updated 1/16/2014 1:07:22 PM ET 2014-01-16T18:07:22

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 15, 2014

Guests: Steve Strunsky, Vincent Prieto

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour.

OK. Say you are in New Jersey and, for some reason, you want to go to
New York. The most famous way to do that is, you will see, up top here.
It`s how you cross from Fort Lee in New Jersey specifically over to the top
of Manhattan. That`s the George Washington Bridge.

It`s famous now for the Chris Christie bridge scandal, but it`s also a
landmark in its own right, right? It`s the busiest bridge for vehicular
traffic in the entire world.

But the George Washington Bridge, up there at the top of your screen,
that is not the only way to cross the river from New Jersey into New York.
Below the George Washington Bridge, your next option is a tunnel. It`s the
Lincoln Tunnel. Below the Lincoln Tunnel, your next option is another
tunnel, the Holland Tunnel. Below that, you have three bridge options, all
of which go from New Jersey not to Manhattan, but rather to Staten Island.

First, you get to the Bayonne Bridge, beyond that, the Goethals
Bridge, which I think always think looks like Goethals, but it`s Goethals.
And below that, there`s some called the Outer Bridge Crossing. Holds a
romantic place in my family, because partner, Susan, was born under the
Outer Bridge in Perth Amboy.

But in 2011, on Easter Sunday, 2011, something really bad happened on
the Outer Bridge. It was a huge screw-up, and it got people really mad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Port Authority says staffing shortages are to
blame for the massive backup encountered by Staten Island residents trying
to get home on Easter Sunday.

Drivers trying to get from New Jersey to Staten Island Sunday night
say only one cash lane was open at the tollbooth, which backed up traffic
for all the other lanes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It was so bad that the Web site Gothamist did a feature on
what they called the -- quote -- "galactically stupid" traffic jam on that
bridge, saying that the Port Authority basically ruined Easter.

Look at the coverage the next morning. So, that was Easter Sunday,
right, was the jam. The next Monday, Monday morning, right after Easter,
it`s from "The Staten Island Advance." "Motorists fume as Port Authority
creates an hours-long bridge backup. Easter spirit gave way to traffic
outrage yesterday, when what should have been a reasonable holiday commute
turned into an hours-long ordeal. The reason? For most of the day, only a
single toll collector was working at the Outer Bridge toll plaza, meaning
just one cash lane was open, and there were miles of backed-up traffic
behind it.

"Whether they were trying to get home after visiting family or friends
from out of state or trying to catch Easter dinner with loved ones on
Staten Island, motorists found themselves in parking lot conditions for
hours on Easter. The traffic nightmare spurred numerous calls to `The
Staten Island Advance` throughout the day yesterday and into the early
morning hours today, with motorists claiming to be stuck in three hours of
traffic."

That was the Monday coverage of the Sunday traffic jam. By the next
day, by Tuesday, "The Staten Island Advance" had found people who were
stuck in traffic for four hours, in one case for more than five hours, more
than five hours for a journey that usually takes 50 minutes.

One woman`s trip that usually takes 75 minutes took her more than
seven hours? "You expect some traffic on a holiday, but a trip that should
take one hour and a quarter takes seven hours?" she says. "That`s
ridiculous. We could have traveled to New Hampshire in seven hours. I
don`t know why they had only one person taking tolls."

It turns out the Port Authority didn`t know why they had only one
person taking tolls either.

After some initial conflicting information from them the night that
the traffic jam was still under way -- I mean, people were stuck in the
parking lot on that bridge until well after midnight on Easter Sunday.
After some initial conflicting and confusing information that night, the
Port Authority did issue a statement, an apologizing statement on Monday.

"The Port Authority apologizes for the disruptions that travelers
faced."

But that was not good enough. The written apology was not enough.
Ultimately, they had the executive director of the Port Authority get out
and make a public apology to the people of Staten Island.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WARD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PORT AUTHORITY: I want to start
by apologizing to Staten Island residents and everybody affected by the
extraordinary delays.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: April 2011, this was. That was an apology from the Port
Authority executive director after that agency had closed down all but one
cash lane on one of the bridges between New Jersey and New York and caused
a big backup. That was an apology at a public meeting called to apologize.

That apology to the public came after that executive director had
already met with local officials in the most hard-hit towns and apologized
face to face to them. It was after that executive director had already
apologized to the commissioners of the Port Authority, who let it be known
how angry they were.

And even after that, it still wasn`t enough. More penance had to be
made. The commissioners were furious. The chairman of the Port Authority,
a man named David Samson, was out in public making sure everybody knew that
he knew, as chairman, that this Port Authority-caused traffic jam was not
OK.

Here`s David Samson -- quote -- "We consider this unacceptable. We
have got Mother`s Day coming up. We have Memorial Day coming up. We have
got the Fourth of July. It is unthinkable that we would have these
problems."

Unthinkable, unacceptable. That was David Samson, who was then the
chairman of the Port Authority. He is still chairman of the Port
Authority. He was appointed to that job by Chris Christie.

David Samson was furious and outspoken about that April 2011 debacle,
and he lambasted the executive director of the Port Authority for having
caused that traffic jam on that bridge two-and-a-half years ago.

But when the Port Authority caused this even bigger traffic jam for
four straight days on the George Washington Bridge last September, the same
chairman, David Samson, didn`t say beep, no public comment on the issue, no
apology, no telling the press it was unthinkable, nothing. Not a word.

Why is that? In contrast to the Outer Bridge backup in 2011, where
David Samson raked the executive director of the Port Authority over the
coals in public for that backup, here`s what we know about what David
Samson did about the backup this past September in Fort Lee.

He e-mailed the vice chairman of the Port Authority after an article
about that backup came out in "The Wall Street Journal." David Samson`s
complaint was that the executive director of the Port Authority had talked
about it.

The article -- quote -- "confirms evidence of Pat Foye being the leak,
stirring up trouble." "In this case, he`s playing in traffic, made a big
mistake."

In the earlier bridge backup, David Samson`s mad at the executive
director because of the backup, and he says so. In the more recent one,
though, in the Fort Lee one, there is nothing said publicly, and the only
thing David Samson is apparently mad at the executive director about this
time is that he`s talking to the press about it.

"He`s playing in traffic. He`s the leak, stirring up trouble. He`s
made a big mistake."

That was when some of the first press about the Fort Lee disaster came
out during the Fort Lee disaster itself, during the shutdown itself, on the
final day of the shutdown. When that executive director who leaked to the
press had intervened to un-gridlock Fort Lee and reopen the bridge, David
Samson turns up again in the documents that have been released thus far
under subpoena.

"Fort Lee got back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately
going nuts. Samson, David Samson, is helping us to retaliate," so says
David Wildstein on the last day of the shutdown.

It was only after that document came out that David Samson made his
first public comment on what happened in Fort Lee, on the hours-long
backups on the George Washington Bridge and leading up to it that lasted
four days, a backup that was caused by the Port Authority.

That was the first public comments that he made. He put out a
statement saying he had no knowledge of the lane closures. He said he was
-- quote -- "extremely upset and distressed" by the documents that were
released.

That`s it. That`s all we have heard from him.

David Samson is Chris Christie`s top appointee at the Port Authority.
He`s the head of that agency. Before that, he was the head of the
transition team for Chris Christie when he was first elected governor of
New Jersey. Governor Christie and David Samson are very close political
allies.

David Samson is a former attorney general of the state of New Jersey.
Chris Christie calls him General Samson. When U.S. Senator Frank
Lautenberg died and Chris Christie needed to pick somebody to take that
U.S. Senate seat and become a U.S. senator temporarily until a special
election could be held, Chris Christie tapped Jeffrey Chiesa, who worked as
a lawyer at David Samson`s law firm.

When Governor Christie started his term as the chairman of the
Republican Governors Association -- quote -- "David Samson was among the
group of close advisers who went to Arizona with Chris Christie in November
to the RGA meeting as a sign that Samson is seen as important to Christie`s
potential run for national office."

David Samson and Chris Christie are very close. And so when it came
out in those subpoenaed documents this e-mail from David Wildstein, "David
Samson is helping us to retaliate," that was a big deal in terms of how
high the scandal goes and how close the scandal gets to Governor Chris
Christie.

And on the day that Governor Christie apologized and he said he was
humiliated and he called his deputy chief of staff stupid and he said the
other people involved were stupid and deceitful and showed poor judgment,
on that day, when everybody has seen the "David Samson is helping us to
retaliate e-mail," the governor took a very different tone when he was
talking about David Samson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What about Mr. Samson? What role did he play in this?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think General Samson put out a
statement yesterday that he had no knowledge of this. I interviewed him
yesterday. He was one of my interviews. I`m convinced that he had
absolutely no knowledge of this.

I sat and met for two hours yesterday with Mr. Samson -- General
Samson. And, again, I`m confident that he had no knowledge of this based
upon our conversations and his review of his information.

QUESTION: I don`t know the exact words, so forgive me, but something
along the lines of we`re taking appropriate action against the New York
side, and Sampson is working with us on it.

CHRISTIE: Yes, it was something -- yes. I asked General Sampson
about this, I think, it`s -- yes, it said something to that effect. I
don`t remember exactly what it was.

I asked Sampson -- General Sampson about that yesterday. He said he
has absolutely no idea what Wildstein`s referring to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: And so that`s that, settled. He definitely didn`t have
anything to do with it.

Two things to mention here. There is one other mention of David
Samson in the subpoenaed documents that were dumped last week. It was in a
chain of text messages that were submitted by David Wildstein, who is the
Port Authority official who actually arranged the shutdown after being told
to set it in motion by Chris Christie`s deputy chief of staff.

Other e-mails and pages of text messages that were submitted to the
committee from David Wildstein were redacted or partially redacted. Right?
He inked out big swabs of conversations. The Assembly does not like those
redactions and is seeking to get them unblacked out. But Mr. Wildstein and
his attorney explained that the reason he redacted some things in his
submission is because those things that he blacked out were outside the
time frame that the Assembly had asked about or they were just not relevant
to this matter. They were not relevant to the closure of those lanes on
the bridge. That`s why he blacked out what he blacked out.

Keeping that in mind, David Wildstein did not black out, did not
redact this exchange of text messages that mentioned David Samson, which
means, implicitly, David Wildstein at least believes, David Wildstein I
guess holds that these messages were relevant to the closure of the lanes
on the bridge.

Look, this is August 5, 10:52 a.m. "Samson cannot do Friday August
16." "Why?" "He`s away." "The whole week?" On Friday, the 16th, "That`s
the only day that works for the governor." Response: "We will tell
Samson."

August, one week before the governor`s deputy chief of staff orders,
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," and that Chris Christie ally
at the Port Authority, David Wildstein says, "Got it," one week before that
someone is trying to set up a meeting between David Samson and Chris
Christie. And David Wildstein submitted that conversation trying to set up
that meeting to the Assembly as documentation somehow relevant to shutting
those lanes down on that bridge and gridlocking Fort Lee.

Why is that? And how will we know?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I sat and met for two hours yesterday with Mr. Samson --
General Samson. And, again, I`m confident that he had no knowledge of
this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Why are you confident of that?

Here`s the other thing to know here. Today is January 15, which means
today is the deadline for the Port Authority to respond to a list of
questions that have been put to them about this scandal from the U.S.
Senate committee that oversees the Port Authority as an agency.

It was a letter sent in mid-December to David Samson at the Port
Authority. Senator John Rockefeller from that Senate committee submitted a
list of questions that he wanted answers to by today.

Among those questions -- quote -- "Prior to the closure of those
lanes, who at the Port Authority knew about the decision? What concerns
were raised?"

The deadline for David Samson to submit his answer to that question to
the United States Senate was today.

We talked to Senator Rockefeller`s committee today. They could not
tell us whether or not they had yet heard from the Port Authority.

But intrepid reporter Steve Strunsky from "The Star-Ledger" is
reporting that the Port Authority says it has transmitted its responses to
the Senate committee electronically by 6:00 p.m. this evening. Still no
word, though, on whether they will be releasing those responses to the
public, and still no word on why David Samson was so upset about that 2011
backup, and not a peep, not a peep, not even still, about the one that
happened in September on the orders of Governor Christie`s deputy chief of
staff.

Joining us now is Steve Strunsky, a reporter covering the Port
Authority for New Jersey`s "Star-Ledger" newspaper.

Thank you very much for being here.

STEVE STRUNSKY, "THE STAR-LEDGER": Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: You are more informed than I on these matters. You have been
covering the Port Authority for a long time.

STRUNSKY: You seem to do pretty well.

MADDOW: Well, I just going to ask you, having covered that backup
when it happened, did I screw anything up there? Or is that pretty much
how it happened?

STRUNSKY: You got both the Fort Lee backup and the Goethals pretty on
the mark.

MADDOW: Excellent.

Well, tell me what you think people should understand about David
Samson, about his role in this agency, but also his role in New Jersey
politics.

STRUNSKY: Well, Samson is a longtime player in New Jersey politics,
not only on the Republican side with Christie, but he was named attorney
general originally by a Democrat, Jim McGreevey.

And he`s a partner in a very prominent law firm, Wolff & Samson. They
deal mostly with real estate law, but all kinds. And they`re very of
course well-connected, like many law firms in New Jersey. And he obviously
can play both sides of the political aisle.

MADDOW: What can you tell us about his relationship with Governor
Christie specifically, as sort of outsider to these matters who didn`t
follow them until this scandal broke open? It seems important to me that
he was the transition director for Governor Christie, that looks to me like
he must be a very close political ally, rather than just a run-of-the-mill
supporter.

STRUNSKY: Well, I can`t go back. I don`t know what their entire
history is.

But, as you say, the governor has a lot of confidence in Mr. Samson,
named him to one of the most important positions in Christie`s
administration, because the Port Authority has been a very important agency
for him in terms of all kinds of things that he`s wanted to get done.

Samson has spoken for the governor. Almost anybody who`s named at the
Port Authority by Christie prefaces anything they say with, well, on behalf
of the governor or thanks to the governor. And, well, he`s the chairman.

MADDOW: In terms of how he fits into this scandal, the contrast
between the way he was so vocal about that backup, which was a Port
Authority-caused backup back on Easter Sunday, 2011, and the fact that he
made no public comment about what happened in Fort Lee, obviously, that
could be explained by him not knowing what was under way in Fort Lee, and,
therefore, why would he make a public comment about it?

Is he usually loathe to make public comments about things once they
become political -- matters of political discussion? Is he the kind of guy
who doesn`t like to talk to reporters generally?

STRUNSKY: He will talk to reporters in the course of Port Authority
meetings, although he does so less nowadays.

There used to be huddles at the back of the meeting room after every
regular discussion. And Chairman Samson was always a regular participant.
Then they moved those discussions into a kind of conference room adjacent
to the meeting room, and actually he`s not been one of the regular
participants.

That`s generally left to Pat Foye and, well, it used to be Bill
Baroni. He`s not been adverse to talking, but I have not found him real
accessible in terms of being able to call him up and try and talk to him.
I tried to talk to him about this. I tried to e-mail him about this.

As we know, we have got his and some other people`s e-mail addresses
now. And he was not forthcoming with me. He released a couple statements
today. There were a couple of stories suggesting -- citing mostly unnamed
sources -- saying that he may be leaving the Port Authority real early.

It`s been an open secret that he will leave long before his six-year
term expires. But the talk now is that he`s going to leave possibly even
before the next meeting of the agency.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: And the immediate question, of course, is whether or not he`s
going to get a subpoena in the meantime.

STRUNSKY: Right. Yes.

MADDOW: Absolutely.

Steve Strunsky, "Star-Ledger" reporter who has covered the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey for a long time and whose reporting on
the Outer Bridge Crossing and Goethals backup, I relied on totally in order
to get this right tonight, thank you for being here. I appreciate it.

STRUNSKY: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks a lot.

All right, we have got more ahead on this story and many others
tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Last week, the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, took a trip.
He went out West for a two-day tour of our nation`s nuclear arms
installations.

He stopped in New Mexico to check on a nuclear weapons vault. He also
got to visit his home state of Nebraska, where he visited a missile launch
control center, making him the first defense secretary in 30 years to
venture down 60 feet below ground into one of the totally enclosed capsules
from which America`s military missileers can launch our nation`s giant
intercontinental nuclear missiles.

Secretary Hagel also went to Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Thursday to the
F.E. Warren Air Force Base there. He visited with the men and women whose
job it is to guard and maintain the 150 nuclear missiles and nuclear
warheads that we have stockpiled at F.E. Warren.

Secretary Hagel was primarily there to give the officers a pep talk,
to deliver a morale-boosting speech to a division of the Air Force that
really has been lacking in morale for quite some time. There have been a
series of high-profile firings of top nuclear division commanders.

The last few years have seen a series of disastrous inspections about
safety whether our nuclear weapons-handling forces can actually do the jobs
they`re assigned to do.

And so Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel went to Wyoming to give a "You`re
important" pep talk, "We need you to be great" pep talk. "You`re
appreciated, you guys."

But just as the press secretary was headed up to the podium to give
the pep talk, he got word that two officers from a neighboring base had
just been removed from duty over drug charges. And these were not just two
run-of-the-mill Air Force officers. They were two launch officers, nuclear
missile launch officers, two of the officers who worked shifts 60 feet
underground in charge of 10 nukes each.

And each of those 10 nukes, each of those missiles has three nuclear
warheads on top, giant world-altering missiles that are on 24-hour alert,
ready to go at a moment`s notice, two officers with their fingers on the
actual, and not proverbial, button being hauled in over alleged possession
of drugs.

The day before that announcement, the general in charge of that unit
was put up for a promotion. And he put out a statement saying that since
he had been commander here, his unit has been -- quote -- "firing on all
cylinders." Everything`s been great, other than the alleged drug ring
among the nuclear missile operators, of course.

So, it was Thursday that Defense Secretary Hagel got the word about
the two nuclear weapons launch officers facing drug charges. The following
day, on Friday, the drug investigation expanded to include not two, but 10
nuclear launch officers at multiple bases both here and abroad, including
at F.E. Warren, which is the base where Secretary Hagel was there to give
the "Keep up the good work" speech.

Then the Air Force had to announce today that it`s up to 11 officers
who are being investigated as part of a drug ring. The drugs in question
reportedly include ecstasy and synthetic pot, which I`m too much of an old
person to even understand.

But the reason we got an updated statement on this from the Air Force
today is because it`s not just a drug ring investigation anymore. While
investigating the drug problem Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which
is one of the three bases that guard and maintain our stockpile of nuclear
weapons in the Air Force, Air Force officials also say they stumbled upon
what they`re calling evidence that dozens of officers at that bank, all of
the rank of captain or lieutenant, dozens of officers have been cheating on
their certification exams.

These are the tests that the launch officers are required to take
monthly to ensure their ability to do their job, their job, taking care of
nuclear weapons.

Some of the officers were caught sharing answers via text message
while they were taking their exams. In all, 34 officers have reportedly
been implicated, 34. Those 34 officers have had their security clearances
immediately suspended. And they have been stripped of their nuclear
certification, pending the results of the investigation.

But at a press conference today, the Air Force chief of staff
attempted to reassure the public that the security of our nation`s 450
nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles is -- quote -- "not
threatened at all."

He said -- quote -- "This is not about the compromise of nuclear
weapons. It is about compromise of the integrity of some of our airmen."

To be clear, though, the compromised airmen allegedly involved here
are the ones who handle nuclear weapons.

The Air Force says that they are now retesting all of the officers
involved in the cheating ring.

Fingers crossed that they all pass without having the answers fed to
them. If they don`t, though, don`t stress. What could possibly go wrong?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In 2010 and 2011, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went
through two massive and salacious corruption trials. In the second of
those two trials, one juror tried to get excused from jury duty for a very,
very Chicago reason, which is that 2011 was not just the year of the second
Governor Rod Blagojevich corruption trial, it was also the last year of
Oprah.

And I kid you not, one woman tried to get off jury duty for the
Blagojevich trial because she wanted to attend one of the final tapings of
the Oprah Winfrey show.

Why that is newly relevant to the bridgegate scandal in Chris
Christie`s New Jersey will surprise you. And that is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The current governor of the great state of Illinois is Pat
Quinn. He`s a Democrat. He`s elected in 2009.

Of the eight governors preceding Governor Quinn, of the eight
immediate past governors of Illinois, four have gone to prison. They`re
batting 500 in Illinois -- 50 percent of the governors of the state of
Illinois have gone to the crowbar hotel on charges ranging from
racketeering, to bank fraud, to bribery.

And of these four, the most recent, of course, is Governor Rod
Blagojevich. He was arrested in 2008, December 2008, on just an astounding
array of corruption charges -- corruption charges that became public when
it was revealed the FBI had been secretly wiretapping the governor`s home
and office phones.

The FBI had discovered that Governor Blagojevich was doing stuff like
promising state funding for a children`s hospital, only if a top executive
at that hospital donated $50,000 to his campaign, also extorting the media
by promising favorable business deals to newspaper companies, only if those
companies fired specific journalists. And, of course, most famously,
trying to sell a United States Senate seat, specifically the one that had
been vacated by the one named Barack Obama when he had to go be president.

The charges against Rod Blagojevich were enough to make a hardened FBI
agent, an agent from the Chicago office of the FBI marvel at the new low
for Illinois.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can tell you one thing: if it isn`t the most
corrupt state in the United States, it`s certainly one hell of a
competitor. This wiretap I can tell you, from the FBI agents that
participated in this wiretap investigation, were thoroughly disgusted and
revolted by what they heard.

PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY: Governor Blagojevich has been
arrested in the middle of a political corruption crime spree. The most
cynical behavior in all this, the most appealing, is the fact that Governor
Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by
President-elect Obama. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his
grave.

The governor`s own words describing the Senate seat, quote, "It`s a
bleeping valuable thing, thing you just don`t give it away for nothing",
close quote. Another quote, "I`ve got this thing and it`s bleeping golden.
I`m just not giving it up for bleeping nothing. I`m not going to do it, I
can always use it. I can parachute me there", quote. Those are his words
--

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was the day that Rod Blagojevich was arrested. The FBI
wiretaps that the U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was quoting from there,
they really did capture Blagojevich saying that stuff. We know that,
because the eventual tapes were eventually released.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

THEN-GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: I mean, I got this thing and
it`s (EXPLETIVE DELETED) golden. And I`m just not giving it up for
(EXPLETIVE DELETED) nothing. I`m not going to do it. And I can always
parachute -- use it and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) parachute me there.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW: Rod Blagojevich the day after the presidential election in
2008, that`s when he was speaking there, talking about how he had a golden
opportunity on his hands in the form of President Obama`s soon to be vacant
Senate seat, he wasn`t going to give that away for nothing. He was going
to get something out of that for himself.

Ultimately, there were two trials for Governor Blagojevich. The first
ended in a mistrial, the second one, though, ended in prison. Governor
Blagojevich found guilty on 17 counts of wire fraud, attempted extortion,
bribery and the conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery. He was also
found guilty of trying to sell that Senate seat.

Rod Blagojevich is now serving a 14-year term in prison. And here`s
how that became relevant today. Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney for
the northern district of Illinois, his office ran the Blagojevich
investigation.

But the person in his office who was the lead prosecutor in both of
those trials, the person who eventually led the successful prosecution of
Rod Blagojevich and put him in prison for more than a decade was the
assistant U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, a man named
Reid Schar and now as of today, that same Reid Schar is the special council
leading the Chris Christie investigation for the assembly of the state of
New Jersey.

Yes. That happened today. Reid Schar was Patrick Fitzgerald`s deputy
U.S. attorney for an unusually long amount of time. He also led the
prosecution of one of Rod Blagojevich`s fund-raisers. That was him there
standing behind Patrick Fitzgerald in the big, unbelievable Rod Blagojevich
has been arrested press conference.

He was there in the U.S. attorneys office with Patrick Fitzgerald for
12 years. He only recently went into private practice in 2012. The New
Jersey state assembly could have picked any lawyer in the country for the
Chris Christie bridge investigation job, once they announced that they
would be hiring special counsel.

If you could pick anybody in the country, you could see why you might
pick this guy. In terms of what happens next, the New Jersey Senate is
also expected to appoint a special counsel on their investigation of the
bridge scandal. We thought that announcement might come today. The
announcement could come as early as tomorrow, certainly by the end of the
week.

Meanwhile, it is expected that the next round of subpoenas from the
assembly investigation, those subpoenas could go out as early as tomorrow
as well. Those subpoenas could presumably include the person who was most
directly at the center of the scandal, Chris Christie`s deputy chief of
staff who appears to have ordered, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort
Lee back in August of last year." Will Bridgette Ann Kelly be issued a
subpoena? Could that happen as early as tomorrow?

Joining us now is Speaker Vincent Prieto. He`s the newly elected
speaker of the New Jersey assembly.

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for being with us.

STATE REP. VINCENT PRIETO (D), NJ ASSEMBLY SPEAKER: It`s good to be
here.

MADDOW: Why was Reid Schar selected as special counsel for this
special body?

PRIETO: Well, wanted to pick the best person qualified for it. And
the people that I spoke to, Reid was the person that made the most sense to
help us and guide us in this unchartered territory for us. The assembly
did not have a lot of staff to be able to do this, and there may be other
agencies that may be investigating into this, and we don`t want to be an
impediment or obstruction, and I think Mr. Schar was the most qualified
person that we could seek out.

MADDOW: As the newly elected speaker of the assembly, it was your
decision whether or not there would be a continuing investigation, subpoena
power for the transportation committee that had been investigating, expired
with the close of the session. It was your call.

I have to ask you if you -- how you made the decision that the
investigation would continue. There would be subpoena power moving forward
from this point out, and whether or not anyone tried to influence you in
that decision, whether you felt pressure.

PRIETO: I was never influenced by anyone. I was not even approached
by anybody. I told somebody today it was zero.

But I was not the speaker until yesterday.

MADDOW: Yes.

PRIETO: So I had to wait until then.

My ideas were that the Transportation Committee did a fabulous job
under Chairman Wisniewski. And to continue that work I think it had to be
moved because it`s no longer about a transportation issue. It`s about
public safety and about abuse of power.

So, we wanted to make sure we armed this committee to make it
something that we can get to the bottom of this, because we`re a
legislative body, and we make laws. And if laws were broken, we want to
see how we can correct this because those positions are still there, they
will be filled by other people, and we want to make sure this does not
happen again.

MADDOW: In terms of the relationship between the different parts of
government in New Jersey, I was looking at the legislation today that`s
creating the special investigatory body, it`s explicit about how this has
moved beyond just the Port Authority, just a transportation issue. There
have been questions raised about possible abuse of power. Possible
attempts to conceal abuse of government power.

How do you as the speaker balance your desire and the people`s
interest in seeing that found out and rooted out with the need to work with
the executives, the need to work with Governor Christie and his staff, and
get the people`s work done?

PRIETO: Well, the way I look at it, everybody is innocent until
proven guilty. So, right now, I give everybody the benefit of the doubt.
The governor says he doesn`t know about it. You know, that will determine
itself out.

We still have to run government. And that`s why the special committee
made sense, because the Transportation Committee has to take on the
challenges that it has. And our staff is limited as I said. So the
special council was key, because that way they could do the research. They
could advise us and guide us in the best way to get to the bottom of this.

MADDOW: Obviously, you are not running the special investigatory
committee, you are speaker of the assembly. I realize the vote will be
taken tomorrow to formally create that body. Do you expect that subpoenas
may come as soon as tomorrow?

PRIETO: Potentially. Tomorrow we have a session that we will adopt
and pass the resolution. And then we will convene a committee. The
committee will convene and then from there, the Chairman Wisniewski, under
his guidance, will see what goes out. Potentially, subpoenas could go out
as early as tomorrow.

MADDOW: Speaker Vincent Prieto, who`s the newly elected speaker of
the New Jersey assembly, taking office at a time of turmoil in your state,
with a lot of responsibility -- thank you for taking the time to talk to us
tonight.

PRIETO: Thank you for having me here. Thank you.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: As the bridge scandal continues to dominate the political
headlines in the country, the House of Representatives today in Washington
moved head with work on a spending bill that will keep the government
funded through September. That bill now moves to the Senate, where it`s
expected to pass ultimately.

One of the big unknowns in Washington right now, though, is whether
the Senate Democrats are going to defy President Obama on another issue.
Whether they are going to vote for and make the president veto what we`re
calling the let`s go to war with Iran measure, which New Jersey Senator Bob
Menendez and other senators have been cooking up in the last few weeks.

As of Monday of this week, 59 senators including 16 Democrats were
openly endorsing a bill calling for a new set of sanction against Iran.
That means one more Senate vote for the bill and that prospective sanctions
bill could withstand a filibuster in the Senate, although 60 votes still
wouldn`t be enough to override the president`s promised veto.

Over this past weekend, the Obama administration helped secure the
hugely important deal that would temporarily freeze much of Iran`s nuclear
program in exchange for some sanctions relief in Iraq. Iran agreed to that
deal. That deal is due to take effect next week. We`re supposed to be
trying it out for six months to see how it goes.

One of the sticking points, though, one of the things Iranians have
said would be a reason for them to leave the negotiating table and scrap
this historic deal is if the U.S. moves to enact new sanctions against Iran
during this process. That`s what the Senate has been working on and
President Obama says he is not prepared to let that happen.

Tonight, there was a meeting between Senate Democrats and President
Obama at the White House, where those Iran sanctions were reportedly on the
agenda. All we know thus far in terms of the reporting out of the meeting
is that the president urged the Senate Democrats, don`t do it.

Watch this space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In the middle of the bridge scandal in New Jersey, the
Republican Party, the National Republican Party, the RNC announced
yesterday, that they`re going to ramp up their spending this year on state
Republican parties. They say they plan to help the state parties directly
with more cash.

They told us today. They said they also plan to spend more money than
ever on national Republican staffers working in the state parties, helping
with 2014 campaigns.

The RNC tells us, "Don`t believe anything you hear to the contrary.
Don`t believe an `A.P.` article earlier this week that suggested the
opposite. What you need to know is that the National Republican Party is
doubling down on the parties in the states." Interesting timing.

In the "Sunday New York Times" this week, the mayor of Fort Lee, New
Jersey, Mark Sokolich, did an interview in which he explained how and when
he was asked by the Chris Christie reelection campaign if he would please
endorse Chris Christie for re-election. He said the request happened last
spring. He said it was not a high pressure pitch, but he said he didn`t
want to tell the "Times" exactly who the Chris Christie staffer was who had
contacted him and asked for his endorsement.

That same day, though, "The Wall Street Journal" named the guy. It
turns out, reportedly, it was a guy named Matt Mowers. Matt Mowers,
according to "The Wall Street Journal", was the Christie campaign official
who is responsible for calling Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, and other
Democratic mayors across New Jersey in trying to talk them into endorsing
Chris Christie. And now we know what happens when you`re saying no.

I mean, that may or may not have been reason that parts of the George
Washington Bridge and the entire city of Fort Lee were shut down for four
days in September, but it`s definitely how Jersey City lost all that help
they were due to get from the state of New Jersey this past year.

You say no to the endorsement, you lose everything we were going to
give you.

In any case, now that Matt Mowers has been named as playing a sort of
key role in this huge scandal that has wrapped around the New Jersey
governor`s office like a giant squid, what`s happening to old Matt Mowers?

Interesting story, it turns out. It turns out the day after Chris
Christie was, in fact, re-elected as governor of New Jersey, the very next
day, Matt Mowers got a new job. He was appointed the executive director of
the Republican Party in New Hampshire. Not New Jersey, New Hampshire.

Why would a Chris Christie campaign guy want to be working in New
Hampshire heading into this next campaign cycle?

Since it became clear that Matt Mowers was pretty much right in the
middle of the bridgegate scandal, the New Hampshire press and the New
Jersey politicos have been in a bit of an uproar of his being the executive
director of their Republican Party. The state Democratic spokesman says,
quote, "Matt Mowers spent years working under now disgraced aides of Chris
Christie and we`re all left to wonder what dirty tricks they taught him and
what plans he has to use them in New Hampshire."

So far, the Republican Party has responded with statements defending
Matt Mowers in a general sense but not mentioning the fact that he used to
work for Chris Christie.

Does Matt Mowers hold on to that really important political job as the
executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party? It probably
depends on whether his name surfaces again in a more damning way in any of
these more subpoenaed documents that we expect to get, once the assembly
investigation moves forward.

But that is not the only state Republican Party reeling from this
scandal right now. In New Jersey itself, they`ve already lost their new
party chairman for the Republican Party in New Jersey. The day before "The
Bergen Record" published the e-mail for Governor Christie`s deputy chief of
staff that said time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee, the day before
that e-mail and all the rest of those documents came out, which showed
Governor Christie`s campaign manager e-mailing the guy who shut down the
bridge and calling the mayor of Fort Lee an idiot, the day before those e-
mails came out, Chris Christie`s campaign manager Bill Stepien had just
been put forward as the next chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party.

That was on a Tuesday. The emails came out on a Wednesday. And then,
on Thursday, that was over. Governor Chris Christie announcing that he was
separating himself from Bill Stepien. He`d lost faith in his judgment, and
he was asking him to withdraw his name from consideration for leading the
New Jersey Republican Party.

So, the bridge scandal in New Jersey has already claimed the head of
one state Republican Party, and it`s causing big trouble for the new
executive director of another state Republican Party in a really
politically important state. And now, the national Republican Party has
announced a new strategy for funneling at least some additional help from
D.C. headquarters to the state parties.

Hey, how about that?

When New Jersey has trouble because the Chris Christie bridge scandal,
right? That`s why it`s happening, right? New Hampshire has trouble
because of the Chris Christie bridge scandal.

And you know what? A lot of other state Republican parties recently
have had a lot of trouble. In Oregon, the new chair of the party is the
guy who said we should sprinkle low level radiation over everyone`s houses
because low-level radiation is good for you.

In Alaska, that`s where the new chair of the party took over and then
changed the locks on party headquarters and wouldn`t let anybody else in.

In Iowa, the state party there was taken over by the wrong people,
which D.C. probably sees as its own crisis. But, honestly, they`re better
than the crew who was in there before who completely bungled the Iowa
caucuses the last time around.

In Minnesota, the state Republican Party stopped paying their rent and
got an eviction notice from their landlord. And now, we`ve got this fine
fettle in New Hampshire and in New Jersey. And so, here comes the National
Republican Party to rescue them, to help those little state parties out
more than they helped them out before.

And maybe none of those miserable failings is why national Republicans
are deciding to do that now. But they`re deciding to do that now.

Whatever this interesting national decision does to the parties in the
state is going to be fascinating to watch in this new election year. It is
a low-profile decision that could have a very high-profile political
impact.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."

Have a great night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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