'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 8, 2014
Guests_: John Wisniewski, Shawn Boburg
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you. I`m excited to do this show
this hour, Chris. We`ve been waiting for this day for a long time. This
is going to be amazing. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. That`s very nice
of Chris to say, but I do have to say, I think the show is going to be kind
of a doozy, because of the story we`ve been covering from the beginning,
before anybody else in the country was covering it, and the national media
has just become a very big story.
All right. This is the local traffic column in "The Bergen Record"
newspaper. It is a column only about driving in and around New Jersey. By
geographic necessity, a lot of the ink in this column is devoted to the
daily battle of trying to be a commuter who travels from New Jersey into
New York City.
On September 13th, which is a Friday, that local traffic column wrote
up a really weird and unusually terrible week from trying to drive from New
Jersey into New York. This was the photo that they ran to accompany their
article. And if you look closely, you can see there`s a guy standing in
the middle of the traffic. And, he`s not like a cop or something. He`s in
khakis and a little blue shirt.
This is a guy who had gotten out of his car to try to figure out what
it was that had completely stopped traffic getting on to the nation`s most
heavily trafficked bridge, the George Washington Bridge, from the New
Jersey town of Ft. Lee.
That column about the traffic jam on the bridge in Fort Lee, that ran
on a Friday. But traffic had been like that all week. It started on
Monday. It went for days.
It only stopped the traffic on to the bridge, that traffic jam
gridlocked all the surface streets in the town of Fort Lee, in the whole
town, with hundreds of cars backed up on to that town`s streets for hours,
during rush hour, coming and going. It was epic. It lasted for days.
It turns out that traffic jam was created on purpose, which, you know,
they knew right from the start, from that column on that first day. Quote,
"The Port Authority, which runs the bridge, cut the number of tollbooths
from three to one on the big span." "The Bergen Record" asked, "Why would
the Port Authority purposely quadruple commuting times for some of the
people who live closest to one of the nation`s busiest bridges?"
Good question, "Bergen Record" traffic columnist, John Cichowski.
And at this point on the Friday of the week that this traffic jam
happened, at this points this still was a local story about a traffic jam,
but the point at which it stopped being a local story about a traffic jam,
and started being a story about why Chris Christie is probably never going
to be president of the United States is when this happened. When the Port
Authority which runs the bridge, put out a statement saying, the week long
traffic jam that gridlocks the town of Fort Lee, that traffic jam was
because of a secret traffic study.
As soon as they said that, and the traffic columnist called around and
asked for comment from local officials on that statement, the police chief
in Fort Lee and the mayor in Fort Lee immediately called bullpucky on that
claim. Quoting the police chief, quote, "It`s not true." Quoting the
mayor, quote, "I asked the port for an explanation, but they haven`t
responded. I thought we had a good relationship. Now, I`m beginning to
wonder if there`s something I did wrong. Am I being sent some sort of
Yes, Mr. Mayor. Yes, it turns out you were being sent a message.
Traffic jams are not news. I mean, they`re small amounts of news.
But they`re not national news, right? Traffic jams caused by poorly
organized traffic studies are not big news stories.
But if the state of New Jersey is being run in such a way, that
control of interstate assets is being manipulated on purpose to punish
specific towns and even specific individuals for political reasons, then
that really is news, because that is public corruption. That`s public
corruption and the abuse of public office potentially on a criminal scale.
And all along, ever since that "Bergen Record" traffic columnist
started asking questions about what otherwise looked like a weird local
news story, Governor Chris Christie has been saying, there`s nothing to see
here, there`s no news here, it certainly has nothing to do with him.
Today, it turns out, today we got the evidence, that the order to do
this thing, the order to gridlock the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and
shut down those lanes on that bridge, came straight from Governor
The statement from the Port Authority claiming the shutdown was part
of a traffic study, that came on day four of the traffic shutdown, on
Thursday of that week. It was written by one of Governor Christie`s top
appointees at the Port Authority. The Port Authority who runs the bridge.
It was written by David Wildstein.
The same Chris Christie appointee who wrote the bogus cover-up
explanation that it was the traffic study, David Wildstein, he is the same
Chris Christie political appointee who gave the order to close those lanes
on the bridge. He`s the one who gave that order at the Port Authority.
He`s the man who gave specific instructions to bridge officials to not warn
the local police, and not warn the town of Fort Lee about what was about to
Other internal e-mails that have been made public also show that the
Port Authority knew, they were advised explicitly that shutting down those
lanes on the bridge would cause the whole town of Fort Lee to be gridlocked
in a backlog of hundreds of stuck cars. But they did it anyway, or rather,
we now know, that is explicitly why they did it.
That wasn`t a bug. That was a feature, that`s what they were going
for. We now know that because partially redacted e-mails and text message
transcripts were published today first by "The Bergen Record," and then by
everyone. And those transcripts and e-mails show that Governor Christie`s
appointee to the Port Authority, the guy who ordered the bridge closure,
David Wildstein, he didn`t come up with that idea on his own. It turns it
came from Governor Christie`s office, directly. Boom!
Look, this is an e-mail from Governor Christie`s office, an email from
Governor Christie`s deputy chief of staff telling David Wildstein at the
Port Authority, explicitly, quote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort
Lee." The response from David Wildstein at the Port Authority, quote, "Got
And so, it was done, the lanes were ordered shut down. Fort Lee was
not warned. Fort Lee police were not warned. Among the people caught in
the ensuing traffic jam for hours were police assigned to look for a
missing 4-year-old girl. It was the first day of school. School buses
were late getting thousands of kids to school. And it went on all week.
And, of course, Port Lee went nuts. As the mayor explained to the
"Bergen Record," I`ve asked the Port Authority for an explanation but they
haven`t responded. And the new emails released today show that Governor
Christie`s office knew that Fort Lee was going nuts, and they knew that
Fort Lee officials were getting no response. The governor`s deputy chief
of staff inquiring whether that mayor was getting his calls returned. The
apparently gleeful response from Governor Christie`s appointee at the Port
Authority, quote, "radio silence".
David Wildstein then forwarded the actual complaints from the Fort Lee
mayor. The mayor explaining that school buses can`t get kids to school for
the first day of classes. The response, quote, "Is it wrong that I am
smiling?" David Wildstein responds, no, no, it`s not wrong that you`re
"I feel badly about the kids. I guess." David Wildstein responds,
quote, "They are the children of Buono voters," meaning, Barbara Buono.
Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate who ran against Chris Christie for
governor when he ran for re-election this past year.
Do not worry about the harm we are deliberately causing the children
of this community because that community has Democratic voters and you know
what? A Democratic mayor. So, we`ll make them pay.
So, the traffic study excuse that was invented to explain what
happened, that was made up. The traffic jam was deliberately created on
orders from the governor`s office directly. It was recognized as something
that would cause harm. It was intended to cause harm. It was recognized
that it was causing harm and that local officials were complaining about
that harm. It was recognized in real-time and celebrated those officials
were getting no explanation for what was happening to them.
And we know it was motivated by partisan politics, because Governor
Christie`s employees discussed it in those terms.
We do not know what caused Governor Christie`s office to unleash this
hell on the town of Fort Lee. It`s previously been suggested that the
mayor of Fort Lee refused to endorse Governor Christie`s bid for re-
election at the time when the governor was specifically looking for those
endorsements from Democratic local officials. Was the mayor`s refusal to
provide that endorsement the reason the governor`s office ordered up some
traffic problems in Fort Lee? We still do not know that.
We also do not know if Governor Christie himself instructed his staff
to do this, or if it was a freelance effort to punish a Democratic town, an
effort that was run out of Chris Christie`s office and through his top
staff and his top political appointees, but without his knowledge.
The release a statement to that effect today, saying, quote, "What
I`ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and
deeply saddened to learn, that not only was I misled by a member of my
staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made
without my knowledge."
"One thing is clear," he says, "this type of behavior is unacceptable
and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better.
This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in anyway
and people will be held responsible for their actions."
That represents a change for Governor Christie, who had previously
responded to questioning about this scandal by mocking reporters who even
dared to ask him about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I worked the cones actually on
that. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was
in the overalls and the hat, so I wasn`t -- but I actually was the guy
working the cones out there. You really are not serious with that
What happened? No, I haven`t. Listen, just because John Wisniewski
is obsessed with this, and Loretta Weinberg, it just shows you they really
have nothing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Loretta Weinberg and John Wisniewski is actually the way it`s
pronounced, are New Jersey legislators who have been investigating this
scandal since it first broke. Chris Christie has denounced them by name,
as only looking into it because they have nothing to do. He`s denied that
anyone in his office had any knowledge of the shutdown whatsoever.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I`ve spoken to everybody on my staff and asked anybody
around here and my campaign manager if they knew anything more about this
that we didn`t already know, they told me no. And so I -- you know, the
chief of staff and the chief council assured me that they feel comfortable
that they have all the information we need to have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And now, it turns out the whole thing was ordered from within
his office and at least one of his top staffers had updates throughout on
the planning for the shutdown, on it`s effect, on the town`s complaints and
on the town not getting any response to its complaints. Governor
Christie`s campaign manager, who we mentioned there specifically, the
campaign manager was one of the people advising the guy who ordered the
shutdown on how to react to the press coverage of the scandal once it broke
into the open, that campaign manager, Bill Stepien has just this week been
named the chairman of the Republican Party for the whole state of New
After this bombshell release of documents this morning, "The Bergen
Record" followed up this afternoon with the darkest turn in the story yet.
The first day of the manmade, politically motivated traffic disaster that
was ordered by Governor Christie`s office, the first day was Monday
September 9th. On Tuesday, September 10th, the emergency medical services
coordinator for Fort Lee wrote to the mayor to explain what this traffic
disaster meant for first responders in Fort Lee.
Quoting from "The Record`s" report tonight, on September 9th, the
first day of the traffic paralysis, EMS crews took seven to nine minutes to
arrive at the scene of a vehicle accident where four people were injured,
when the response time in normal circumstances should have been less than
It also took responders seven minutes to reach an unconscious 91-year-
old woman who died of cardiac arrest to the hospital. Although he did not
say her death was directly caused by the delays, the EMS coordinator told
the mayor that paramedics were delayed in responding to the woman`s case
due to the heavy traffic in Fort Lee. The paramedics had to meet the
ambulance on route to the hospital instead of on the scene where the woman
collapsed. The woman did later die.
Emergency responders were also late in getting to a third medical
emergency the first morning of the lane closures. The EMS coordinator said
he himself took more than an hour as the first responder to arrive at a
building where a person had called 911 complaining of chest pains. The
delay was because of the standstill traffic on route 46 east in Fort Lee,
which, of course, was caused by the deliberate traffic disaster that was
ordered by Chris Christie`s office as some kind of political retaliation as
So far, Chris Christie has accepted the resignation of his longtime
friend and political appointee, David Wildstein, who ordered the bridge
shutdown. He accepted the resignation of another one of his appointees to
the Port Authority, who was involved in the shutdown, and who apparently
lied to the state assembly by telling them the whole thing was caused by
this mysterious traffic study. The governor`s top appointee to the Port
Authority is also named in the e-mails released today, as helping the
governor`s office retaliate in some way, when New York officials sought to
mitigate the impact of what Chris Christie`s office was trying to
orchestrate for Fort Lee.
So, is that the next resignation? His top appointee to the Port
Authority? What happens to his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, who
works in his office, who apparently gave the order directly to do this to
Fort Lee, what happens to the governor`s spokesman who`s mentioned in the
e-mails and text messages today as being involved in managing the exit of
David Wildstein, and crafting a thankful statements for Governor Christie,
praising David Wildstein as a tireless advocate for New Jersey`s interests.
What happens to the governor`s spokesman now? What happens to the
chairman of the political party now, who was involved in crafting this
whole response, and just this week, got promoted to run the Republican
Party in the state of New Jersey and who`s advising the national Republican
Governor`s Association, since Chris Christie runs that thing now and he`s
obviously going to run for president.
In New Jersey`s largest paper today, in "The Newark Star Ledger", a
blistering editorial lays out the stakes.
Quote, "This was an outrageous misuse of public resources, a reckless
endangerment of the public and apparently a massive lie. Governor
Christie`s attempts to laugh this off now appeared to be dishonest, that we
can`t be sure that he personally knew about the correspondents of one of
his top aides. Still, Christie bears responsibility either way, if it
turns out he did know, he`s obviously lying, and unfit for office, let
alone a 2016 presidential run. And even if he did not know, his officials
are liars, if Chris Christie cannot control them, how can we trust him as a
potential future leader of our country?"
We have been covering this story from the beginning. We cover the
story before anybody else in the national news covered it, even though we
got teased a lot for paying so much attention to a local traffic jam.
Well, now, this local traffic jam is starting to look like the most
important story in the country about Republican presidential politics.
The assembly man who has been leading the investigation into this
incident and who has been attacked mercilessly by Governor Christie for
doing so is going to join us here exclusively, next.
MADDOW: Our exclusive interview with the man who is leading the
investigation into the Chris Christie bridge scandal is right here live,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: The documents that have
been published are both shocking and outrageous. They show government at
its worst. Among other things, they call into serious question the honesty
of this governor and his staff.
As a result of what has been revealed today, this governor has a lot
of explaining to do. There`s two possibilities, I mean, either he doesn`t
know what`s going on in his front office or that there`s lying going on.
We were concerned for your continued employment at the Port Authority
if you said something outside of the chain of command?
ROBERT DURANDO, GENERAL MANAGER: I respect the chain of command.
WISNIEWSKI: That`s not an answer to the question.
The question is, you just expressed to me you do have a certain amount
of discretion when it comes to requests made to you about the bridge, but
in this particular case, you chose not to exercise that discretion. My
question to you is, is the reason you chose not to exercise that discretion
because you feared for your employment?
DURANDO: I was concerned about what Mr. Wildstein`s reaction would be
if I did not follow his directive.
WISNIEWSKI: As to whether it`s political retribution, look, it`s
either gross incompetence on the management of the nation`s busiest bridge,
or it`s political incompetence by people who thought they could get away
with something like this in broad daylight. Either way, it stinks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The New Jersey assembly man who has been at the center of the
investigation of the scandal from the beginning is Democrat John
Wisniewski. As chairman of the state transportation committee, he`s had
the subpoena power to compel testimony and to compel the release of
documents in this case. Those documents include the e-mails released today
in which Governor Chris Christie`s deputy chief of staff e-mailed David
Wildstein, a Christie political appointee at the Port Authority and tells
him that it`s, quote, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Mr.
Wildstein responds to that e-mail by saying, quote, "Got it."
Tomorrow, David Wildstein is scheduled to testify under oath. He`s
scheduled to appear before Assemblyman Wisniewski`s committee to explain
what exactly happened here. Mr. Wildstein today filed a lawsuit trying to
quash that subpoena so he doesn`t have to appear. One of the ways his
lawsuit is trying to get him out of testifying tomorrow is that he`s
challenging the validity of the signature of Assemblyman Wisniewski on the
subpoena itself, which is in the technical sense, what you call a reach.
Joining us now for the interview tonight is Assemblyman John
Wisniewski. He`s chairman of the New Jersey State Assembly Transportation
Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here.
WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, thank you for having me on.
MADDOW: As far as you know, is David Wildstein going to have to
testify to your committee tomorrow?
WISNIEWSKI: I don`t believe the court`s going to give him any relief.
It`s outside the court`s jurisdiction. It`s a separation of powers issue.
We have the ability to issue subpoenas under our rules, under the state
constitution. And we have a validly issued subpoena and he should show up
MADDOW: Today, these 22 pages of e-mails and text messages between
the Christie administration and Port Authority executives were released.
What do you think the public should take away from those documents? What
do you think is the bottom line of what was revealed?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, what was revealed was, what we`ve all suspected but
not had proof, that this was a political operation. It became clear by what
was released and the other documents that I`ve seen, that there was no
valid governmental reason. This was purely a political operation.
And it came out of the governor`s office. After it came out of the
governor`s office, and it was put into effect, there was an effort to try
to concoct a rationale for doing it, and then an effort to diminish
anybody`s credibility who dared challenge or question it. It`s government
at its worst.
I mean, for everybody who thinks government can`t be trusted, Chris
Christie gave everybody 10 more reasons to believe that, and for everybody
who wants to see government do the right thing, it`s a very frustrating
MADDOW: One of the things we saw as the public for the first time
today in these 22 pages that were released were the heavy redactions. Now,
that wasn`t you and your committee redacting those lines. Who redacted
that? The Port Authority?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, we don`t know. Those documents -- most of the
redactions in documents we received came from the documents supplied by Mr.
Wildstein`s attorney. There was some redactions in documents supplied by
Mr. Baroni`s attorney. So, of the 20 some that you`re talking about, I`m
not sure where they came from, but what`s frustrating is there`s no
explanation, as to why they are redacted.
Are they claiming privilege? Are they claiming some type of exception
to providing them under subpoena? We don`t know. We`ve asked that
question. We`ve asked that question. We`ve received no answer.
With the 22 pages released, we have heard that hundreds of pages have
been turned over. As somebody trying to report this story, I get nudgey
about reporting partially released documents. Should we expect that those
hundreds of pages will be released to the public? Is there any reason to
hold them back. And should we see these 22 pages as representative of what
you have learned? Are we going to get the rest of it?
WISNIEWSKI: There`s thousands of pages of documents, and Mr.
Wildstein`s commission, for instance, is 907 pages. Mr. Baroni`s almost at
the similar number. And what we want to do is have this hearing tomorrow,
and provide Mr. Wildstein an opportunity under oath to answer questions.
There`s an August 13 e-mail about trying to create traffic problems in
Fort Lee. He says in a very tryst response, got it.
Well, you won`t know what that means unless you`ve had a conversation
about this topic beforehand. Who did he have that conversation with, was
there a meeting? Who was involved in that meeting? Was there a discussion
as to the rationale?
Those are questions we need to ask and get answers to. But I think
that at the conclusion of tomorrow`s hearing, there will be more documents
made available to the public and ultimately the goal of the committee is to
share all of this information with the public, because they ought to know
what happened here, and they ought to be able to make their own judgment.
But this is very embarrassing for government and this is very
frustrating because it`s an abuse of power, where people who were entrusted
with enormous power, and used it for partisan political purposes that
border on petty and childish.
MADDOW: In terms of the governor himself, he has released a statement
saying in a million different ways it wasn`t me, it wasn`t me, it wasn`t
me, saying that people who did this will be held responsible. He -- it was
unsanctioned conduct. He knew nothing about it.
First of all, what`s your reaction to that? And second of all, do you
intend to rebuff the governor? Do you have evidence that suggests that he
did know or it did go further into his office that has been disclosed thus
WISNIEWSKI: Well, we know it`s in his office. We know it`s in
Bridget Kelly. She wrote e-mails, not only to start it, but to monitor it,
and then to engage in the rationalization as to why it took place, there
are also e-mails from other members of the governor`s administration.
Michael Zuniak (ph), the governor`s chief spokesperson is on some of these
emails. The governor`s campaign manager, there`s references to the
governor`s chief counsel, and other folks in the governor`s office. What
were they involved with?
There`s references to Port Authority chairman David Sampson. And so,
we need to understand how this came about. There was a meeting between the
governor and chairman Samson right before the August 13 email, was that a
meeting in which this plot was discussed or talked about. There`s lots of
information that`s now coming my way by people who are observing this and
saying, you ought to ask this question, you ought to check this out.
So, the hearing tomorrow would provide an invaluable opportunity to
get to the bottom of it. If Mr. Wildstein wants to come in and clear his
name, it`s an opportunity for him to come in and explain exactly how this
MADDOW: Let me also just ask you. You remit at the transportation
committee is clear because of what was released today, there are some
political leaders in New Jersey, at least two state senators who are
calling for the U.S. attorney, to potentially convene a federal grand jury
to look into criminal charges being filed here. Do you have anything to
say about that?
WISNEIWSKI: Clearly, public assets were used for a political purpose,
to exact retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, to do improper things.
That seems to me to be a violation of law. Pat Floyd, the executive
director of the Fort Authority, in his scathing e-mail of September 13th,
said violations of not only state but federal law have occurred. A
prosecutor ought to look at these allegations and they ought to decide
whether a law has been broken.
MADDOW: A federal prosecutor, or state prosecutor?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think a federal prosecutor, because clearly, we
have to question whether there will be an opportunity to get a fair hearing
when the New Jersey prosecutors are appointed by the governor.
MADDOW: Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly
Transportation Committee, which is investigating this matter -- thank you
for your time tonight. Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day. Please
stay in touch.
WISNIEWSKI: I will. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right. Do you subscribe to your local paper, do you pay
for access to their Web site to deliver you the paper at your house? Think
about it? Without local papers, where would we be?
In the weeks leading up to today`s explosion in the New Jersey, New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie repeatedly admonished reporters that there
was nothing to see here, nobody on his staff had anything to do with this
and reporters should be embarrassed for even asking about it. God bless
local reporters. The local news media in New Jersey in this case for not
believing that, for not being intimidated and for sticking with this story.
The reporter who`s work today uncorked this whole huge news day and
changed the entire landscape of national Republican politics by doing so
joins us, coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, it turns out there`s a lot going on in the news today,
the Republican governor of the state of Utah told 1,300 newly married
couples in his state today that the state of Utah will not recognize their
marriages in any way, while the state continues its appeal against same sex
marriage rights all the way up to the Supreme Court.
The governor of Utah does not have the power to un-marry those 1,300
couples, this is as close as he can get.
In Virginia today, that special election that may determine which
party controls the state Senate in Virginia, that special election is the
very definition of too close to call, the Democrat in the race is ahead by
just 10 votes, 10. It turns out the polar vortex is part of the problem in
One island in Accomack County, Virginia, has not been able to submit
its votes for counting yet because no vote can get to the island because
the water around the island is frozen solid. And apparently, there`s no
Either Accomack County is going to have to wait for a thaw in order to
count those votes and potentially decide the race, or they`re going to need
a bigger boat. In all likelihood, there is going to be a recount in that
race no matter what.
Also today in Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell gave his
outgoing state of the state speech in which he apologized overtly to
Virginia lawmakers for the gift scandal, the ethics and corruption scandal
that overshadowed his one term in office, and that has left hanging the
question of whether and when he will be criminally indicted in connection
with that case.
Also today, it is three years today since Congresswoman Gabby Giffords
was shot and very nearly killed in Tucson, Arizona, by a mentally ill
gunman armed with semiautomatic pistol and high capacity ammunition
magazines. The congresswoman wrote an op-ed in "The New York Times" today,
a very moving I think, likening the long haul struggle to reform the
nation`s gun laws to her own long struggle to recover from her physical
injuries encountered in that assassination attempt.
Today is also the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson
declaring a war on poverty in his state of the Union Address in 1964.
President Obama is due to give a major address on poverty tomorrow in which
he will announce tightly targeted promises zones, to try to increase
economic opportunity and five locations across the country.
House Republicans today also held a press conference on the subject of
poverty in which the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said,
we should stop paying unemployment benefits all together because war on
poverty, that`s his proposed solution.
So, there`s lots going on in today`s news, that`s all before you get
to New Jersey. And you definitely do want to get to New Jersey in today`s
news, because this story that broke wide open today, broke in such a way
that it may spike Chris Christie`s hopes of being the Republican nominee
for president someday.
Today`s news from New Jersey did not come out of the blue. We have
covered Governor Christie`s trouble with this story on the show. We were
the first national media outlet to cover the story on TV at all. Our Web
site maddowblog.com was the first national media outlet to cover the story
extensively in print.
And as the story has broken wide open tonight, the show that precedes
ours on this network, on MSNBC, Chris Hayes` show, just scored a
blockbuster interview with the mayor of Fort Lee, the mayor of the town who
is at the center of this tale of political retaliation.
Watch what happened when Chris got him tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: It seems from the texts that we got our hands on today that
you yourself didn`t want to believe it was possible that this was just
political punishment for refusing to endorse the governor.
MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH (D), FORT LEE, NJ: Chris, if you know me for 30
seconds, you know there`s not an ounce of venom in my system. I don`t
think, and I try to find the best in people. So, I automatically -- my own
instincts automatically just dismiss the prospect that this is political
retribution, who would close down lanes to the busiest bridge in the world
to get to me.
First of all, I never viewed myself as being that important. The
governor himself said that I`m not on his radar, nor am I in his rolodex.
So, I`m thinking, how could this possibly be? But now reading the e-mails
and the texts we see today, it certainly is the case, I`m embarrassed for
HAYES: I have to read this to you and get your response to it,
because it was one of the most vicious little jabs in there. After
following an article about the traffic jam, we`ve had David Wildstein who
since resigned saying, "It will be a tough November for this little
Got a response to that?
SOKOLICH: David Wildstein deserves a ass-kicking, OK? Sorry, there I
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: For the record, the mayor of Fort Lee is not Serbian, he`s
Croatian. But Chris Christie`s political appointee at the Port Authority
did refer to him as, quote, "this little Serbian," in e-mails with Governor
Chris Christie`s campaign manager, the man who has just been appointed to
be the head of the New Jersey Republican Party. Not Serbian, Croatian, but
More ahead, including with Steve Kornacki.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: To prep for the show every day, me and everybody who works on
the show here, we read a lot of stories from small local newspapers, we
read all the national stuff too, but we really depend on local papers and
local websites and local news bloggers and reporters for news that is not
yet national news.
Like, for example, the Wendy Davis filibuster this summer. The one
that kept thousands of people awake long into the night watching the Texas
Senate on the Internet. Without the "Texas Tribune" hooking up that video
feed and having their reporter tweeting the play by play, the Wendy Davis
filibuster might never have become national news and she might not be
running for governor.
Or when South Carolina`s then-Governor Mark Sanford famously went
missing and then got caught trying to tell people he was hiking the
Appalachian trail when really he was canoodling with his Argentinian
mistress. Governor Sanford admitted the truth only after he was met at the
airport getting off a flight from Argentina by a local reporter for the
newspaper, "The State."
Well, then, it was this summer in Elizabeth City, North Carolina,
where a local Republican challenged the residency of a student who was
trying to run for local office. That story has huge implications for
voting rights across North Carolina and across the country. And the local
newspaper, "The Elizabeth City Daily Advance" reported that story that way,
and that`s how we found out about it.
Any time you see a story on national TV that starts in a small town,
odds are that story began with local reporters who would not give up and
who reported it right and aggressively, even though it always stirs stuff
up on their hometown beat. And so, it is with today`s bombshell news about
the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and the world`s
busiest bridge and the manufactured traffic jam that choked the little town
of Fort Lee.
That story started with a local newspaper, "The Record" of Bergen
County where they had a few questions that needed answering, even when
powerful people mocked them for asking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I worked the cones, actually, on
that. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was
in overalls and a hat, so I wasn`t -- but I actually was the guy working
the cones out there. You really are not serious with that question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They were serious, and it slowly turns out the local story
about a mysterious traffic jam into national news. Local reporters made
that possible and we in the national press owe them credit for opening this
most amazing can of worms, without them and their persistence in the face
of stiff resistance, the nation might never have heard the words, "Time for
some traffic problems in Fort Lee." "Got it."
Without them, it would have been another traffic jam story. Now, it`s
anything but that.
Joining us now is Shawn Boburg. He`s reporter for "The Bergen
Record", where they broke the story in September and where they have
continued breaking news about it all day today. Mr. Boburg, thanks very
much for coming on the show.
SHAWN BOBURG, THE BERGEN RECORD: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Why did you pick up on this story in the first place? And
what kept you going with it, when the governor was mocking you for even
asking questions about it?
BOBURG: Sure. Well, as you know, the official line in the beginning
was that this was a traffic study, but the more we asked questions the more
things didn`t measure up if it was something so innocuous.
For example, for months, the Port Authority refused to release details
on the traffic study or explain how it came about. The initial clue was
that there was no notice to local officials, including police, emergency
vehicles and that was a deviation from what you would see in a standard
traffic study that affects the world`s busiest bridge.
MADDOW: Your paper posted a story tonight detailing effects of the
traffic jam on emergency responders based on a letter that was sent from
the head of the emergency medical response to the mayor of Fort Lee, based
on a letter that was reportedly sent from the head of the emergency medical
response to the mayor of Fort Lee, explaining some pretty scary stuff about
lengthened response times and people who had some serious medical
consequences at the time potentially. And I`m obviously not asking for
But how did you get that story? How have you been able to get
documents throughout this story that haven`t been otherwise publicly
BOBURG: Sure. Well, we`ve been relentless in requesting public
documents. And I think the story you`re referring to came from public
records out of Fort Lee, and certainly, previously, we had reported that
the mayor complained during this week of traffic jams, directly to
Christie`s appointee at the Port Authority that the traffic was obstructing
emergency vehicles. Tonight, we`re hearing of specific cases that were
involved, a 91-year-old woman who had a medical emergency and ultimately
died. It`s unclear whether that was related to the delay.
But what these stories show and they`re based on public records out of
Fort Lee is that there were some human stakes here with the traffic jam.
And as we probably heard several times, that the story mushroomed from one
about traffic cones to something that had implications far greater, both in
political terms and the stakes for our readership, Fort Lee commuters and
other people who used the bridge every day to get to work.
MADDOW: Your paper today, you first posted 22 pages out of thousands
of pages that government officials have turned over to the assembly under
subpoena related to this scandal, I am wary and very curious as to how
those 22 pages were chosen and whether or not there`s anything in the other
thousands of pages that nobody else has seen that might either contradict
that information, or give us a bigger picture of it.
Have you seen the rest of those documents? Do you have any sense of
what might be in the rest of these documents or how those 22 pages should
BOBURG: No, and it`s a good question. One we`re going to be
pursuing. We want to review every document in the spirit of getting to the
bottom of this independently.
There are a lot of political undertones to this on both sides. So, I
agree with you, full disclosure of all the documents and critical review of
what they contain is the only way to get to the bottom of the story, and
the broader context.
MADDOW: Shawn, I just have to ask you one last thing that I`ve been
curious about for a long time and that is when you wrote a profile of one
of the men at the center of the case, David Wildstein, he apparently did
not like the profile, and one of the things he did in response is that he
bought your name as a Web site. He bought ShawnBoburg.com. I just checked
it out tonight, and still, when you put in that URL it directs to the "Star
Ledger", to a rival newspaper to your paper. Obviously, a dig at you and
he still owns your name in that way.
That`s petty and probably not the most important thing in the world.
I don`t know if you had plans for ShawnBoburg.com. But do you feel like
you`re a personal target for having been out ahead of this story?
BOBURG: No, I mean, not at all. I`m not that thin skinned. To some
degree, even though this is a regional paper, I`m in the public sphere as
well, anyone has a right to that name. And by itself, it wouldn`t be
newsworthy. There were other names that he bought that made that story
more important and, you know, I don`t -- I`m not important enough yet to
desire the rights to shawnboburg.com or having plans for it.
MADDOW: Well, now, I`ve got big plans for it, just because you said
that, see if I can pick it up for you.
Shawn Boburg, reporter for "The Record" of Bergen County, who
originally broke this incredible story out of New Jersey today --
congratulations on your work thus far. Please stay in touch.
BOBURG: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Thanks, Shawn.
All right. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could hardly have been
more dismissive of the news reports and the political investigations into
the great Fort Lee traffic jam of 2013, until the moment when the story
could no longer be dismissed -- a brief history of Chris Christie`s trip
down a lovely long river in Egypt, coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: One of the guys at heart of all this, the
guy who ordered the lanes close, the guy who Democrats say was trying to
punish that mayor who didn`t endorse Christie -- well, I know that guy.
His name is David Wildstein and he`s played a big role in my professional
life. I used to work for him. He gave me my first big break. You could
say that I owe my career to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki, incredibly, has a really, really
close connection to the guy -- the key guy at the center of the Chris
Christie scandal that blew wide open today. And Steve joins us live next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I know you guys are obsessed about this. I`m not. I`m
really not. It`s just -- it`s not that big a deal. Just because press
runs around and writes about it both here and nationally, I know why that
is and so do you. Let`s not pretend that it`s because of the gravity of
the issue. It`s because I am a national figure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you convinced at this point that you know all
there is to know about whatever happened there?
CHRISTIE: Yes. Listen, I`ve asked my staff to give me a full
briefing. They`ve told me everything that we know. And none of it makes
sense, Eric. It`s all about politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, the host of "UP WITH STEVE
KORNACKI" here on MSNBC. Steve is all versed in Jersey politics as they
come. Steve worked for a nonpartisan Jersey political Web site that was
owned by David Wildstein, from 2002 to 2005, although he didn`t know it at
the time because David Wildstein operated the site under a political
pseudonym. It`s so hard to start.
Where do you start with all this?
KORNACKI: I could take 50 minutes and tell you right.
MADDOW: Well, you did on our show.
KORNACKI: I did on your show before. So, hopefully, people remember
MADDOW: Steve, let me just ask you -- what do you think is the most
important revelation from today and how much bigger is the story today than
it was yesterday?
KORNACKI: I mean, that biggest single revelation obviously is that
that this extends into the governor`s office, that you have emails with the
deputy chief of staff. And so, now, you can`t just say this was two rogue
people at the Port Authority. This is now in the governor`s office.
The reason it`s so significant, besides the just PR value of it, is
there`s an issue of timing here, which had to do with the subpoena power of
the state assembly in New Jersey which is to expire next Tuesday.
KORNACKI: Because the legislative is due to expire next Tuesday. And
for a variety of very complicated sort of -- the only in New Jersey
reasons, there was reason to believe until really today that subpoena power
by the incoming assembly speaker might not be extended.
MADDOW: Which might end the investigation.
KORNACKI: Exactly. I believe that`s what the Christie people were
hoping for. That would be sort of the end of it, because the incoming
speaker is a Democrat. But one of the stories about New Jersey politics
you have to keep in mind is that Christie at least until now has had an
alliance with some of major Democratic power brokers in the state.
And this incoming speaker is the product of that alliance. So,
there`s reason to believe before today that incoming speaker might say, I`m
not going to extend it. Now, you have no choice.
MADDOW: The Christie administration I think test that comes up next
is whether or not Chris Christie can find it within himself to say
publicly, you know what, Mr. New Assembly Speaker, you ought to keep the
subpoena power, you need to let them have it, because we need to get to the
bottom of this because I`m as outraged as anybody about this.
This makes us all look terrible. But Fort Lee never should -- I mean,
is he capable of that?
KORNACKI: From a PR standpoint, there are so many things that Chris
Christie should do, but the question that hangs over all of this is what
did he know and when did he know it, because every action that he takes
right now, if it`s firing this person, firing that person, if -- and I
don`t know -- but if Chris Christie did know, if he had some knowledge. If
there`s more documents out thereto that could definitively link Chris
Christie, that every person he ticks off or throws overboard right now has
a reason to come at --
MADDOW: Reason to pop-up. David Wildstein is fighting the attempt to
testify tomorrow, the effort to make him testify under subpoena. He`s in
fact, filed a lawsuit in order to that, if he is compelled to testify under
Is that a potentially a big development tomorrow?
KORNACKI: It would be fascinating to watch. I mean, I think the fact
that he`s fighting this tells me I`m not expecting there to be, you know,
if he does testify I`m not expecting there to be any bombshells from his
testimony. But again my suspicion is that fighting the subpoena has to do
with trying to run that clock out to the end of the session, which that`s
not going to happen there.
MADDOW: Steve Kornacki, host of "UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI", weekend
mornings here on MSNBC, Steve, this has been -- it`s a real asset to us
here to have you to talk to about this. Thanks for helping.
KORNACKI: Thanks. It`s a little weird.
MADDOW: Very weird. Very, very weird.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you a gain tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Thanks for being with us.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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