'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, January 10th, 2014
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 10, 2014
Guests: Ted Mann, John Wisniewski, Charlie Stile
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you very much, Chris. I will say,
you wuss out a little bit on the whole too close to call thing. But the
litany in scandals in all those states was tremendously enlightening in the
worse possible way.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: I was waiting for someone to offer me a
bribe to take the win.
MADDOW: Exactly. You made it obvious.
All right. Thanks, man.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
OK. The most important thing that we knew before today about the
Chris Christie New Jersey bridge scandal was this e-mail sent from Governor
Christie`s deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly to a Christie appointee
at the Port Authority saying, for some reason, quote, "It`s time for some
traffic problems in Fort Lee."
David Wildstein, Chris Christie appointee at the Port Authority, which
controls the George Washington Bridge, the busiest bridge in the world,
responded to that apparent order by saying, "Got it." That was the most
important thing that we knew before today.
For color, before today, we also had Mr. Wildstein and somebody else
unknown, texting back and forth about their glee, their delight, that Fort
Lee, New Jersey, had been turned into traffic hell for a week, that school
buses were trapped in the gridlock and kids could not get to school on the
first day of classes. They are the children of Barbara Buono voters.
Don`t feel bad. They`re the children of Democrats. It is not wrong that
you are smiling at the suffering that we have caused them. We had that
Today, with release of more than 2,000 pages of documents, which the
legislature obtained under subpoena in their investigation of the bridge
shutdown, today we learned quite a bit more. After that mid-August
instruction from Governor Christie`s office that it was time to cook up
something terrible for Fort Lee in the form of traffic problems, we now
know that within the Port Authority, the traffic engineers were asked to
provide a few different scenarios for how exactly to that for Fort Lee.
Under what appears to be a guise of a traffic study, the chief traffic
engineer proposed three digit scenarios for messing with the access lanes
on to the George Washington Bridge, three scenarios in essentially
descending order of hellishness.
The proposed plan from the engineer that would have the worst impact
on Fort Lee would be a plan that would merge all of Fort Lee`s access to
the bridge down to two lanes. Not good enough, apparently, because the
next day, the engineers come back to the issue. Look. Look at this e-
mail. The next day.
Here, Mr. Wildstein, as requested attached is the modification to the
plans from yesterday. As you can see, our plans for unleashing hell on
Fort Lee are now significantly more draconian. Per your request, we have
made additional modifications to our menu of options. Now, as you will
see, we have come up with a one-lane option as well.
Instead of the worst case for Fort Lee being merging all of its lanes
down to two lanes, quote, "one additional scenario would be a merge down to
one lane." Yes. Twice as bad. Down to one lane. Does that seem better?
The chief traffic engineer says he is advised, in fact, they picked
the one-lane option, planned to implement the fourth plan. The one they
were asked to come back with when they didn`t come up with a worse enough
plan on the first go-round. They`re going down to one lane. That will
show them. That e-mail was sent on Friday. The Friday before the traffic
jam was put into effect on Monday.
Over that weekend, the Chris Christie appointee at the Port Authority,
David Wildstein who seems to have been orchestrating this whole plot,
during that weekend, he sent a cheery note back to the governor`s office.
Quote, "I will call you Monday a.m. to let you know how Fort Lee goes."
The governor`s deputy chief of staff responds, "Great."
David Wildstein lets the bridge manager on the George Washington
Bridge know as well. He says, I personally will be at the bridge early
Monday morning to see this in action. This thing that I have told you guys
to do, I will be there to see it happen when we put it into effect.
And then Monday morning rolls around, and Fort Lee has no access to
the bridge. The whole thing is under way. And we got another e-mail from
David Wildstein to the bridge manager, "going to take a ride with chip and
see how it looks." Going to go tour my work.
Of course, we know how it looks. See the guy out of his car there?
That`s because he hasn`t moved in a long time. It`s safe to get out of
your vehicle. You`re in gridlock.
We know how it looks. It`s disaster, just like it was designed to be.
Before 9:00 a.m. on that Monday morning, the first day of the
shutdown, the Port Authority police department reporting just heavy -- not
just heavy bridge volume, but also delays on local streets. Right. Local
streets because, of course, the local street traffic in Fort Lee can no
longer get on to the bridge.
That was 8:53 a.m. Less than 20 minutes later, the bridge manager is
e-mailing David Wildstein, again. "Just got off the phone with the Fort
Lee police chief not happy about our traffic pattern. He`s particularly
upset that no one from the bridge had the courtesy or the neighborly intent
to call either the mayor`s office or the Fort Lee police about testing a
new traffic pattern."
The police chief asked how he goes about ending this miserable
failure. That same first day, two more hours down the road, two more hours
into the commute and now it`s not just angry cops, now it`s getting very
serious. E-mail from one of the head communications people at the Port
Authority to David Wildstein and his boss, Bill Baroni, another Chris
Christie at the Port Authority.
How did she know these were the guys she needed to get in touch with
about the bridge thing?
"Wanted you to have heads up," she says. "The borough administrator
for the Fort Lee area called regarding the increased volume and congestion
for morning rush traffic throughout the borough as a result of the George
Washington Bridge toll lanes adjustment that occurred."
She mentioned that there were two incidents that Fort Lee police and
emergency medical services had difficulty responding to -- a missing child
and a cardiac arrest.
How`d she know to e-mail them about that?
So, the Chris Christie appointees at the Port Authority knew directly.
They were advised directly on the first morning that their plan was in
effect that it was literally putting lives at risk. What do you think,
we`re going to stick with the plan?
Of course we are, 2:28 that afternoon, that same first day of the
traffic jam. 2:28 in the afternoon. Yes, stick with it. The bridge
manager e-mails, quote, "I have been advised by D.W." presumably David
Wildstein, "I`ve been advised by D.W. that we will continue this current
operation through tomorrow at a minimum."
We knew before this, we knew before this that they did it. Now, we
know a lot more about how they did it. And we know the governor`s office
not only called for it in the first place on August 13th, but we know that
that same deputy chief of staff in the governor`s office was told the
weekend before the traffic jam started that it was teed up for Monday. The
governor`s deputy chief of staff saying great when she learns from David
Wildstein she`s going to get updates on him on the fate of poor old Fort
Lee once they put their plan into action on Monday morning.
It must have been an exciting weekend to know that little town had no
idea what you were about to hit them with. You knew, you knew it was
coming in advance. They didn`t know.
The bulk of the rest of the 2,040 pages that were released today, the
bulk of the rest of it is about handling the feedback and the blowback,
receiving complaints from the public, receiving complaints from the Fort
Lee mayor at great length, receiving complaints from the police and the
emergency medical services technicians.
We see the angry memo from the executive director of the Port
Authority, Pat Foye. He does seem to be out of the loop on this scheme.
We see, I think for the first time here, we see that his angry memo putting
a stop to this scheme, calling it potentially illegal. We see for the
first time, I think, that his angry memo is sent to the governor`s office.
Not to Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who ordered the whole
thing in the first place, but another senior staffer of Governor Christie,
someone incidentally who he has since tapped to become his new chief of
The governor`s office directly had notice that this was happening in
Fort Lee and that it was a problem and that it was maybe illegal and they
had that notice directly the week that the shutdown happened.
I`ll also save you the swear words, but we also in this document today
get treated to the governor`s spokesman and David Wildstein using all sorts
of language about Pat Foye, who stopped the scheme and who went public
about how disgusting he thought it was. They called him all sorts of
Receiving the complaints from local officials and not responding to
them, gleefully not responding to them, give him radio silence.
That`s a big part of today`s document dump. And there`s also, though,
a ton of stuff about the media. We see David Wildstein and the Port
Authority getting first a trickle then ultimately a torrent of questions
from the media, and requests for documents and formal Freedom of
Information requests for documents. And they turn every single one of them
down, every one.
The name Ted Mann, Ted Mann, reporter for the "Wall Street Journal"
who reported on this story from the beginning, his name turns up over and
over and over again, requesting information from the Port Authority, asking
increasingly long lists of hard questions about what happened and who knew
about it. Today`s document dump shows how at every turn Mr. Mann was
officially stonewalled by Chris Christie`s appointees.
Joining us now is Ted Mann, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal",
who`s been intensively covering the story who advanced the story with a
bunch of scoops since the bridge closure in September and who is a lot more
famous today than you were before because your name is being read millions
of times today.
TED MANN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: How are you?
What did you learn today that you didn`t know before?
MANN: I think our impression of what was happening got a lot deeper
and some of what we`d seen momentarily and some of the scoops have come out
in our paper and others are strung together in a way we didn`t always see.
You can see the anger in Fort Lee build toward some of what we had only
seen the result of.
The letter from the mayor saying really there`s a public safety
emergency goes a lot deeper when you see these messages piling up saying,
ambulances are not getting there, kids are lost and we can`t -- run away
and we can`t find them.
The other thing that I think you just alluded to is the forwarding of
the Pat Foye e-mailed to the governor`s office, a question Chris Christie
didn`t answer on Wednesday, was why whether this was a study or not. And
it seems that certainly, it was a traffic study of the like anyone just
familiar with. But whether it was a study or not, why everything that was
being reported to the people who worked for him on the ground in Fort Lee
didn`t require some sort of corrective action, either during or after it
And that`s a question that they still don`t have an answer for. If
you get a report that things are this chaotic, why don`t you do something
to address it and figure out why it ever happened in the first place?
MADDOW: Especially when you didn`t just find about it this week. You
really did know about it the week that it happened.
MANN: At the very least, your senior level staff or some members of
MADDOW: Let me ask you about one senior appointee of Governor
Christie. His name is David Samson. I believe a former attorney general
of New Jersey, chairman of the Port Authority. He headed up the governor`s
transition team when the governor first became governor. He`s been a very
close political ally.
The governor said yesterday that even though Chairman David Samson`s
name turned up in the first very provocative 22 pages of leaked documents,
said he was helping take part in retaliation, although we weren`t sure what
that meant from those documents. The governor said in his press conference
that he sat down with David Samson, he talked to him for two hours. He`s
confident he had absolutely nothing to do with this.
How does David Samson come across in these documents today, given that
he`s been so important to Chris Christie?
MANN: Well, the other thing this really shows, which we only had in
vague indications from our source, was that the New York and New Jersey
sides of the Port Authority basically went to war after Pat Foye found out
about the lane closures and reversed them and Samson is the key figure
here, just infuriated by the fact that Pat Foye`s e-mail got to us and got
to other newspapers. And really is going after him to his -- Samson to his
New York counterparts saying you`ve got to rein this guy in, he`s trying to
stay distant from issues and ride in and solve the problem.
It sounds a little bit pity, but it`s also -- what they`re fighting
back is essentially basic duties of the organization and whether they`re
MADDOW: David Samson in the past had been very vocal about other
bridge delays and other traffic problems. In 2011, there had been a
shortage of toll collectors on some of other bridges under the control of
the Port Authority, and he`d been out there with the press, pounding his
fist saying this is unacceptable. He was totally silent about the Fort Lee
disaster even after the Pat Foye memo really exposed it as being something
that wasn`t about a traffic study and seemed to be politically motivated.
MANN: He was silent and there`s the effort to keep this silent and
keep it from going public is really remarkable. One of the people who is
doing that is also his senior adviser in on these e-mails saying should we
put out a statement, try to do it in an op-ed or, I think he says, just
grit or teeth and get through it, or words to that effect.
And they were really deciding, is this something we can sort of hunker
down and let blow over? Do we have to address it? And Wildstein responds
at one point, yes, we`ve thought about it and yes, going to try to let it
MADDOW: Not a good move in retrospect. Ted Mann, reporter for "The
Wall Street Journal." Great reporting on the story, and now, we know -- we
all know in direct terms exactly how dogged you have been. Thank you very
much for your time here. Really appreciate it.
The reason that we have 2,040 pages of documents about this case today
we did not have yesterday is because the New Jersey legislature has been
investigating this scandal. And a specific part of the New Jersey
legislature, the Transportation Committee in the assembly, has subpoena
power, which is how they could compel the release of these documents and
how they could hold to contempt the Chris Christie official from the Port
Authority who refused to testify yesterday.
He refused to testify and everybody`s got their Fifth Amendment
rights, but it is contempt when you refuse questions in response to a
subpoena like that. If this committee did not have subpoena authority, we
would have never seen not only all this stuff, we would have never seen the
testimony of all those witnesses and would have never seen that time for
some traffic problems in Fort Lee e-mail. We would have never seen any of
this. And Governor Christie in all likelihood would still be dismissing
the story and attacking anybody who dared to ask him about it.
Here`s the really important thing about what happens next here. And
what happens to Chris Christie -- the subpoena authority of that committee
that has been so critical to breaking this story open, the subpoena
authority of that committee is about to expire on Tuesday, unless the new
speaker of the assembly agrees to extend. It`s his decision and his
Governor Christie was asked about that at his press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Moving forward, Speaker-elect Prieto indicated yesterday
that the assembly`s investigation in this would continue. Do you believe
that he and Assemblyman Wisniewski and other folks in legislature have the
right to, should continue to look into this type of thing? Or do you
believe that they are looking to -- along with looking into it -- score
political points against you?
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Listen, I think they have every
right to do what they are doing given what was revealed yesterday. And so,
you know, I`m certainly not going to question that, in terms of their right
to conduct an investigation. I think given what was revealed yesterday, I
was shocked by it. I assume they were, too.
And I have a good relationship be the incoming speaker. And I`ll work
with him in every way that I possibly can to make sure we put this matter
to rest. So, I certainly am not going to question their right or their
ability to do that, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If Governor Chris Christie really does want to get to the
bottom of this, should he do something else with regard to what he just
explained there? Should he insist somehow more overtly? How old he at
least advice explicitly the committee that has subpoena power, the
committee with subpoena power that brought us this far, should he insist
publicly, more emphatically, that committee should be allowed to continue
their investigation, including specifically their ability to subpoena
documents and subpoena witnesses?
Joining us now is the chairman of the Assembly Transportation
Committee which currently has that subpoena power, he`s Assemblyman John
Mr. Chairman, thank you for being with us again.
STATE ASSEMBLYMAN JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: Rachel, thank you
MADDOW: First, I have to ask you about the 2,000 pages today.
WISNIEWSKI: There`s a lot of paper.
MADDOW: A lot of paper. We`re getting them for the first time today.
Your committee had them before and released them today. What do you think
is most important about these documents? What should people understand?
WISNIEWSKI: I think the documents paint a picture. You know, the 20-
some pages that were talked about ads part of the governor`s press
conference talked about certain issues.
When you look at this, you see a plan that was talked about, executed
and then the attempt to cover it up. You see significant names in the
governor`s administration dotted throughout the correspondence, the e-mails
back and forth, the text messages. See the name of David Samson, chairman
of the Port Authority. You see the names of Michael Juniak, governor`s
press spokesperson. You see references to Charlie McKenna, Maria Camilla,
the new incoming chief of staff.
And so, you really have to question what the governor said the other
day, because it either paints one or two pictures, either of which isn`t
nice. Either the governor has no control over his administration or he`s
not telling the whole truth.
MADDOW: In terms of the specific contacts between the governor`s
inner circle and the people who are directly involved here, we see his
communications director in contact with David Wildstein about reporters`
questions, specifically about Mr. Wildstein`s own resignation. We see the
governor is picked to be his new chief of staff was directly sent that
angry letter from Pat Foye essentially exposing what was going on and
saying it might be illegal, the week that it happened.
Do you think that those kinds of contacts, seeing the names throughout
the documents, does that make you question the governor`s truthfulness when
he says he was just finding out about this yesterday morning after his
WISNIEWSKI: I just don`t find that plausible. I mean, let`s just
talk about the person who did the e-mail that really unleashed hell on Fort
Lee. "Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee" at 7:30 in the morning on
August 13th from Bridget Kelly. Where does she get that authority from?
Where did she get the idea from?
And David Wildstein`s two-word response means he really understood
what she meant and there was a conversation before, which really calls into
question this attempt to have a meeting between David Samson and the
governor basically a week beforehand, where there was back and forth about
when the two could meet. That was provided because we asked for e-mail
communications and text messages that dealt with the bridge issue.
And so, according to Mr. Wildstein, that meeting has some relevance.
Obviously, we didn`t get answers because he wouldn`t answer those
questions, but those are things the committee needs to continue to look at.
MADDOW: Do you need to have -- do you need so subpoena documents
about something else or in a different timeframe that would shed more light
on what the political vendetta was about? Is the relevant timeframe for
figuring out why they did this to Fort Lee, and who might have had the
motive to do it, actually more around August 13th when apparently the order
was given rather than September 9th when the traffic jam happened?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, you know, when we did subpoena, we asked for
documents from august 1st forward. Now I`m starting to think, well maybe
July or June might have been a good timeframe.
But in addition, we need documents from Bridget Kelly. We need
documents from Mike Juniak. The governor said in his press conference that
he wants to cooperate and be helpful.
It would be nice if he would call up the legislature, say, why don`t
you come over? Why don`t you look at what you need to look at? I want to
get to the bottom of it. I want to help you get to the bottom of it.
We haven`t heard that. But I hope we could hear that.
MADDOW: Do you have assurances, I asked you this before and asking
because it`s a new day. Do you have assurances about the subpoena power
that will come up on Tuesday?
WISNIEWSKI: I`ve spoken to the incoming speaker staff today. I made
it clear that I believe that the assembly ought to reauthorize this
resolution on the day we reorganize on January 14th so there`s no gap in
our ability to continue this investigation.
We have real work to do. We need to hear from Bridget Kelly. We need
to see her documents. We need to hear from Bill Stepien and see his
And if we are forced to kind of shut down for a while and then
regroup, that`s only going to delay the ultimate resolution and I think
what we need to do is get to the bottom of it.
MADDOW: And especially with the governor saying that he`s not going
to ask those specific people who he`s fired or separated himself from, he`s
not going to ask them what they know and what they did because he doesn`t
want to interfere with the investigation. Well, the investigation better
continue or they never have to answer questions.
WISNIEWSKI: Very curious position on his part.
MADDOW: Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly
Transportation Committee -- thank you, again. Keep us posted.
WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, I will. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: There are only five states in the country where the governor
personally appoints the top law enforcement official in the state, the
Instead of the attorney general being elected directly by the people,
it is the governor who gets to pick the state`s top cop in the state of
Alaska, in Hawaii, in New Hampshire, in Wyoming, and in, say it with me
now, New Jersey.
So, it is Governor Chris Christie who gets to pick the attorney
general of the state of New Jersey. And he has picked this guy. Kevin
O`Dowd whose last job is being Governor Christie`s chief of staff. He`s
been with Chris Christie since Governor Christie`s day as U.S. attorney.
He was the deputy chief of staff before he was the chief of staff. He`s
been Chris Christie`s closest aide for a long time running day-to-day
operations of the governor`s administration including during the time that
the deputy chief of staff seems to have ordered the shutdown of traffic in
Fort Lee, New Jersey, as a way of settling some as yet poorly understood
Chris Christie`s chief of staff, Kevin O`Dowd, is the man who Governor
Christi says he turned to when he first started asking his staff questions
about the bridge scandal. Governor Christie says he relied on his chief
counsel and on Mr. O`Dowd, the chief of staff, to talk to everybody else.
To get anybody else on his staff who knew anything about the bridge
shutdown to fess up.
Now, that he has been nominated to be the next attorney general for
the state, Kevin O`Dowd may be in the position to ask his former
colleagues, once again, what they knew about the manufactured traffic jam
in Fort Lee, because if he is confirmed as attorney general, he might find
himself running a criminal investigation into this whole affair. And
according to Governor Christie, there is no problem with that. No
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Absolutely not. Kevin`s, you know, 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: Well, today the head of the committee in charge of that
confirmation told the New Jersey "Star Ledger" that actually the
confirmation will not be all that swift. Given what has happened this
week, given these revelations, New Jersey lawmakers now say they need more
time to prepare for that hearing for their would-be new attorney general.
They are postponing Mr. O`Dowd`s confirmation hearing.
It is the job of the attorney general to investigate and prosecute
criminal activity in the state. As it happens, New Jersey has a very clear
criminal statute about official misconduct that may be relevant here. I
will share it with you.
This is from title 2C, subtitle 2, part 4 chapter 30 of the New Jersey
Code of Criminal Justice. Quote, "Public servant is guilty of official
misconduct when, with purpose to obtain a benefit for himself or another,
or to injure or to deprive another of a benefit, he commits an act relating
to his office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of his official
functions. Knowing that such act is unauthorized or he`s committing such
act in an unauthorized manner."
New Jersey law is clear, and it seems relevant to the kind of activity
that has both been alleged and documented among the governor`s top staff
and appointees in this bridge shutdown scandal. The question, now, is who
enforces the law in New Jersey? Chris Christie`s chief of staff? The
direct boss of the woman who ordered the bridge shutdown?
Joining us now is Kendall Coffey. He`s the former U.S. attorney and
NBC News legal analyst.
Mr. Coffey, thank you for being with us.
KENDALL COFFEY, NBC NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: Hey, thanks for including me,
MADDOW: The New Jersey Senate said today they need more time to
prepare for Kevin O`Dowd`s confirmation hearing to be the next state
attorney general. Reasonably speaking, given this scandal, and Mr.
O`Dowd`s name has not surfaced directly with regard to the scandal, I
should say. What should happen before they would feel comfortable holding
this hearing, much less confirming him?
COFFEY: Well, I think there are at least three areas they have to
explore very closely. None of which have been resolved yet.
First of all, question of whether there was any complicity in this
outrage. Now, so far no evidence has indicated that he might have been
implicated, but until Bridget Kelly is heard from, she would be the one
person who an definitively clear him. Other than that, he`s simply saying,
going to be in a position of saying self-serving things.
Next, you`ve got the question of how could all of this happen with him
knowing nothing about it? The attorney general is immensely powerful in
New Jersey and does a lot of supervision. In fact, supervises all 21
county prosecutors with much more supervisory power than you see in other
If he`s an empty suit, not paying attention supervisor, is that a
great idea? And finally, is there, was there a culture of intimidation or
bullying fostered in that office?
Last thing you want in a powerful attorney general prosecutor position
is somebody who has a mean streak, somebody who`s vindictive, somebody
who`s a bully or would be any part of that kind of mentality.
MADDOW: Somebody who uses the prosecutorial powers of their office,
potentially, as a way of getting their political way or their boss`
political way. Absolutely.
COFFEY: That`s frightening. Isn`t that? Frightening.
MADDOW: Yes. Because attorney generals have such leeway, they have
the decision -- they get to make the decision about whether to prosecute,
whether to investigate.
In these documents released today, we got these e-mail from the Port
Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye saying from his perspective, "I
believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violated federal law and the
laws of both states" -- meaning New York and New Jersey.
I`m not a lawyer. When I look at what seemed to be the relevant
statutes, it seems to me there`s a much clearer case that any criminal
misbehavior, if there is any, it`s a clearer case to make under state law
than under federal law which makes the attorney general all the more
important. Is that the way you see it?
COFFEY: Absolutely. It`s a much stronger case and a clearer case
under state law. In fact, the Feds might decline simply because they`ll
view this as a matter for the New Jersey statutes and the New Jersey
prosecutors. And what would that then do to a New Jersey attorney general
named Kevin O`Dowd? He has the final say on anything a local prosecutor
So, if that is not a conflict, it`s hard to imagine one.
MADDOW: If the investigation, let`s say Mr. O`Dowd were confirmed as
attorney general and say it`s widely viewed to be improper for him to be
the one prosecuting this particular matter, given his role as chief of
staff during the time these events happened.
If those things happened, who else would conduct the investigation?
Would it -- would the state have to pay for a special prosecutor, some sort
of external investigator if the attorney general, himself, couldn`t act?
COFFEY: I think that`s the only way you could responsibly go in this
situation. Sometimes in particular cases, a chief law enforcement office
will assign one of his or her subordinates as an acting attorney general or
someone who`s got a specific role and, quote, "step out of it." But the
perception here, where you`ve got O`Dowd is the boss of the attorney
general`s office and the criminal law enforcement system of New Jersey, and
was the immediate boss of the alleged architect of this outrage, that`s
just a little much.
MADDOW: Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney, NBC News legal analyst,
thank you very much for helping us understand this. It`s the legal parts
of this are not as complicated as they might be, but that sometimes leads
us laymen into thinking that we understand it. It`s good to get
confirmation from you. Thanks.
COFFEY: Thank you.
All right. If you were near a TV at all yesterday, it would have been
hard to miss at least part of Governor Christie`s nearly two-hour-long
visit with the assembled New Jersey, New York and national press corps.
But what was almost as fascinating as the press conference itself was
how Governor Christie`s staff reacted almost immediately after it was over.
That`s just ahead.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Politics ain`t beanbag, OK? And everybody in the country
who engages in politics knows that. On the other hand, that`s very, very
different than saying that, you know, someone`s a bully.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I hereby declare a moratorium on the phrase "politics ain`t
beanbag". We had enough of that yet?
That`s it. What Governor Christie`s particular brand of non-beanbag
looks like in New Jersey turns out to be a fascinating portrait of this guy
and how this scandal fits into his future. And that story, which we have
not heard anywhere else, is here, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: 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
their appropriate role of government and for the people that were trusted
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke for exactly 1 hour,
48 minutes and 4 seconds yesterday. His marathon press conference about
the George Washington Bridge controversy went on for so long that it
delayed a start of a hearing in the New Jersey state assembly that was
aimed at getting to the bottom of the incident. The people in the hearing
room just sat around, waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for
Governor Christie to finish.
When he did finally finish, Governor Christie`s office decided of the
roughly 19,000 words that he spoke in that press conference -- these right
here were the most important ones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: But what I also want the people of New Jersey to know is
that 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,
therefore, the one incident defines the whole. It does not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is the exception. This is not the rule.
Shortly after Governor Christie`s press conference was over, his
office clipped and blasted out that section of his remarks -- as what they
wanted to be the takeaway message from the press conference. Chris
Christie insisting that this is not how he does thing, not the way he
operates as governor.
That is sort of key to Chris Christie successfully managing to keep
some distance between himself and what happened here, right, arguing that
his administration exacting terrible retribution for some perceived
political slight was an anomalous error. It was a mistake. It was not
business as usual. That`s not the way he has governed in New Jersey. He
can`t possibly understand why anybody who worked for him would think that`s
what the governor would want them to do.
Do you remember Jim McGreevey? Jim McGreevey was the former governor
of New Jersey who was forced to resign in the middle of a sex scandal back
in 2004. Remember, "I am a gay American"?
When Jim McGreevey stepped down as governor, New Jersey Senate
president at the time, a man named Richard Codey, he ascended to the job.
He became the new governor.
Richard Codey served out the rest of Jim McGreevy`s term and decided
to return to the state senate.
In 2011 once back in the state Senate, Richard Codey got into a battle
with the newly elected Chris Christie. Richard Codey decided that he
wanted to block two of Governor Christie`s nominees. That caused the two
of them to effectively go to political war.
Chris Christie held a press conference in which he railed against
Richard Codey for being, quote, "combative and difficult." Mr. Codey went
to the press and called out Governor Christie for being childish.
And then things left the realm of that specific political fight. Look
at this. Quote, "Days later, Mr. Codey was walking out of an event in
Newark, New Jersey, when he got a call from the state of police
superintendent informing him that he`d no longer be afforded the state
trooper who accompanied him to occasional public events, which is a
courtesy granted to all former governors."
Richard Codey, a former governor was stripped of his security detail
just days after holding up a pair of Chris Christie nominees. That was
just the start of it. Quote, "That same day, Mr. Codey`s cousin, who had
been appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was fired
from his job, as was a close friend of Mr. Codey`s and his former deputy
chief of staff who was working for a different state agency."
So, Richard Codey blocks a pair of Chris Christie nominees, and in
response within days, his security detail gets stripped, his cousin gets
fired, his close friend and former staffer also gets fired. They both lose
their jobs with the state.
This is a man named Alan Rosenthal. Alan Rosenthal in 2011 was a
professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Jersey. That
year, Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature were fighting
about how to redraw the state`s legislative districts to conform with the
2010 census, redistricting. All-important redistricting. Right? The
commission that was tasked with redrawing the maps was deadlocked. It was
deadlocked between the plan favored by the Republicans and the plan that
was favored by the Democrats.
So, Alan Rosenthal, this Rutgers University professor was brought in
to be the tie-breaking vote between the otherwise deadlocked two sides.
Alan Rosenthal heard from both sides. He studied the nap maps for weeks.
At one point, Governor Christie paid Professor Rosenthal a surprise
personal visit to lobby for the Republican maps. It was a move that nobody
could remember a governor ever pulling before. But in the end, Alan
Rosenthal picked the Democratic map.
In making his decision, he said, quote, "It took me five hours of
deliberations. I have tried to be diligent. I have tried to be honest. I
have tried to be fair."
Three months after that decision, Alan Rosenthal learned that Governor
Chris Christie had personally, and without warning, used his line-item veto
to slash state funding for the fellowship program that Professor Rosenthal
ran at Rutgers.
How you like me now?
The top Democrat in the state Senate reacted at the time, quote, "For
him to punish people to prove his political point, he`s just a rotten blank
to do what he did."
Governor Christie`s office denied the professor`s redistricting
decision had anything to do with the decision to eliminate funding for his
programs. New Jersey politics are full of examples like this over the last
four years since Governor Christie has been governor. Politicians from
either party who cross Chris Christie in some way then feel his wrath.
There`s another Republican state legislator who criticized Chris
Christie`s handling of a blizzard in 2010. Very mild criticism of a
handling of a 2010 blizzard. He was then warned by the governor`s staff to
not show up to an even that Chris Christie was holding in this district.
An anonymous Chris Christie told the press at the time, "He got what he
The things that all of these acts of political retribution have in
common is that they`re all directed at political players or at least people
who are inside the political system, people who have opted in, people who
are playing the same game that Chris Christie plays.
But this time, in the bridge scandal, it was not somebody inside the
political class that was hurt. This wasn`t political retribution that just
landed on Mayor Mark Sokolich in Fort Lee or leader of the Democrats who
represents Fort Lee, Senator Loretta Weinberg. No, this time, it was
hundreds of thousands of innocent people trying to get to work, trying to
get to school. It was the first week of school. Trying to get a response
from an ambulance. Trying to go about their daily lives.
And hundreds of thousands of people were all collateral damage from
some political revenge attack the cause of which is still unknown.
Business as usual in terms of the, you know, decision to go after somebody.
Not business as usual in terms of the consequences.
How did that line get crossed? Why? And who had to know about it?
More ahead with somebody who knows more about Chris Christie than just
about anybody else in the press corps.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover, this was
handled in a callous and indifferent way and it is not the way this
administration has conducted itself over the last four years and not the
way it will conduct itself over the next four.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is not the way this administration has conducted itself
over the last four years. Is that true?
Joining us now from in front of the New Jersey capitol is a chilly
Charlie Stile. He`s a columnist with "The Record" of Bergen County, New
Mr. Stile, thanks for being with us tonight, particularly on a cool
CHARLIE STILE, BERGEN RECORD: Good evening.
MADDOW: Governor Christie said the kind of political retribution that
has been alleged and now documented in this bridge scandal, he says that`s
not the way his administration has operated over the last four years.
You`re a pretty close observer of him as a politician.
Is he right to say that?
STILE: Well, he is, he has -- look, political retribution is part of
the New Jersey landscape. The quick answer is not really, no, that`s
really the answer to that.
But to put it in context, every governor and almost every politician
in the state indulged in some form of political payback. Everybody once in
a while bares their knuckles. But he`s kind of elevated kind of a full
cage match where you can kick and punch at the same time.
And what`s really different about Chris Christie`s level of payback is
not only the pettiness of it, but he -- no one is beyond the pale. I mean,
he`s attacked venerated people, or he`s put people that are venerated in
the line of fire.
For example, he tried to take down Tom Kean Jr.`s son, who was trying
to get another term as senate minority leader. And so, he personally got
involved in trying to thwart another term for Tom Kean Jr. because he was
apparently upset about Tom Kean Jr.`s handling of the Senate legislative
So what`s ironic about that is that Tom Kean Sr. was Chris Christie`s
mentor and Chris Christie would probably have no career in politics if he
didn`t show up as a 16-year-old in Tom Kean`s house in Livingston, New
Jersey, in the late 1970s to be a campaign volunteer.
So -- and even Dick Codey, taking on Dick Codey. Now, Dick Codey is a
bare knuckled practitioner of Essex County politics, but he`s a very
popular figure in New Jersey politics. And a lot of voters in New Jersey
have a warm regard for him for stabilizing the state after the downfall of
And you mentioned Alan Rosenthal is almost deified by members of both
parties for his knowledge, scholarly knowledge, his fairness throughout the
years in serving on commissions and boards.
So, it`s not -- so that`s the difference about Chris Christie and how
he`s operated. I think what`s really interesting, I think, it`s
deliberate. I think he`s tried to send this message that, I am not to be
crossed with. I am not to be fooled with, and I think it`s had a very --
and he`s used that very effectively.
MADDOW: Charlie, I have to ask you, you wrote today the firings of
two top staffers, yesterday`s campaign manager and deputy chief of staff,
he said only came because the plot was hatched within his tight knit circle
enflaming suspicions that Christie was the one who ordered the vindictive
lane closings that turned Fort Lee into a parking lot.
Why do you say that exactly?
STILE: Well no, I think that`s exactly what has happened. I mean,
once -- it`s one thing to have the suspicion growing in a kind of brush
fire out of the Port Authority, with his appointees out there, but once it
comes inside the house, or inside the state house, right inside his inner
sanctum, then that suspicion that was on a low kindle is now a full flame,
because he has a circle of -- he operates a very tight knit ship. And he
even used the word himself in the press conference, I operate very loyal
group, and we consider ourselves family.
So, it`s very hard for a lot of people, strange credulity, frankly, to
think anything like this could go on in his inner circle without his
MADDOW: Charlie Stile, columnist at "The Record" of Bergen County,
New Jersey, which has been a national treasure in terms of its reporting on
this story from the very beginning. Charlie, thank you very much for your
time tonight. It`s nice to have you here.
STILE: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. More to come. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This week, this story in New Jersey became the biggest thing
in politics for good reason. For once, we weren`t having a he said/she
said argument about something that could be proven but nobody chose to
prove it. It`s not a fight over insults or accusation or trumped up
This is a story of legitimate wrongdoing on a big scale, waged by
political partisans for political reasons, with innocent citizens caught in
the crossfire. This thing was proven by documents being forced into the
public domain, thanks to an aggressive investigation that has the power to
subpoena documents and witnesses.
That subpoena power will expire on Tuesday unless New Jersey moves to
extend it. That is the next thing to watch in terms of what happens in
this still expanding bombshell of a story.
Thanks for being with us tonight and all this week as we`ve chronicled
That does it for us for tonight. But we will surely see you again on
Monday. In the meantime, you need to spend some quality time in prison.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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