THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 9, 2014
Guests: Loretta Weinberg, John Wisniewski, Mark Sokolich
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, Chris. Thank you very much, my
And thanks to you at home for joining us the next hour.
I do have to say that I think we may have -- this hour on this show,
we may have an important new question to raise about this big story about
New Jersey. This is something you`ll only see here. It is a question we
think should be out there in the middle of this discussion. I`m going to
explain it to you right now.
On Election Day in November, November 2013, both of the big elections
in this part of the country, of course, were blowouts. In New York City,
Democrat Bill de Blasio beat the Republican Joe Lhota in the New York City
mayor`s race by 49 points. He didn`t get 49 percent, his margin of victory
was 49 points.
Everybody thinks of New York City as a very liberal place but before
Bill de Blasio won in the landslide in New York, New York City hadn`t had a
Democratic mayor in 20 years.
That same night across the Hudson River, the governor of the state of
New Jersey also won his race by a big margin. Now, it wasn`t quite a de
Blasio sized 49-point landslide. But Republican Chris Christie did win re-
election as New Jersey`s governor by a lot. He won by 22 points, which is
a lot. But it is, if we`re counting, less than half the size of the de
And on one level, who cares? The guy still won by a lot. So, maybe
the governor does care about that. Maybe he cares about not winning by a
lot but as much as possible.
Today, Governor Christie gave a long, long, long press conference
responding to the scandal that has engulfed his administration. And that
has possibly spiked his hopes of becoming the Republican Party`s nominee
"The Bergen Record" newspaper yesterday as you know published
documents that seemed to confirm Democrats` long-standing allegations that
lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the most heavily traveled bridge in
the world, were shut down on purpose in order to create a huge traffic
disaster in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey, as some sort of political
The governor had previously mocked the story and attacked the
legislators who were investigating it. He had denied that anyone on his
staff had anything to do with it.
Those denials, of course, became untenable yesterday once "The Record"
published an e-mail that appears to show Chris Christie`s deputy chief of
staff telling a Chris Christie appointee at the Port Authority that it was,
quote, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
At the press conference today, Governor Christie said he was
humiliated by the actions of his top staff in this matter. He also said he
did not know about those actions at all.
But it was really interesting moment at that press conference when in
the middle of this very long discussion, in the middle, specifically, of a
long back and forth with reporters, the governor explained that when he was
running for re-election, which is the time that this whole bridge shutdown
happened, when he was running for re-election, part of what he and his
campaign were working on at the time was a strategy to -- in his words --
run up the score, to run up the score in that election.
He knew he was going to win re-election, but he wanted to win by as
large a margin as possible. And that strategy to run up the score, that is
what drove his team`s decision making about local officials around the
state of New Jersey and specifically their endorsements in the governor`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I mean, I`m happy to admit that
I was trying to run up the score. Absolutely. That`s what you do in a
political campaign. Try to get as many supporters, endorsers, that turn
into voters. That`s part of your job.
REPORTER: Are there any other cases -- are you asking your staff if
there are any other cases of political retribution during your campaign to
other mayors in New Jersey?
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, again, let me say this. Clearly, that`s the
tone of those e-mails. But the thing that -- the other part of this that
just shocks me is, as I`ve said to you all many times before, Mayor
Sokolich was never on my radar screen. He was never mentioned to me as
somebody whose endorsement we were pursuing. In fact, I think he said on
CNN last night he doesn`t recall ever being asked for his endorsement.
So, part of this is, I never saw this as political retribution because
I didn`t think he did anything to us. Now, we pursued lots of endorsements
during the campaign from Democrats and we didn`t receive most of them. We
received about 60 at the end of the day. We pursued hundreds.
And so, I never -- I don`t have any recollection of at any time,
anybody in the campaign ever asking me to meet with Mayor Sokolich or call
him, which was the typical course that was used when we were attempting to
get an endorsement, that staff would work with the elected official first
and then when they thought, using the vernacular, the ball was on the tee,
they would call me in to make a phone call, have a meeting, have breakfast
and then I would then meet with the elected official and see if I can bring
it over the line.
I don`t remember ever meeting Mayor Sokolich in that context. I have
to tell you, until I saw his picture last night on television, I wouldn`t
have been able to pick him out of a lineup. So part of this is the reason
that the retribution never came into my head is because I never even knew
that we were pursuing his endorsement. And no one ever came to me to get
me to try to pursue the endorsement in any way. I never saw it as a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Fascinating. Governor Christie saying today he did pursue
endorsements from hundreds of Democratic officials in New Jersey as part of
his effort to run up the score in his re-election bid that he knew he was
going to win but he wanted to win by a huge margin.
NBC News today cataloged a chronological list of all the Democratic
local officials endorsing Governor Christie and when those endorsements
were made during the course of the campaign. There are a lot of them.
Those announcements from local Democratic officials in New Jersey were
happening throughout the time that we know the governor`s office ordered
the Fort Lee shutdown and throughout the time that that shutdown actually
happened and Fort Lee`s traffic turned into Armageddon.
That Democratic endorsement strategy was a real strategy and played
out as the governor explained it, during his re-election campaign. It was
all happening at about this time. But it`s really interesting what
Governor Christie said today, specifically about the mayor of Fort Lee
about Mark Sokolich.
The governor admits, yes, he wanted endorsements from Democratic local
officials in general. But Mayor Sokolich in Fort Lee, no offense, but he
was not a huge priority. The governor`s staff met with lots of Democrats
to line up their endorsements. If the Democratic official was also
endorsing or if they were particularly important one to get, the governor
himself would then step in and make the contact himself rather than letting
his staff handle it.
He says that`s the way they deal with these things. It never rose to
that level with the mayor of Fort Lee. Fort Lee endorsement wasn`t that
The operating assumption to explain what happened in the Chris
Christie bridge scandal is that this whole thing came about because of
political retaliation for the Fort Lee mayor refusing to endorse Governor
Christie, and so his town of Fort Lee had to pay the price. He didn`t
endorse, and so Fort Lee had to be punished.
The governor refuted that assumption today by saying, yes, I wanted
endorsements but this one in Fort Lee was not a high-stakes thing for us.
We didn`t even try hard for it. I didn`t even meet the guy. Why do you
think my side would flip out so outrageously and bring the hammer down for
not getting this endorsement? One in a zillion of them.
We don`t have to take Christie`s word for it. The mayor of Fort Lee
himself, Mark Sokolich, has also indicated although he thinks he was maybe
asked to endorse, it wasn`t a short sharp shock. It wasn`t any massive
pressure campaign to get him onboard. He barely even remembers it. He was
asked about it last night on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Did they really expect you, a Democrat, to endorse
the Republican candidates` re-election, Chris Christie?
MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH (D), FORT LEE, NJ: I guess. I`ve said this many
times, I don`t recall a specific request to endorse, but, you know, the
events that led up to all of this, I guess you can interpret to be somehow
attracting me to endorse. I didn`t want to endorse for several reasons.
Not the least of which is I`m a Democrat. I was supportive of Ms. Buono.
I wasn`t prepared to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, it`s true that the Fort Lee mayor, Mr. Sokolich, did not
endorse Chris Christie when some other Democratic officials did and the
governor clearly wanted those endorsements. Lots of Democratic local
officials in New Jersey did not endorse Chris Christie, either, when they
got asked to and they didn`t get their towns blown up for a week.
If every one of those non-endorsements from Democratic non-endorsers
of Chris Christie all over the state had warranted the kind of revenge
attack that was unleashed on Fort Lee for a solid week back in September,
you know what, the whole state of New Jersey would still be a smoking hulk
of wreckage today.
Maybe it wasn`t about the endorsement. Maybe it was something else
special about Fort Lee.
This is the e-mail from the governor`s deputy chief of staff who the
governor just announced today that he has fired. The e-mail says, look, on
August 13th, 2013 at 7:34 a.m., Bridget Anne Kelly wrote, "Time for some
traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Why then? Why then?
This appears to be the order from Governor Christie`s office to
unleash hell on Fort Lee. Why? What happened around that time, 7:34 in
the morning, august 13th, that was the time to pull the trigger?
The governor, today, said he did not speak to the author of that e-
mail, did not speak to his deputy chief of staff before he fired her. He
said he didn`t ask her what her motivation was in sending that e-mail and
said he`s not interested -- that was his phrase, not interested in whatever
it was that motivated her to take that action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I have -- I have not had any conversation with Bridget
Kelly since the e-mail came out. And so she was not given the opportunity
to explain to me why she lied. Because it was so obvious that she had.
And I`m, quite frankly, not interested in the explanation at the moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The only explanation anyone has about why she did do it, why
the Christie administration destroyed Fort Lee for a week back in
September, is the endorsements issue, the mayor`s endorsement.
And the governor went out of his way and fairly convincingly quashed
that issue today. He basically said that wasn`t it. Maybe you don`t
believe him, but it seems like a fairly convincing case, particularly given
the mayor`s side of that case. We`re going to have Mayor Sokolich on the
show live tonight. We can ask him about it when he`s here.
But if it wasn`t the endorsement question that motivated the people
who did this to Fort Lee, what was it?
And figuring out what it was, wouldn`t that lead to an understanding
of what did it in the Christie administration? Who was involved? Who knew
about it? How high that decision went? Kind of seems like the key issue
here. Why. Why did this happen? Political retaliation for what?
Maybe the date and time on that e-mail is key.
This is New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John Wallace. In 2010, right
after Chris Christie took office as governor of New Jersey, Governor
Christie made an unprecedented decision with regard to New Jersey Supreme
Court Justice John Wallace. For the first time since New Jersey adopted
its current state constitution in 1947, governor of New Jersey, Mr.
Christie, declined to reappoint a Supreme Court justice to the bench.
Supreme Court justices in New Jersey serve for seven years. That`s
their initial term. Then the governor has the choice of whether or not to
reappoint them. If they get reappointed, re-nominated, they get to serve
until they`re 70 years old. Then it`s a lifetime appointment.
Chris Christie made the decision not to re-nominate Judge Wallace.
Before Chris Christie turfed out John Wallace, no governor of either party
had ever in the history of the state had done that. No matter who
initially appointed the justice, no matter the party of either the governor
making the re-nomination decision or the party of the justice or party of
the person who nominated the justice in the first place, nobody had ever
refused to re-nominate a justice before, ever. And Chris Christie did it
to Justice John Wallace.
Justice Wallace was well regarded. There was no scandal around hill.
There were no allegations against him whatsoever. He was the only African-
American justice on the whole New Jersey state Supreme Court. And Chris
Christie kicked him off the court in a historically unprecedented move.
That was 2010.
"The New York Times" titled their editorial on the subject, quote,
"The Politicization of a Respected Court." They called the move a national
Democrats were absolutely outraged. Senate Democrats responded by
saying they wouldn`t confirm anybody else for Justice Wallace`s seat. They
were so mad at Chris Christie about this.
Senate Democrats made Chris Christie`s first nominee to replace
Justice Wallace, they made her wait until somebody else`s seat came up on
the court then they would consider her for that one, but not Justice
Then, Chris Christie nominated a man named Phil Quan for the state
Supreme Court, Senate Democrats said no. Then, Chris Christie nominated a
man named Bruce Harris for the court, Senate Democrats said no.
Senate Democrats were so mad about what Christie did to take John
Harris off the Supreme Court when he was up for re-nomination that they
would not let anyone through. It`s been a big political crisis in New
Jersey. Senate Democrats rejected every one of those Christie nominees,
one after the other.
And then when another of the justices on the Supreme Court, a
Republican came up for re-nomination just like John Harris had, and the
Senate Democrats signaled that they were going to give her a whale of a
time at her re-nomination hearing, Chris Christie just flipped out. He had
enough. He pulled that justice off the Supreme Court. Rather than submit
her to re-nomination before the Senate Democrats.
Look at the headline. Look from the "Star Ledger." "Supreme Stunner:
Christie declines to nominate Justice Hoens for a lifetime tenure." She
was a Republican judge. She was already on the bench. She was up for re-
nomination so she could get lifetime tenure, and Chris Christie pulled her
off the bench for only the second time ever in New Jersey history, he did
that to a judge.
The reason he said he did it in her case is not because of any beef
with her, quite the contrary. It`s because he said Senate Democrats were
animals. That was the word he used. He said, they are animals, and he was
not going to subject this judge who he respected, who was the wife of
someone in his administration, he was not going to subject her to the
savagery of the Senate Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: As to her husband, you know, Bob Schwaneberg has been a
respected member of this administration right from the beginning. I simply
could not be party to the destruction of Helen Hoens` professional
reputation, and the only way for me to guarantee that being avoided was to
make sure that I didn`t put Justice Hoens in that position. I`m taking
responsibility for not allowing this group of people to do to her what they
did to Phil Quan and what they did to Bruce Harris. I had no choice but to
And what the ramifications will be for that going forward, they should
have thought about before they opened their mouths. That`s not the way I
deal with people I respect and admire. And I wasn`t going to -- I was not
going to let her loose to the animals. Wasn`t going to let it happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was an angry Chris Christie -- so angry that he was
doing something almost unprecedented in New Jersey, yanking the tenure of a
state Supreme Court justice who he liked. That was an angry Chris Christie
furious with Senate Democrats at a hastily called press conference that
took place late in the day on Tuesday, August 12th, 2013.
Tuesday, August 12th, 2013, late in the day, the governor blows up at
Senate Democrats. Yanks the judgeship of a Supreme Court justice and calls
the Senate Democrats animals. It`s not just a justice he admires and a
Republican on the state Supreme Court. It is the wife of one of his key
staffers. He is outraged at Senate Democrats.
Late in the day, August 12th, and it is the next morning at 7:34 in
the morning on August 13th that his deputy chief of staff gives the go-
ahead to the Port Authority. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Go to the list of legislative districts for the state of New Jersey.
Find Fort Lee. Fort Lee, New Jersey, legislative district 37. Who
represents district 37? They have two members of the state assembly, and
the leader of the Senate Democrats. Leader of the Senate Democrats
represents Fort Lee.
Roughly 12 hours after Governor Christie blows up at the Senate
Democrats and torpedoes the career of a Supreme Court justice who he likes
because he says the Senate Democrats are animals and not going to let the
justice loose to those animals. The leader of those animals in the Senate
sees her district, sees her district get the order of destruction from
Governor Christie`s deputy chief of staff. Or maybe it was about that
endorsement, until someone who knows the actual truth about this speaks, it
remains a wide open question, and may be the key to this whole story.
The leader of the Senate Democrats who represents Fort Lee joins us
MADDOW: (AUDIO GAP) Christie apologized in person to the mayor of
Fort Lee, New Jersey, today. The mayor himself is going to join us in just
a moment, after the leader of the Senate Democrats joins us live here right
next second. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since
the e-mail came out. And so she was not given the opportunity to explain
to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had. I`m quite
frankly not interested in the explanation at the moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Governor Chris Christie says his former deputy chief of staff
Bridget Kelly did not explain to him her e-mail calling for Fort Lee, New
Jersey, to have traffic problems on purpose presumably for political
Surely, Bridget Kelly knows what everybody else wants to know which is
why did this happen? What was this political retaliation for? Who knew
about it and who ordered it ultimately?
Joining us now is New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.
She represents a district that includes Fort Lee, New Jersey. She`s
somebody who Governor Christie has previously criticized as being unfairly
obsessed with this story.
Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, thanks very much for being with us.
STATE. SEN. LORETTA WEINBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Are you satisfied with what you heard from Governor Christie
today, his explanation and repeated insistence he had nothing to do with
WEINBERG: No. You know, this issue has been going on for pretty near
four months now. You`ve covered it certainly in detail, as other TV
outlets have. As the newspapers have.
And the fact the governor never noticed anything about this until
yesterday, either there`s something wrong with the governor, or he doesn`t
read newspapers. He doesn`t watch TV.
His two top appointees at the Port Authority resigned, obviously under
pressure. He didn`t ask them what went on there. He appoints all the Port
Authority commissioners, all the New Jersey commissioners. He didn`t ask
one of them, could you get to the bottom of this?
He read, just like the rest of us did, the e-mail from the executive
director, Patrick Foy, who said laws might have been broken here. He
didn`t attempt to find out what laws were broken here.
And then fast forward. Now we have a deputy chief of staff right in
his own office.
So it is very difficult for me to believe, having appeared at four
Port Authority meetings over the last four months, that the governor
yesterday suddenly noticed this was a really big deal. First, he thought
that both Assemblyman Wisniewski and I had nothing else to do, we were
fixated, then he made fun of the deal, it was no big deal, sure, I was out
there rearranging the cones.
And just yesterday he found out thousands of people were put into
jeopardy, that EMT people could not get to the calls that came out, that
schoolchildren -- you`re driving your kindergartner to school on his or her
first day to school and you`re caught in a two hour traffic jam. He didn`t
know any of this until yesterday and then he had so little curiosity that
he never asked Bridget Kelly, you were sitting in your office one day and
decided to create a traffic jam in Fort Lee? There`s no curiosity about
There are so many holes in this. His words were appropriate, "gee,
I`m sorry", but he was four months too late and I cannot believe that it
happened only yesterday that he noticed that this was a pretty big deal.
This was the first week of school. It was the week of 9/11. It`s the
busiest bridge in the world. It`s the week of the 9/11 observance. It`s a
homeland security target. And he just noticed that yesterday.
I find that a little difficult.
MADDOW: One of his appointees to the Port Authority is the chairman
of the Port Authority, former Attorney General Samson.
MADDOW: While the governor today expressed lots of concern and
disappointment and anger he`d been lied to even face to face by people
close to him, former Attorney General Samson is mentioned in the e-mails
and text messages that were released yesterday by "The Record" as having
taken part in the, quote, retaliation involved in this whole kerfuffle.
WEINBERG: Retaliate against the executive director because --
MADDOW: Of the Port Authority.
WEINBERG: -- he reversed the lane closure.
MADDOW: Governor Christie today said he talked to Chairman Samson
about that and is assured Chairman Samson had nothing to do with it so he
considers that matter closed. He takes his word for it.
Do you find that dissatisfying?
WEINBERG: Well, I think there are so many holes in this whole story,
and having appeared before the Port Authority commission, which I find so
frustrating because they happen to be all men, but they all looked at me,
you know -- next month she won`t be back. And I haven`t heard one of their
voices. Not one of them has said, gee, I`d like to get to the bottom of
I wrote a personal letter in mid-September to Commissioner Pat Schuber
who I voted for. I happened to be on the judiciary committee, by the way,
that voted no on the two Supreme Court nominees that you referred to in the
earlier segment. I wrote to Pat. He`s a former county executive of Bergen
So, I knew that he knew Bergen County. He knew the implications of
the bridge. When he received my letter in mid-September, he did call me
and said, I don`t know anything about this, but I`m going to get to the
bottom of this. Well, I still haven`t heard from Pat Schuber.
MADDOW: I have to ask you in terms of -- if this happens because of
political retaliation, ft. Lee was harmed for political purposes, which
seems clear to be the implication from the documents released yesterday.
It seems as likely to me as a person just looking at this from outside that
the mayor was being retaliated against for not endorsing Chris Christie.
Or that you were being retaliated against as the senator who
represents Fort Lee who`s also the leader of the Senate Democrats because
just the night before, the order was given from his office, the governor
was pounding the podium and exclaiming how angry he was at Senate Democrats
for a fight over judicial nominees. You`re on the judiciary committee, a
member of the Senate Democrats.
Could it have been about you?
WEINBERG: You know, it seems to me that the governor has created a
culture here, a culture that somehow made many of the people who work for
him think this kind of behavior is appropriate. I can`t get into this
heart and mind and know exactly what it is that provoked this.
But Bridget Kelly sitting in her office did not suddenly think up, I
have nothing else to do this afternoon, I`m going to create a traffic jam.
And then when she sent that e-mail to David Wildstein, create the time for
traffic in Fort Lee, he said, got it.
If I just sent you an e-mail that said, create traffic in Fort Lee,
you`d probably say to me, what are you talking about?
WEINBERG: So there was the whole context where that e-mail meant
something to David Wildstein.
The governor has not asked a question about that. It`s just -- if, in
fact, he at one point besides saying we were kind of fixated on it, he did
make some comment about, this has to do with me bringing home the bacon
which I don`t quite understand what that had to do with the George
But as I said, we`re talking about the busiest bridge in the world.
Somebody thought up one of the most grotesque schemes I`ve ever heard of in
politics. And we don`t know all the answers. We don`t even know half the
MADDOW: New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. Thank
you for your time tonight. Thank you for not minding that I posited that
theory about that while you were waiting in the wings. The senator had
nothing to do with that. That is my own reporting.
But thank you for being here. Stay in touch.
WEINBERG: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. Coming up next, the part where we take the Fifth. Stay
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you state and spell your last name for the
DAVID WILDSTEIN: David Wildstein. W-I-L-D-S-T-E-I-N.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do you currently reside?
WILDSTEIN: Montville, New Jersey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. And are you currently employed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And most recently, where were you employed?
WILDSTEIN: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully assert my
right it remain silent under the United States and New Jersey
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Page 751 contains communications. My question is,
does page 751 contain communications dated August 5th, 2013?
WILDSTEIN: On the advice of counsel, I, again, assert my right to
On the advice of counsel, I assert my right to remain silent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The right to refuse to answer questions to this
committee is not permitted under those rules. The committee does have the
right to find your client`s failure to respond to 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
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is understood, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the lawyer for a Chris Christie political appointee
named David Wildstein. And David Wildstein was the man in the glasses you
saw there taking the Fifth over and over again during a hearing on the
bridge scandal in the New Jersey legislature today.
David Wildstein, of course, is the official who appears to have
carried out the order from Governor Christie`s deputy chief of staff to
close down lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September in order to
intentionally cause traffic problems in the city of Fort Lee for almost a
week. Mr. Wildstein was warned during the hearing today that his failure
to answer questions could lead the committee to hold him in contempt.
The committee ultimately did vote to hold him in contempt. That
contempt charge will now be referred to a New Jersey county prosecutor.
Listen to this exchange between the Democratic state assemblyman
leading this investigation, John Wisniewski, and attorney for David
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D-NJ), STATE ASSEMBLYMAN: There are interesting
questions raised by who in the governor`s office knew about the plan to
close the lanes or divert the lanes. Who was involved? What did they
know, when did they know it? And just as equally, who was involved, what
did they know, when did they know it when the effort was made to craft an
explanation for the lane closure?
And so, those documents only tell part of the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if the attorneys general for New Jersey, New
York and the United States were all to agree to clothe Mr. Wildstein in
immunity, you`d find yourselves in a much different position with respect
to information he can provide.
WISNIEWSKI: That`s your job. We just want answers to our questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Understood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you grant my client full and complete immunity -- no, in
the United States and New York and New Jersey all grant my client full
immunity, then maybe you`ll get some answers to your questions.
Governor Christie today said at his press conference that his
instruction to everyone involved in this issue would be, quote, "to
cooperate and answer questions."
Chairman of the New Jersey state assembly transportation committee,
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, is at the center of the investigation and has
been since it began, he joins us now. Thanks so much for coming to the
WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, good to be with you again.
MADDOW: Did you expect him taking the fifth all day?
WISNIEWSKI: I expected he`d take the Fifth on some questions, I
didn`t expect that he would take the fifth on questions like, did you work
at the Port Authority?
I didn`t think the status of being a former employee rose to the level
of criminality. It was a very surreal experience. Look, he submitted 907
pages of documents. We wanted to ask him questions about the documents
that he submitted. And he refused to answer those questions.
I think the time to assert a privilege to say I`m not going to answer
would have been before he gave us those documents. Not after.
MADDOW: What did you learn today at the hearing other than the fact
of Mr. Wildstein`s silence?
WISNIEWSKI: I learned his attorney is looking to get immunity so his
client to testify. That`s something not in the purview of the committee or
legislature. He has to deal with the U.S. attorneys and attorneys general
in both states.
MADDOW: The damning and memorable e-mail says, time for traffic
problems in Fort Lee. That was from a woman named Bridget Anne Kelly. The
governor at the press conference said he never spoke with Ms. Kelly after
that e-mail surfaced. He never asked her to explain it. He doesn`t frankly
he said he was not interested in the explanation from what that was about.
Do you intend to subpoena Bridget Kelly to get answers to the
WISNIEWSKI: We intend to subpoena Bridget Kelly. I want to point
out, Rachel. There`s a pattern here. When Pat Foy came, the executive
director of the Port Authority came and said, this was all David
Wildstein`s idea, he did this, it was his plan. And we asked the question,
well, of course you spoke with him, didn`t you? No, of course not.
Now the governor, well this was all Bridget Kelly`s idea. You spoke
to her, no? Of course not.
And so, it seems like the plan is let`s just fire the people or
terminate them or have them resign and not ask any questions, which doesn`t
seem to meet the expectation the governor created today that he really
wants to get to the bottom of it. He just wants to sweep it under the rug
by making people disappear.
MADDOW: Some long-term observers of New Jersey politics have
suggested recently that it may at least until yesterday have been the
governor`s strategy and may still be to try to run out the clock and slow
walk this as much as possible so that the subpoena authority of you and
your committee, which is due to expire on the 14th, runs out and your
investigation essentially gets stopped.
Have you seen evidence of that? And are you confident the subpoena
authority of your committee is going to be renewed in light of recent
WISNIEWSKI: I think the motion that was made today to quash the
subpoena was part of that. To at least delay the hearing today to perhaps
after January 14th, at which point in time they`d probably come back and
say we`d love to comply, but the authority expired.
I`ve spoken with the incoming speaker. He put a statement out saying
he expects the investigation to continue. I`m confident the committee will
continue to have authority to look into this.
There are so many unanswered questions, it would be unconscionable for
the committee not to be able to finish its work.
MADDOW: In terms of what else is happening in other investigatory
arms, obviously you`re in charge of what the assembly is doing in the
transportation committee. You suggested here last night that there should
be a U.S. attorney looking into this, that this might be a matter with
federal charges. The U.S. attorney today announced the start of an inquiry
to see whether or not any federal law is implicated here.
Is that important?
WISNIEWSKI: It`s very important.
Look. A public asset, bridge, was used for political purposes.
That`s against the law. And someone ought to look into that.
What the committee is looking into is how do we stop this from
happening in the future? And change the law to prevent that? But there
are two investigations that need to happen here. One about the criminality
and one about how we fix the port authority.
MADDOW: Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman investigating this
matter, thank you for keeping us apprised.
Please stay in touch. Good luck.
WISNIEWSKI: I will. Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
All right. We`ll be right back. The mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey,
is going to join us in just a moment.
MADDOW: Having previously mocked the city of Fort Lee, and insulted
the town and insulted its officials, going as far as to question whether or
not that town even deserved the now famous lanes that go from Fort Lee on
to the George Washington Bridge in the first place. Having done all that,
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie today finally said that he owed Fort Lee
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I`m going to be going to Fort Lee. I asked to meet with
the mayor to apologize to him personally face to face and also apologize to
the people of Fort Lee in their town. I think they need to see me do that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And then what happened?
After the governor said that, this was the response from Fort Lee`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH (D), FORT LEE, NJ: His trip here today is
premature. It`s going to disrupt our case. It`s going to disrupt the
I certainly know that`s not the governor`s intention, please. I would
just rather this investigation continue and more facts come into light,
because let`s face it, there`s facts that come into light each and every
day. I`d rather he not waste the gas and wait a little bit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich joins us next. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOKOLICH: But I would just rather this investigation continue and
more facts come into light, because let`s face it, there are facts that
come into light each and every day. I`d rather he not waste the gas and
wait a little bit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark
Mayor Sokolich, thank you very much for being here. I know it`s been
a long and stressful day for you.
SOKOLICH: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: First, let me ask you, I know Governor Christie did make his
way to Fort Lee today despite your plea maybe it was premature. How did it
go once he got there, and ultimately are you glad he came?
SOKOLICH: I`m glad that he came. You know, the suggestion that he
not come was not to be disrespectful in any manner, shape or form. It just
seems that this continues, you know, as there are just more and more facts,
and there seems to be more and more chapters that just haven`t been read
So, we thought that, perhaps, it would be best to wait. He insisted
on coming. We also said that if he came, he would be welcomed because
that`s the way we are here in Fort Lee.
He came. And we had a very sincere, candid and productive
conversation. So, we`re glad he came.
MADDOW: Mayor Sokolich, you were on record when the traffic gridlock
started on September 9th. There`s record from the disclosed documents
yesterday and also the press at the time, letters we`ve seen of you just
making an impassioned case through every means you could to the Port
Authority, to other officials in New Jersey trying to get to the bottom of
what was going on and how it could be alleviated. You expressing the harm
that was being done to your community especially on the first week of
school and the school kids.
When it was happening, did you know or have any guess as to why it was
SOKOLICH: You know, first, we hit that Monday, absolutely no notice.
We`re in the middle of what we`re calling traffic-geddon up here. Complete
shutdown, complete gridlock. Even the southernmost end of town is in
After inquiries, we`re getting no responses. We hear nothing. We
were provided with absolutely no notice, which is completely not indicative
of what transpires in the past.
And then, of course, the rumor mill started almost immediately said,
mayor, you know, we`re hearing this is about you and it, you know, who`d
you get mad and what have you? I said, no, can`t be, I`m not that
Come Tuesday, we wake up, same issue. No notice, complete traffic
gridlock. While I still didn`t believe it, the voice in the back of my
head was a little louder. When we hit Wednesday, wake up at 5:30, 6:00,
confirm we got the same problem, no notice, no one`s responding to any
texts, cell phone calls, e-mails, phone calls to the port. Now that voice
in the back of my head is pretty loud.
Of course, we then find ourselves on Thursday.
So, once I hit Thursday, I`m not so sure there aren`t too many people
in the entire world that would not have reached at least a suspicion that
this wasn`t about me.
MADDOW: In terms of --
SOKOLICH: Based on all the facts.
MADDOW: In terms of why it might have been about you, this idea that
you not endorsing Governor Christie when a lot of other Democratic
officials were endorsing the governor seems to be operating or supposition
for maybe that`s why he`s mad at you.
He insisted today that wasn`t it. Yes, he wanted Democratic
endorsements but yours wasn`t the top of the list and it wouldn`t have been
worthy of this retaliation even if he wasn`t interested in retaliation.
Are there any other issues on which you clashed with the Christie
administration or which any other officials from Fort Lee clashed with the
Christie administration that might have engendered this kind of vendetta?
SOKOLICH: You know, no, not that I`m aware of. You know, there`s a
side story to all of this, Rachel. Fort Lee, we`re going through a
renaissance at the moment. We`ve taken steps in the last three years that
we haven`t taken in any prior 25.
We are in the middle of a billion, I said a billion-dollar
redevelopment on a piece of property that`s laid fallow for over 45 years
right at the foot of the bridge. You know, there were some theorists and
there were speculators that suggested that, you know, maybe you guys are
progressing too quickly. Maybe you`re too successful in Fort Lee.
We`ve been called one of the more progressive communities in the state
of New Jersey. We`re the gateway community to the state of New Jersey.
So, people put in my head maybe you`re going to be brought down a notch or
two. Maybe you have other aspirations. Maybe this will discourage you
from thinking about, you know, using Fort Lee as perhaps a political
A couple of things to that, I`ve reached my political mountain top. I
have no such aspiration and I`m here to serve the people of Fort Lee, but
I`m not so sure that`s too plausible of an idea. But that was put in my
MADDOW: Mr. Mayor, I also just want to ask you. As this continues to
be investigated, they`re investigating in the assembly and in the Senate,
the U.S. attorney is looking into it. There`s questions about whether or
not statutes might have been broken here.
As all the investigations continue, what is it that you most want to
know? What would help you make it right or at least settle this as an
issue for you and the people of Fort Lee?
SOKOLICH: Rachel, from the day that this happened on that Monday,
politics is a funny thing. And I always had suspicions that no matter how
bizarre and how no matter how incomprehensible the actions of the Port
Authority were during the course of those four days, there would always be
those that would try to somehow ratify it. Suggest Fort Lee being treated
unfairly, suggest we`re not deserving of three lanes when, you know, remain
mindful it`s not just Fort Lee traffic. We have about 75,000 cars that go
through our local roads every day. We serve 20, 40, 50 different
communities every day.
And I was always worried there would be these counterattacks. These
operatives and folks that would, you know, bring harm to my community.
That, number one.
And number two, we were always fearful and we continue to be a bit
fearful about future retribution. I will tell you the first question that
I asked if the governor, what assurance you can provide that we`ve got an
unconditional, unequivocal from the chief executive of the state of New
Jersey that Fort Lee need not fear any further retribution whatsoever, of
any nature, shape or form.
And quite frankly, I take the governor for his word. And I told him
that I would express that to our citizenry as well.
MADDOW: Fort Lee, New Jersey Mayor Mark Sokolich, thank you very much
for your time tonight, sir. I`m sure you`re exhausted at this point in the
story. I really appreciate you being here. Thank you.
SOKOLICH: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you.
It is telling that the first question the mayor had to ask the
governor is, are you going to retaliate against us for this? Retribution,
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: The person who declared that it was, quote, "Time for some
traffic problems in Fort Lee" was a staffer in Governor Chris Christie`s
office. The reply to that order, "Got it". the person who wrote, "Got it",
he works for the agency that runs the George Washington Bridge.
But Bridget Kelly was the one who said it`s time for traffic problems
and she worked for Chris Christie in his office, as deputy chief of staff.
Deputy chief of staff.
The chief of staff throughout the bridge crisis from the time of that
August e-mail and continuing today is a man named Kevin O`Dowd. We should
make it clear that Mr. O`Dowd has in no way at this point been implicated
in this scandal. His name appears nowhere in the bombshell emails that
were released yesterday.
Beyond his current role as reach of staff, though, in December,
Governor Chris Christie nominated him to become Mr. O`Dowd to become the
next attorney general of the state of New Jersey, to become New Jersey`s
top law enforcement official.
Now, of course, with Governor Christie saying he`s been blind sided by
these new revelations about the bridge scandal, reports want to know
whether anything about the plan for Kevin O`Dowd`s next job might be
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Oh, absolutely not. Kevin`s confirmation hearing will go
forward on Tuesday, and I expect, you know, he`ll be vigorously questioned
like any candidate for attorney general should be, and I expect that he`ll
get swift and certain confirmation because he deserves it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No problem, Governor Christie says. My chief of staff
deserves to be attorney general for the state. I expect he will get swift
and certain confirmation.
Remember, it`s only his deputy that I fired for the shutdown of Fort
Lee. Why would that affect him?
If Governor Christie`s chief of staff is confirmed as attorney
general, then Kevin O`Dowd might find himself getting the opportunity to
run a criminal investigation into what happened with his deputy and what
happened to the Fort Lee end of the George Washington Bridge. There is a
New Jersey criminal statute about official misconduct that may apply here
if there`s investigation by the state.
There also, of course, is a federal inquiry that New Jersey lawmakers
have not only called for and that`s started with the U.S. attorney general
for the state.
And in the middle of that, as the New Jersey attorney general,
Governor Chris Christie plans to have his own former chief of staff, who
was there throughout this entire thing. Kevin O`Dowd`s confirmation
hearing is set for Tuesday. He is expected to testify under oath.
The chair of the state Senate committee said yesterday if the hearing
goes forward, it will certainly be a lot longer and different than
originally anticipated. Yes, you think?
There`s so much left to happen in this story. Watch this space.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Have a great night.
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