tv CNN Newsroom CNN January 9, 2014 10:00am-11:01am PST
was not on my radar screen. so the reasoning behind this still remains a mystery. >> and also with the other thing that he said he -- that this is not the tone he set. so he rejects the idea that he created an environment where this happens. he acknowledged there's political fighting but rejected the idea that retribution is part of how they do things in his administration. but the question remains, as you've said, why did bridget anne kelly feel this was an acceptable -- >> right. and he did say i am not a bully. >> i am what i am, but i'm not a bully. >> right. >> it's the top of the hour. let's reset for viewers who may just be tuning in here in the "cnn newsroom." i'm wolf blitzer in washington. and we've just seen an extraordinary nearly two-hour news conference by the governor of new jersey chris christie apologizing repeatedly for what occurred in his state by some of his senior advisors announcing
some forced resignations. he was firing his deputy chief of staff bridget anne kelly for supposedly going ahead and orchestrating an act of political vengeance, political vengeance, against the mayor of ft. lee, new jersey, the folks of ft. lee because the mayor allegedly supposedly had failed to endorse his re-election. the mayor is a democrat, chris christie is a republican. why a democrat would endorse a republican for re-election is something that is odd to begin with. we didn't get the explanation from bridget anne kelly, the governor didn't get the explanation from his former deputy chief of staff because he didn't talk to her after he fired her. chris cuomo is watching this closely for us in new york. chris, why wouldn't -- if you wake up in the morning as the governor says he went and exercised about 8:30 in the morning, he sees on his ipad on this story in one of the new jersey newspapers with all the
e-mail, the text messages between his deputy chief of staff and others saying go ahead and close traffic, close these lanes, disrupt whatever was going on. why wouldn't he then call up his deputy chief of staff and say, bridget anne, what's going on? how could this happen? >> well, obviously it's an unanswerable question, wolf, except that it makes you examine what the likely process was. in my experience the idea that the governor would learn about the situation from the press is difficult to believe. it is possible, but in a situation like this it's so sensitive. the idea of getting advanced notice of what's going to be in the paper is very likely. and the fact he's the first one to see the media and what's in it is also unlikely just because of the nature of how these dynamics usually are. you have people around you for a reason. they're doing a lot of thinking and planning for you for a reason when you're at the top of the food chain. but it does go to one of the questions of process here that
the governor is going to have to deal with. this was very impressive if nothing else for its duration what we just sat through with the governor here. and i think it shows his confidence in his situation and what he thinks he's exposed to. but you must balance responsibility, which he takes, with accountability. this is not my culture, but these are your people. they are not accidents, they are not among this 65,000, they are the keys, they are your hands, they are your heart. you know everything about them. the intimacy cannot be overstated. then you have baroni and wildstein retire right after this thing originally happens. why did they both retire at that time? why weren't any questions asked then? so responsibility and accountability is going to be a continuing situation for the governor to deal with. >> yeah. jake tapper wants to weigh in on that specific point. >> two points, in terms of durability first of all we should say cnn has researched this and there are other
legendary long press conferences when politicians were in something of a pickle and felt the best thing to do was to get out there and give it all. john mccain when he was in the keating five scandal. that was a 90-minute press conference. geraldine ferraro, 90 minutes. this was 108 minutes. this was longer than those two press conferences. so in terms of duration there's historical reference. one thing i wanted to say about these e-mails just to touch on a point chris made which is all of these e-mails are sent on private e-mail accounts or on text messages presumably from phones. so obviously the governor said they didn't do a thorough investigation in terms of reading their e-mails. they didn't go in and look at their e-mails sent from state accounts. they just took the word for it. but it is also true that even if they had done that, none of this would have showed up because these are on private accounts. the question was not asked at the press conference, governor
christie, do you have a private e-mail account on yahoo or g-mail that you talk business on? >> i also wanted to point out that the governor could not distance himself fast enough, by the way, from david wildstein, whom the press we had portrayed him as being a good old friend of governor christie, went to high school with him. and the governor said, look, we're not friends. i was on the football team, i don't know what wildstein was doing in those years. completely distanced himself from having anything to do with. >> our own john king was there at the news conference and listened to every word. and he had this exchange with the governor. >> john -- john. >> you say you're going to continue to ask questions of your staff, i want to know what questions you might be asking of yourself. these aren't just any of 65,000, these are five or six people as close to you can get, in one case you went to a birthday party -- >> what was that last piece? >> went to a birthday party.
>> one of mine? >> one of your staff you fired this morning. >> yeah, a few of them were there. >> asking they either thought this is what the boss wanted or as a group they were willing to go rogue and do this and then cover it up and then lie to you. >> well, listen, obviously -- i said earlier, john, i'm heartbroken about it. i'm incredibly disappointed. i don't think i've gotten to the angry stage yet. but i'm sure i'll get there. but i'm just stunned. and what does it make me ask about me? it makes me ask about me what did i do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me. and there's a lot of soul searching that goes around with this. you know, when you're a leader of an organization -- and i've had this happen to me before where i've had folks not tell me
the truth about something, not since i've been governor, but in previous leadership positions. you always wonder about what you could do differently. and believe me, john, i haven't had a lot of sleep the last two nights. and i've been doing a lot of soul searching. i'm sick over this. i have worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty and directness and blunt talk. one that i think is well-deserved. but, you know when something like this happens it's appropriate for you to question yourself. and certainly i am. and i am soul searching on this. but what i also want the people of new jersey to know is this is the exception, not the rule. and they've seen that over the last four years with the way i've worked and what i've done. so i don't want to fall into the trap of saying, well, this one incident happened therefre the one incident defines the whole. it does not.
just like one employee who's lied doesn't determine the character of all the other employees around you. and so i don't want to overreact to that in that way either, john. but if you're asking me over the last 48 hours -- or last 36 hours i've done some soul searching, you bet i have. >> fascinating exchange, john, you were there. take us inside that room. we saw it all obviously on tv. what was it like inside? >> it's a pretty small room, wolf, just outside the governor's office. and it was packed with reporters, with cameras, television cameras, photographers. and what was fascinating to me is first the governor, he knows this was a defining moment for him in terms of his credibility of both personally and politically. so as you've all been noting, he stood there for nearly two hours and kept taking questions. some of the questions were a bit redundant, some more commentary than questions. but he stood there and took it. and he knew he had to. it was a very different chris christie if you've watched him over the years, sometimes he has
a lot of bravado, a lot of gusto, he tried to stay calm and level headed. it was into the first hour when he had his first hour. very low key because he understood the gravity of the moment. he repeatedly saying i didn't do this but i'm accountable. one of the interesting thing for me you couldn't see this probably much on television, but to the governor's left -- to the governor's left and my right sitting in the room his senior staff was all lined up against the wall. and they were watching him so intently from beginning to end because they understand what's at stake here. he's about to begin his second term as governor, he's taken over the chairmanship of the national republican governors association. his plan is to spend 2014 traveling the country helping the republican party and helping gubernatorial candidates get elected. and he hopes that's the springboard, wolf, to a head start in the republican nominating battle for president in 2016. so everybody understood the stakes both from new jersey politics and national politics and watching his staff just look at him eagle eye, beady eye the
entire time to me is proof they get the moment as well. >> they certainly understand the enormity of what's going on right now. this could be a make or break moment in his own political career and certainly the stakes for so many people in new jersey are enormous. john, standby, one of the co-hosts of "cross fire" is watching as closely as anyone. so what did you think? did you believe him? >> i did. and i think, you know, this was always best case scenario. i think yesterday a lot of us thought, well, look, he had to either be explicitly involved or at least -- you know, gave a directive to staff members, take care of this problem, and then made something happen. but the idea he is insisting he had absolutely no knowledge, there was no vendetta because he didn't know this mayor of ft. lee was blindsided yesterday, if that's true, that is best case scenario for chris christie. and i think during this press conference he checked all the appropriate boxes.
i'm sad. i apologize. i'm responsible. i'll be angry. i fired people. i'm going to look into this further and get to the bottom of it. he 'poll jazzed to the people of ft. lee. i mean, he really did spend the right amount of time both in that press conference and then answering questions addressing very serious grave questions. and i think that will satisfy a lot of people at least in the short-term. there are more questions to be asked. the three of you have raised those questions. so he's not completely out of the woods. but as press conferences go, i think it was pretty much the best he was going to do. >> the question i have, s.e., and maybe you have a sense of this, you know, we have not heard from bridget anne kelly, his deputy chief of staff who was fired. >> yeah. >> we haven't heard from bill stepien and we haven't heard from david wildstein.
at some point we're going to hear from them. and what they say potentially could be very damaging to this governor. >> yeah. i mean, clearly they didn't respect him enough. if what he's saying is true, clearly they didn't respect him enough to warn him of this, tell him they were doing it, come clean when he asked over and over again. so you have to wonder when they're pressed and backs are against the wall if they're going to be kind to him or if they're going to try and implicate him somehow. if he is involved, let me just say this is over for chris ch s christ christie. and if it comes out that he was, that was the worst best performance that i think a lot of us have ever seen in politics. those were boldfaced lies to our faces. if the details come out that he did have some involvement in this. and then in that case i don't think anyone would be able to stomach anymore of chris christie.
but that said, i mean, i thought he was very believable today. he was humble and contrite in ways we don't generally see him. i believed he didn't know about it. i believe he was blindsided. i believe he's humiliated and angry at his staff. but there's, again, there's more questions to be asked. so we'll see how he does over the next few weeks and months. >> let's play a little clip of the governor of new jersey coming out and talking about how he felt. >> i am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. there's no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people that were trusted to serve. >> new jersey congressman bill
pascal representing ft. lee and neighboring towns. thank you for joining us. >> thank you, wolf. >> what is your reaction? what do you think of what you heard? >> my major thoughts are with the people of ft. lee. they're the victims, not the governor. what i got from this press conference is he was making himself the victim. now, if you want me to believe, wolf, that bridget got up one morning and thought of this and concocted this idea of jamming the traffic of ft. lee, pushing that traffic back for hours, if you want me to believe that, i don't believe that whatsoever. it's not about the e-mails, governor, it's about what happened in early september in ft. lee. and we still don't know what really happened. there's a hearing going to go on this afternoon while i'm in washington and you're out there, there's a hearing going on in
trenton. and mr. david wildstein will be able to say after the record, which he is sworn that he tried to get out of today but a judge overruled it, he's got to testify today. >> let me interrupt you, congressman. hold on for a moment because we're just learning now from his attorneys that he will plead the fifth. he will not testify, david wildstein, at that hearing. there you're seeing pictures coming in right now. >> interesting. >> he's not going to give an explanation. i guess his attorneys have advised him that would be wrong for his own personal standpoint. you know what, congressman, standby for a moment. i want you to just listen to hear what they're saying. >> -- disagree. >> we will continue with the questioning. the committee does have the right to find your client's failure to respond to validly asked questions to be in contempt of this committee's subpoena and to take a vote on that. and that matter may be referred
to the appropriate law enforcement authorities, you understand that? >> that is understood, sir. >> okay. so what i would like to do is just continue with the questioning. and we will address your client's objections and failure to comply at the conclusion of those questions. >> that is acceptable. >> thank you. thank you very much. so, mr. wildstein, i would like to ask you questions about the documents you have submitted to this committee through your attorney. in particular i would like to draw your attention to page 751 of the documents. and that may be tabbed. >> i guess they are. could you just give me a moment, please?
>> if you need the assistance of a committee aide -- >> i can get there. i see the number. we have the page in front of us, sir. >> all right. page 751 contains communications. my question is does page 751 contain communications dated august 5, 2013? >> on the advice of council, i again assert my right to remain silent. >> and that document refers to a meeting with port authority chairman david sampson, does it not? >> on the advice of council, i assert my right to remain silent. >> and that also refers to a meeting with the governor of the same date?
>> mr. chairman, on the advice of council, i assert my right to remain silent. >> okay. for the edification of the committee and i want to ask council if it's your client's intention to assert that right on every single question? >> yes, sir. >> so i just want to be clear so that any question that i may ask or that any of the members of this committee may ask, it is your intention or your advice to your client to assert the right to not answer the question based on the fifth amendment? >> i anticipate that to be so in every instance. >> okay. i don't want to belabor the point, but i want to go through a couple documents and just see where we stand on that issue. >> i understand fully. >> okay. am i correct in understanding that with regard to anything on page 751 you are not answering on the basis of your right under the fifth amendment? >> yes.
>> okay. i would then like to draw your attention to the document at page 706. >> we have the page in front of us, sir. >> this is your e-mail, is it not? >> under the advice of council, i assert my right to -- >> you can't tell me whether it's a text message. >> same answer. >> that's an e-mail between bridget kelly, the governor's deputy chief of staff and yourself? >> same answer. >> and that e-mail says it's time for traffic problems in ft. lee? >> same answer, sir. >> and you responded to that e-mail? >> same answer, sir. >> okay.
>> all right. you're watching -- we're all watching in fact a hearing going on in trenton, new jersey. state legislators trying to question david wildstein. he was one of the top representatives of the new york-new jersey port authority. he resigned shortly after this scandal erupted. someone who had been supposedly close to the governor chris christie though chris christie indulgining they went to high school together but didn't know him that much. wildstein is refusing to answer questions citing his right to remain silent, if you will, every question even inane questions he's refusing to answer based on the advice of his council, democratic representative bill pascrell represents ft. lee among other places. it's a pretty shocking development, if you think about it, congressman, that this individual is now pleading the
fifth, if you will. refusing to answer questions. >> right. we've gone from jolting about the cones in the road by the governor to a very sad day. this is a sad day as the governor said. if you listen to this testimony and taking the fifth, now, taking the fifth doesn't mean you're guilty of anything. that's our constitutional rights. but the fact of the matter is this is the onion, this is the onion, wolf, that's unfolding leaf by leaf at a time. and i can assure you -- i can assure you from what i've known, from what i've studied, this is only the beginning of what's going to be a long investigation into behavior that is reprehensible that effected and offended the people of ft. lee. i can assure you that that's the case. and i have confidence that the state can do this job. i understand that the u.s. attorney's going to be looking into this as well. we don't need a plethora of investigations. but we need the truth to come out though for everybody. this does not help democrats. this is certainly doesn't help
republicans. this is a sad day when our institutions are being attacked again because of our inability to police ourselves. >> well, it sounds to me that you're skeptical about the governor and his role. are you saying -- and i want to be specific with you, congressman, you don't believe his arguments he made during those nearly two hours at that news conference? >> no, what i don't believe is this is an issue of e-mails. this goes beyond e-mails. this started in early september. our attention should have been brought to -- i wrote a letter to mr. baroni when he was still in the position at the port authority. i asked him on september 13th, we need to get an explanation of this now while these traffic backups are happening. why is this going on? i never got an answer from mr. baroni. and i kept my mouth closed until yesterday. it was time now for us to speak out because it affects so many other people. there is a culture in trenton, there is a culture which is
unfolding which should have unfolded before the last gubernatorial election. this governor has been dually elected. he deserves to be sworn-in. but the truth shall be known by everybody. it won't matter what statue of life, what status of life you're in, what party you belong to, this is going to be a big deal, wolf. i guarantee you. >> and will it directly involve the governor? >> well, that remains to be seen. we'll watch it unfold. but who would have thought a month ago when we were dismissed as simply people trying to bring some partisan politics to an election that already happened, we know about that in washington as you know. who would have thought we'd be here today listening to a gentleman who resigned as mr. baroni take the fifth amendment on what you would call and i would call inane questions. there is something beyond bridget kelly. if you don't believe there's
anything i don't think bridget kelly, i knew bridget kelly. i worked with her. she worked for a republican assembly person who had a great deal of respect for her. i have a great deal of respect for bridget. would she put on an e-mail perhaps was not the best thing to do, but if you think that she is the engineer of all of this mess, i cannot believe that. he appointed every one of these individuals. so the question is not, what did he know, when did he know it? that's insignificant. the question is what really happened. and more than an apology, the ft. lee residents deserve a lot more than just an apology. while we're paying higher tolls on the george washington bridge, folks at the port authority many of them are frolicking. and that's a bigger picture, which this governor did not stop nor the governor of new york. >> he's going to be going to your district later today, he says, even if he's not going to be meeting with the mayor of ft. lee he's going to be meeting with residents there. we'll see how that goes. >> yes. >> congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
>> honor to be with you, wolf. >> all right. so there are a lot of legal questions that are now coming to the floor in this escalading scandal, shall we say. ashl ashleigh banfield is joinig us from new york. >> the united states in new jersey, wolf, through a press spokesperson today said in fact the matter has been referred to them and they will be looking into this. i want to bring along jeffrey toobin and paul callan. it's one thing to sit before a committee where mr. wildstein would not actually make comments and instead invoked his fifth amendment privilege, or it's another thing to have to answer to the u.s. attorney. what do you think is afoot right now in the u.s. attorney's office? >> they have to figure out what the facts are. and certainly governor christie's view of what happened is a very important part of the fact gathering process. but it's not all of it. who knew what when? what do the e-mails say?
what do all the e-mails say? the government e-mails, the personal e-mails, the text messages sent on personal phones as well as state phones. and all of the people around this decision. i mean, what we don't know and what governor christie said at great length is that he didn't know how this decision was made to change the traffic in ft. lee. that question is going to be a very important one for paul fishman, the u.s. attorney and his staff to figure out. >> well, if there is an electronic paper trail, i wonder how quickly the u.s. attorney works, paul. would they actually be crafting subpoenas at this moment to try to get a look at everyone including the governor's personal and professional e-mails? >> they may very well be doing that, but bear in mind one of the things governor christie has to worry about is the new u.s. attorney who replaced christie by the way was appointed by president barack obama. he's from the democratic side of the aisle. though when he was sworn-in i noticed one of the things he
said was he wasn't going to politicize his office, that he would fairly investigate crimes. and i think when you step back from this in the end you have to say is it really a crime to change a traffic pattern leaving to the g.w. bridge. i've never seen a criminal case was based on that? >> official misconduct, that's on the statute. >> i've never seen one based on moving some traffic cones. i have seen criminal cases arising out of the cover-up of an investigation. now, if somebody lies to the u.s. attorney, lies to the fbi, that tends to be where they get in trouble. and i'm betting in the end they'll be no criminal prosecution in this case unless there's a cover-up. >> it is important to emphasize that there is not an obvious federal crime here. paul -- federal crime or even state crime. yes, it is true there is this somewhat unusual law in the books in new jersey called official misconduct, that is a crime in new jersey.
it's not prosecuted very often. >> it's usually for favoritism and doing something for cronies as opposed to doing something for constituents. >> right. but most of the time when a federal law enforcement investigation begins it's pretty clear they're looking into did someone take money, was there fraud, was there some kind of -- did money change hands in an untoward way? that's not even on the table as far as i can tell here. and it may well be that having looked into this the u.s. attorney can say this is just a political matter, not something for the criminal justice system. >> that's the u.s. attorney in new jersey. and as we all well know the george washington bridge spans two states, it's an interstate, i-95, and clearly there are issues because there's a new jersey office in manhattan as well, but to this date, cyrus advance new on the job and probably wouldn't mind getting his teeth into something of this political and legal action.
>> he's the district attorney of new york county. this will be investigated on the jersey side. >> no, i just want to bring something up and this is why i brought it up. >> they have joint jurisdiction. >> the office where the directive was given was the port authority office based in new york. that's why i bring up the manhattan d.a. >> he may try to jump in. i think if he's smart he'll just stay out of it. and on the jersey side i got to tell you the prosecutor in jersey was appointed by chris christie. and new jersey governors have extraordinary political power and capacity for revenge, by the way, which is why if he's running for president this is the first of many things that are going to get scrutinized. >> and we haven't even begun to examine the civil exposure in all of this if in fact those emergency technicians who responded they were having trouble actually getting health care to those emergency situations due to traffic if that actually bears out. so that's a whole other area. and, wolf, that's another hour and 48 minute conversation which i can't have now because the governor had an hour and 48
minute conversation already. >> yes, he did. pretty long -- nearly a two-hour news conference. let me play a little clip, guys. don't go away. i want to pick it up afterwards. play a clip about what governor christie had to say about his own knowledge of all of these events. >> i had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution. and i am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover. >> jeffrey and paul, let me just get your quick thought on that. when you hear a flat statement like that from the governor, from the legal perspective, jeffrey first to you, explain what he is trying to do right now and to clear himself from any wrongdoing, potentially. >> well, i think it's political, legal, moral, logical, he's just
saying i didn't know that my staff had anything to do with changing this traffic pattern, period. so i don't think there's any mystery hidden agenda here. he is certainly just laying down a marker and saying i had nothing to do with it. i think from a political perspective that's a good thing to do. there were no weasel words in his statement. he wasn't, i don't think, trying to parse his language very carefully. there was nothing about it depends what the meaning of is is. however, the facts have to bear him out. and we'll see what the e-mails show. we'll see what the texts show. we'll see what the testimony is. perhaps david wildstein who took the fifth now will get immunity at some point in which case he'll have to testify. perhaps miss kelly who was obviously at the center of this story, the fired deputy chief of staff, she will certainly have a version of the facts here. those stories will be very important to hear. and that will -- only then will
we know whether christie's very categorical statements stands out. >> paul, you know more about the legal part of this than i do, but let's talk a little bit about bridget anne kelly. when the governor says, you know, i woke up that morning -- yesterday morning after exercise, i got the ipad, i saw the story with all these e-mails and then i fired his deputy chief of staff bridget anne kelly. he never called her, he never asked for explanation, he never wanted to hear her side of the story. would that be because his own lawyers were telling him don't do that? that could be witness tampering if you will? >> no, i don't think it was that. i think it's a classic blunt chris christie decisive action. he knew that she lied to him. and he made a decision i'm going to fire her immediately. what's more decisive than that? that's been his trademark move, decisiveness. i think that's chris christie in action and not something that
was thought out or planned as a result of legal problems. >> jeffrey, you agree? >> i'm actually not sure. i think it was a prudent legal move on christie's part not to have a conversation of any kind with principle figures in this scandal. he knew once he saw those e-mails that they were going to be investigations here. and i think, yes, it was sort of a classic chris christie move to fire someone without a conversation, but it was also prudent legally not to have any conversation with him. you can be sure he will not be talking to david wildstein going forward. so i think there may have been mixed motives at work there. >> and the same with bill stepien and his former campaign manager. paul, one thing before i let you go. let's go back four weeks when he heard about these initial allegations. he called in his senior staff and he said in one hour i'm going to go out and make a statement to the news media, if any of you had any involvement in closing these lanes for three
days along the -- on the george washington bridge between new jersey and new york, speak up now because i'm about to make a statement. no one spoke out including bridget anne kelly. so the question is, would she not speak out to him because she was scared for her own future, didn't want to acknowledge that she played some sort of alleged role here? or was she trying to protect the governor, it would be better he shouldn't know about what we did? paul, go ahead. >> well, she's an experienced political figure and would know that his statement would be scrutinized carefully especially since he's a potential presidential candidate. my bet is she was afraid how it would affect herself, she would be fired. and she's probably saying frankly how can closing down three lanes of traffic on an approach to a bridge be this enormous scandal? it will blow over. and i think she obviously miscalculated and it's cost her her job. >> wolf, can i just make one
more point about chris christie's conversations with his colleagues or his subordinates? he said he is going to continue his own investigation. he's going to talk to everyone on his staff and try to figure out what happened here. i think there are going to be lawyers, and there certainly may be outside lawyers, that think you know that's not such a good idea. first of all, chris christie shouldn't be in charge of investigating chris christie. and they're going to be involved with other investigators and to have christie talk to them about the underlying events may generate more questions than answers. so the idea of christie personally continuing this investigation as he said he would, i'm not so sure that will actually happen. or if it does, that it's such a good idea. >> with one of the players, david wildstein, pleading the fifth. and the u.s. attorney now saying the u.s. federal government is looking into this, jeffrey, who would have main responsibility if in fact there is a criminal
investigation, local, state or federal authorities? >> well, this question, wolf, is what prosecutors spend a great deal of their lives negotiating about. in many, many crimes there is overlapping jurisdiction. and there is often competition over these cases. ultimately the federal government always has the juice, the power, to take over an investigation. and here clearly, i think, paul fishman, who is the u.s. attorney appointed by barack obama as presidents always appoint u.s. attorneys, he will be in charge of this investigation. yes, it is true there are possible state investigations, but particularly since the u.s. attorney has announced that he is beginning this investigation the state and local officials will certainly back off and let the feds go through with it. >> paul, you agree with that? >> yes, i agree with that. and i also think very, very strongly that the most likely
scenario here is that the cover-up, and if there's been a cover-up or in the future if there's a cover-up, is the most likely area for criminal liability in a case like this. because you can explain the underlying facts in a way that probably doesn't constitute criminal conduct relatively easily, but if you lie to an fbi agent, the u.s. attorney or others in a cover-up attempt, now you're going to have real criminal liability. and we see this all the time in political scandals. >> the statement coming in from the u.s. attorney's office district of new jersey was the port authority office of inspector general has referred the matter to us and our office is reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated. all right, guys, standby. dana bash is our chief congressional correspondent. she's getting reaction up on capitol hill. clearly the federal government is involved looking into this scandal right now, dana. what are you hearing? what's been the reaction out there? >> there's been very interesting reaction. this is must-see tv here on
capitol hill. obviously chris christie is a very formidable popular political figure even when it just comes to observing him on both sides of the aisle. but let's first start with the senior senator from new jersey, bob menendez. we caught up with him in the hallway. here's what he had to say. >> obviously appropriate steps, people who conducted a political vendetta should lose their jobs. and at the same time, you know, i believe that the investigations that are pursuing -- being pursued by the transportation committee, the reviews being pursued by the u.s. senate commerce committee should continue and we can get the totality of the picture of what went on here. >> now, just by way of background, bob menendez is a long-time politician in new jersey, has known and worked around chris christie for some time and has had political battles against him even as they have had to work together. very notable i think, wolf, that he was very noncommittal but
saying investigations should couldn't. then i think what's also interesting has been the republican reaction. so much discussion has been whether or not before the press conference whether or not this would put an end to any prospects for the white house for chris christie. i talked to several republican senators who all said this was a home run. i'll give you one example from johnny isaacson who sat in his office and watched it, what he had to say. you watched most of the press conference. what'd you think? >> i thought chris christie did what any leader ought to do, first of all he assessed the situation, found out where the problem was, took decisive action and took responsibility for the 65,000 people that work for him. so i thought he handled it the way you would hope an administrative leader would handle it. >> and then i asked what if -- you know, are you confident that what he said is accurate and true? and he sort of looked at me and said, well, if it isn't, he's dead. that's the end. which i think probably goes without saying. but just the fact that there's
been so much interest in this i think is very telling even from senators who are just observing because they are politicians and they are sort of involved in the game as well. just to watch how he handled this, but again, among his republican colleagues many of whom he has battled with here to say the least they thought this was a -- in fact in the words of one republican aide here that he should teach a seminar in p.r. and how to handle crisis management. it was that perfect pitch. >> yeah. a lot of people are saying he did the right thing, he came out, he apologized, he was humble, he acknowledged there were major mistakes, that he was responsible. but the questions certainly will continue. dana, standby. we're getting reaction from a lot of folks, but the mayor of ft. lee, new jersey, and the traffic patterns in ft. lee and surrounding areas leading up to the george washington bridge in new jersey going over to new york would most directly impacted by this decision to snarl traffic for three days, the mayor mark sokolich has just
reacted to what we heard from the governor. let me play a clip. >> we are only asking and as polite and as respectful a way, please, please, we've been through a lot, we're not saying no, we welcome the apology. as a matter of fact, i think i may have even asked for one. it's just that to do it now in light of what's transpired over the last 24 hours, it's just going to cause more chaos in ft. lee. we don't need it at this point. and i got to tell you i think you ought to wait for this investigation to conclude, otherwise we're going to be spending a lot of gas coming up and down the turnpike. >> the mayor basically suggesting to the governor stay away from ft. lee for now. by the way, the mayor will be my guest, i'll speak with him live 5:00 p.m. eastern in "the situation room." john king is there in trenton, new jersey, was at the news conference watching all that's going on. the political fallout is going to be enormous. it's not everyday you hear a
democratic mayor in a major town in new jersey, in ft. lee, tell the governor who was just re-elected in a landslide, you know what, stay away from my town today. this is not a good idea for you to come here. >> it will be interesting, wolf, to watch this play out. because making peace with the mayor, making peace with the people of ft. lee is clearly one of governor christie's top priorities. he said he was told during the news conference about the mayor's reaction. reporters in there with their ipads and blackberries and the like getting that information. the governor was asked about that. he said, well, look, if he doesn't want to meet with me, that's fine. but he did say as soon as that news conference was over that he was going to call the mayor and he was going to make his case, that he was going to come to ft. lee anyway, today, the governor insisted. and he would like to see the mayor. we'll see if the governor can persuade the pmayor to change hs mind. he said he was going anyway. he said it was very important to make an apology in person. wolf, you had a great interview
with the mayor last night. and it's clear as we watch and ask all the questions about the many investigations as the governor tried to answer questions about his involvement today and now about his apologies and his holding people accountable and firing people, it's also clear there are some political back and forth here. and the democratic mayor and republican governor, the governor was pretty clear said he doesn't know him and wouldn't know him if he walked in the room today. said he never heard his name during the campaign, so he doesn't understand why anyone on his staff would think they needed to do this. have some kind of political vendetta, but clearly even as the governor made a very public apology repeatedly today, there's still tension and perhaps political theater between a republican governor and democratic mayor. >> it was surprising to me, john, i don't know about to you be ft. lee is a major city in new jersey there right on the -- at the george washington bridge. and the governor says he wouldn't have been able to pick out the mayor, didn't know the mayor, pick him out of a lineup. that was a little surprising to me that he was insisting that he
had no -- may have met him over the years once or twice but really didn't know him. and certainly was not anxious to win his endorsement for his re-election. just one of the sidebars in all of this. all right, standby, john. brian stelter is joining us. our senior media correspondent, the host of "reliable sources." brian, this is quite a media spectacle we're now observing as well. >> you can say that again. and it's been very interesting to watch reaction to conservative media outlets. before today this story was very muted. there was scant coverage of this. on fox news for example compared to cnn and msnbc. today we saw dramatic change in tone, almost as soon as the press conference started what we started hearing from conservatives on twitter and on television and all over the web was that chris christie was doing what president obama doesn't do, which is take responsibility when there are scandals. that seems to be the dominant talking point now after days
essentially of ignoring this story pretty much entirely. >> rush limbaugh has been pretty critical of chris christie right now, so the question is this, how much will this hurt christie assuming he can salvage his political career and maybe run for president of the united states? >> well, chris christie reminds us of this giant split that exists in the republican party and in the conservative movement. i think we're reminded of that again today as people take sides as commentators and republican heavyweights take sides. we saw glenn beck post earlier on twitter a kind of mean message, a fake movie poster for this, he called it fact and furious instead of "fast and furious." so you can see commentators taking sides here and in some cases taking shots at chris christie. but i think what we're seeing from conservative commentators like eric ericson who's a high profile one are taking a stand and saying chris christie is doing what barack obama is not. and that gives them a talking point where they can stand with
chris christie as opposed to ignore the story entirely or stand against him. and i think we'll see more of that in the days to come. >> interesting development. chris christie getting flak not just from the more liberal left but also from the more conservative right, especially a lot of those conservatives not happy with him when he welcomed barack obama, the president of the united states, to new jersey when superstorm sandy hit only days before the presidential election with mitt romney. brian, thanks very much. we're going to continue our special coverage here on cnn. the enormous political fallout only just beginning. lots more developments. we'll take a quick break. much more right after this. ♪ ♪ nothing says, "you're my #1 copilot,"
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that coffee breaks down tooth enamel. thankfully, she uses act restoring mouthwash. it rebuilds tooth enamel, making your teeth two times stronger. act. smile strong. >> i am who i am, but i am not a bully. what i will tell you is the folks who have worked with me over a long period of time would i believe tell you i'm tough, but i have shown over the last years in the tone we have set here that i'm willing to compromise and i'm willing to work with others. >> the governor chris christie speaking during a nearly
two-hour news conference just a little while ago. accusationings are closing that the new jersey lane closures from the george washington bridge were done for political revenge to get back at a mayor who would not endorse governor chris christie's reelection. he said he was not involve and he was blindsided. it's not the first time that the nasty politics and chris christie have been used in the same sentence. some see a pattern. >> they're do. a lot of them say in the immediate aftermath, he did a lot to help himself, but it plays into this pattern of brash bullying behavior that some people interpret on the part of chris christie. he is known to reward his friends and punish enemies. he said he is not a bully. some people think he crosses that line, sometimes without meaning to. here a couple of greatest hits from the not too distant past where it has been interpreted that he has been a bully.
>> on monday, are you going to be -- [inaudible]. >> did i stay on topic. are you stupid? on topic. next question. good. thank you all very much and i'm sorry for the idiot over there. >> you don't send your children to public schools. you send them to private schools. i was wondering why you think it's fair to cut funding to public schools. >> what's her name? >> what's her name? gale. talk to gale. >> first off it's none of your business. i don't ask you with where you send your kids to school. don't bother me about where i send mine. >> plenty of things like that with chris christie. he gets into town hall meetings and the members of the media. it's when he beats up on people who are smaller and might be in a position of having to defer to
him. that's when he gets into the bullying behavior. maybe without meaning to. they say he helped himself with the news conference. we went to the street to sample opinions and in new jersey, they are sampling opinions. what do you think of him now? a lot of people still like him. they like the bluntness and the brashness and the straight talk. >> americans are very forgiving. >> absolutely. >> if somebody apologizes, we are all human and we make mistakes. it was interesting in a recent interview. we spoke to them and asked about the president and the roll out of obamacare. the president should say you know what, we made a mistake and apologize and i try to fix it instead of lawyering up. everybody hates lawyers, supposedly. that was his advice to the president. he seemed to be accepting that advice today. >> if he knee even a little bit
about this while it was going on, he has big problems that none of this are going to solve. >> listen to another clip. here's the governor of new jersey at that news conference. >> i am heartbroken that someone i permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust. i would never have come out here four or five weeks ago and made a joke about these lane closures if i had ever had an inkling that anyone on my staff would have been so stupid but to be involved and then so deceitful as to not to disclose the information of their involvement to me when directly asked by their superior. >> he was referring to the so stupid person as his deputy
chief of staff, he fired yesterday morning shortly after he learned about all of this. >> i tell you what i was thinking. he was so emphatic and confident that it was her fault. i kept thinking does bridget kelly have something to say about this? what if she has something to say. she might have information if she comes out with it can harm him. she now after that conference might have the motivation to do it. >> we saw one of the officials at the port authority take the fifth, plead the fifth this morning. not answering questions based on the advice of his attorney. we will see if she starts talking and whether the former campaign manager that he disassociated himself from, whether he starts talking. there will be a lot to go on. thanks very much and see you later in "the situation room." that's it for me this hour. thanks for watching. i'm wolf blitzer and i will be back at 5:00 p.m. eastern after a short break. brooke baldwin will pick up our coverage.
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thank you so much for joining me on a busy, busy news day. we have a lot happening in the next two hours. including standing by for president barack obama getting ready to speak live at the white house to reveal his plan for taking on poverty in america's poorest communities. this is a promise he made one year ago during his state of the union address and the timing is significant because the issue of income equality really has become the forefront of the national conversation and also timing-wise, we are about a month away from the next state of the union. we will take you live to the white house for that. first, this. a tough day for new jersey governor chris christie. he is heading to ft. lee, new jersey to meet with the mayor. he wants to apologize to him face-to-face and for more than an hour to be precise, 108 minutes we all watched a much more measured version of the often tough