press conference had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The governor denies Mr. Wildstein's lawyer's other assertions."
So that's the reaction from Governor Christie.
Jeffrey Toobin, what do you think of this precise language in this denial?
TOOBIN: It's very -- it is very precise. Now, what is so important, I think, about Wildstein's lawyer's statement is the allegation that Christie knew about the lane closures while they were happening, which completely contradicts what he said at the news conference. At the news conference, he said, I did not know before or I did not know the reason why they were closed. And that it is true Wildstein's lawyer doesn't refute that, but he certainly refutes other parts.
BASH: It doesn't totally contradict as Christie is saying in this statement because he did in his news conference say that he learned about it on TV and through news reports during the lane closures because, remember, it was three days long, right? So, I think everybody is clearly trying to be vague or precise based on how it best suits their best interests.
BLITZER: Let me get to Alan Dershowitz, quick reaction. Very quickly, Alan Dershowitz, what do you make of this Christie statement?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I'd love to see him say it under oath or to a U.S. attorney and I'd love to have him questioned about it. You know, you can phrase -- any good lawyer can phrase a response to get around the specifics.
This is a political response. This is now moving toward a more legal case. The dominoes are beginning to fall. And I think that a U.S. attorney should tie down Christie into specific statements and specific responses to questions.
BLITZER: And the reason we're following this as closely as we are, this is a sitting governor, a very popular governor, just re- elected in a landslide in New Jersey, someone who clearly had greater political ambitions -- may still have those ambitions. But we're watching whether or not the allegations from David Wildstein's lawyer versus Chris Christie are true or not true.
We're going to have a lot more coming up right after a short break. The mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, he's standing by. We'll get his reaction.
Rudy Giuliani, a good friend of Chris Christie, he's standing by as well. There he is.
We'll get his reaction to what's going on.
Our special coverage continues in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.