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All In With Chris Hayes, Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

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ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
February 11, 2014

Guests: Evan McMorris Santoro, Dan Kildee, Paul Butler, Loretta Weinberg, Brian Murphy, Lynn Sweet


STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Hey, good evening from New York. I`m
Steve Kornacki, in tonight for Chris Hayes.

We have breaking news from Washington, D.C., where the Republican-
controlled House of Representatives has voted on a bill that would suspend
the nation`s debt limit until March 15th of 2015. This is a so-called
clean debt limit increase. There are no strings attached to it.

The bill passed tonight by a vote of 221-201, all but two Democrats
voting yes along with 28 Republicans who crossed over to vote with them.
And quite possibly, it`s created a new norm that`s much like the old norm
in Congress, in which the debt ceiling hikes passed again and again with
little fanfare garnering only symbolic no votes from the opposition party,
as well as obviously enough ayes for passage.

It was no less iconic Republican leader than President Ronald Reagan,
himself, who wrote this in his diary entry in November 1983. It read, "Day
began with GOP congressional leadership -- a full cabinet room. Last
night, the Republican Senate very irresponsibly refused to pass an increase
in the debt ceiling which is necessary if we`re to borrow and keep the
government running. I sounded off and told them I`d veto every dollar in
the thing they sent down unless they gave us a clean debt ceiling bill.
That ended the meeting."

But fast forward to President Obama, nearly 30 years later circa 2011,
this is after the GOP took over the House and Republicans decided then that
the debt ceiling was not going two a symbolic vote anymore and it was now
going to be a bargaining chip for them. President Obama, it is fair to
say, back then he enabled this. He played their game and in July of 2011,
after coming right up to the brink of a potentially cataclysmic default,
President Obama and congressional leaders reached a deal which included
more than $2 trillion in spending cuts.

This was the Budget Control Act of 2011. It marked the birth of
something called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. You
might know that as the supercommittee. A supercommittee that was widely
hated by members of both parties and which after its failure to arrive at
specific cuts, it led to something more hated than that, something known as
sequestration that took effect earlier this year.

So, since that debacle of 2011, and all of the fallout that came with
it, President Obama has been on something close to a mission to never go
down the road of debt ceiling bargaining again. To get back to clean debt
limit hikes, the clean debt limit hikes that were routine before his
presidency.

Last October, Republicans agreed to suspend the debt ceiling until
February 7th, but only after a disastrous government shutdown gave them
little choice. And that brings us to today`s vote. After weeks of the
Republican leadership floating various ideas on how to get something out of
this supposed standoff, something like approval of the Keystone XL pipeline
or repeal of the health care laws` so-called risk corridors or Medicare doc
fix or fix for the cost of the living adjustment for military retirees.

After all of that, they landed back at nothing. Speaker Boehner
opting for a clean debt ceiling hike after predictable grumbling about
President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: He`s the one driving
up the debt and the question they`re asking is, why should I deal with his
debt limit? So the fact is we`ll let the Democrats put the votes up.
We`ll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Whatever frustration Speaker Boehner may be experiencing,
it seemed to be coupled with some relief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: It`s a fairer way to assess this. Thanks.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay. My, oh my what a wonderful day.
Plenty of sunshine, coming my way. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And with today`s passage, we may have finally erased the
last regrettable three years of history with regard to the debt ceiling, in
return to what this used to be, where the opposition party would cast
symbolic no votes but ultimately leaders of both parties would exercise
their responsibility and come up with enough yes votes to raise the debt
ceiling.

Is tonight the night that this bipartisan norm has been restored in
Washington?

In a meeting with the Republican conference this morning, Speaker
Boehner, himself, reportedly took a fascinating position. He said, quote,
"I`m getting this monkey off your back and you`re not even going to clap."
It was supposedly a playful jab at some of the Tea Party favorites in the
room.

Anyway, joining me now is Evan McMorris Santoro. He`s the White House
correspondent for "BuzzFeed".

So, interesting contrast there. We showed Speaker Boehner this
morning doing the perfunctory, why this is all President Obama`s fault and
leaving the room singing zip-a-dee-doo-dah. We can read too much into
these things. But he really does seem to be relieved at the way this thing
has resolved itself.

Has he been able to resolve it?

EVAN MCMORRIS SANTORO, BUZZFEED: I think everybody is relieved at the
way this resolved itself. Nobody wanted to go down another crisis road
that we`ve been down so many times. So while this is not exactly, I think,
what Boehner or Republicans would have ideally wanted, I mean, they really
wanted to use the debt limit as you mentioned to get stuff that they wanted
out of the White House. They really wanted to do that. That idea has kind
of fizzled out for them.

But I think everybody sort of feeling pretty good. My colleague, Kate
Nocera, our congressional reporter, I talked to her on way over here and
she said Nancy Pelosi was positively beaming today after the vote. He`s
like, everybody is in a good mood that something got done, I guess.

KORNACKI: So I wonder how much the mood, though, extends to the Tea
Party because so much of the story of debt ceiling brinkmanship over the
last three, or four years and so much of the story of Washington over the
last three or four years has been this idea that there are so many
Republican members in the House, in particular, who maybe want to vote one
way on whether it`s the debt ceiling or any number of other issues, but
they`re scared to death of the primary challenge that`s going to come from
the Tea Party, if they vote supposedly the wrong way.

See, we have Tea Party people, I know, I`ve seen some quotes out there
from Tea Party people already making noise that Republicans who voted for
this, there were 28 of them, are going to pay in their primaries. Is there
a reason to suspect that, you know, that old Tea Party threat is still
alive after this?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: You know, I think it is on a lot of other issues.
I mean, one of the things that`s come out of this, we`ve seen yet again
this Hastert rule, this idea that Republicans can only vote on things a
majority of Republicans will vote on to move in the House. This is, yet,
again, another example of that being scrapped in favor of moving bills and
getting Democrats to vote on them and passing things that way.

Now, Democrats want to see that happen with things like immigration
reform and things like ENDA, and even with this debt ceiling vote which,
you know, is sort of forced by the fact the fiscal crisis thing didn`t go
the Republicans` way during the shutdown and cost them a lot of bad
publicity, caused a lot of bad publicity for them. We`re still not seeing
any evidence that Tea Party sort of hard-core wing will break on things
like immigration reform or things like ENDA.

So, you know, they`re still around and they`re still pretty powerful.
This is just an example, I think, of them taking a loss after the shutdown
and trying to do something else.

KORNACKI: Yes, I mean, it seems like part of this story is that what
is happening tonight, and maybe what will happen with future debt limit
hikes, now we probably won`t have to deal with this for another year, it
sounds like, it`s linked to what happened last fall. It`s linked to the
fact that Democrats basically refuse to blink at Republican demands to
negotiate over the debt ceiling last fall, and that in turn is linked to
the conviction that President Obama and the White House sort of drew from
the 2011 showdown.

I mean, is that really what we`re seeing tonight? Is this is the end
point of something that really started in the summer of 2011 and the Obama
White House really kind of regretted how they handled it all the way back
then?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, I think we saw that when the White House was
a little bit more forceful about this, made the decision not to negotiate
at all, and took things up to the brink, you know, you went along all the
way to the end, that it ended up working out for them. I think we`ve seen
with this whole sort of year of action Obama has talked about in this whole
2014 that there`s been a whole idea at this point to maybe kind of abandon
the idea of reaching out to a lot of these Republicans where you have this
Tea Party wing that won`t budge, and definitely won`t budge when it comes
to Obama. And just kind of go off and do things your own way and be a bit
more forceful.

So if you want to track it from that sort of no negotiations stance,
all the way through this year of action, executive action focus from the
White House, I think there`s a direct line there.

KORNACKI: All right. Evan McMorris-Santoro from BuzzFeed" -- thanks
for joining us. We appreciate that.

And joining me now is Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan.

Congressman, thanks for joining us tonight.

I want to read to you what Senator Patty Murray actually said to
"Washington Post" to Greg Sargent of the Plum Line Blog there earlier
today. She said that, "With this vote, the era of economic hostage taking
and ransom demands should finally be behind us."

Do you agree with her? Is this era now officially over?

REP. DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN: Well, I agree with her that it should
be behind us. It remains to be seen. This has been a pretty unpredictable
Republican conference. What today shows is that even Speaker Boehner, when
push came to shove, you got to give him credit, he knew where to go to get
the votes to do the right thing. It was 28 Republicans and all the
Democrats.

So if that means that when the next big question comes, the speaker
will make the big decision to actually let the will of the people be heard
in Congress, maybe it`s immigration, maybe it`s ENDA, maybe it`s another
budget discussion, we`ll see.

The thing that concerns me about this is that if the Republicans don`t
want to be in the majority and don`t want to lead and make the tough
choices and just want to pander to the base in the home district, they can
do that, but they should do it from the minority. They should get out of
the way and let the Democrats lead, because that`s what we did today.

KORNACKI: What was the key, in your mind, to the reversal in the
Republican strategy on this? Last fall. Was it simply the fact the poll
numbers were toxic for the Republicans last fall and didn`t want to repeat
that this time?

KILDEE: I think they paid a big price and the speaker knew he paid a
big price for allowing them to shut the government down. It was clear the
American people when they made their judgment put the blame squarely on the
Republicans.

And the speaker I think had to make a decision. Is he going to let
that happen again? Is he going to pander to the most extreme voices within
his own conference and let that happen again? Or will he go the only place
he can go to get the reasonable majority that the American people elected,
and that`s 28 Republicans and almost 200 Democrats.

So, you know, that was the only choice that he had. I think that
really was the conclusion that he came to last night after his conference
met was that there was nothing he could offer them that would let them go
home and explain to the people that they`re pandering to that they voted to
not default on the credit of the United States. I mean, just think about
that. There was nothing he could offer them that would get them to vote to
uphold the full faith and credit of the nation that they swore an oath to.

KORNACKI: And this gets to something I was talking a little bit to
Evan with before you, but it`s this story that has sort of defined
Washington about the Republican Party the last few years. When it comes to
votes in the House, we`re trying to analyze the psychology of the
Republican members. We know there`s the hardcore Tea Party element that
really imposed in principle to a debt ceiling increase.

What we`re trying to find out is how many of these Republicans want to
vote yes on something, want to vote yes on extending the debt limit, they
want to vote yes on immigration, they want to vote yes on ENDA, but are
scared of the Tea Party challenge, scared of called the RINO.

In being down there, having conversations with Republicans, how do you
think that math works out? What`s your analysis of your Republican
colleagues?

KILDEE: Well, I think if they just do it -- if they just take this as
a mathematics question and look at current opinion of the people that they
think are going to make the decision as to whether they come back again,
they`re going to do the wrong thing every time. When we`re elected to
these jobs, it`s to lead. It`s to help ex-main the challenges we face.

One of my favorite professors, Marty Linsky, says leadership is the
act of disappointing your own supporters at a rate they can absorb. They
need to start disappointing some of these extreme voices and tell them what
they don`t want to hear.

KORNACKI: I`m curious, you`re coming back to like, 28 today. Yes,
that`s a low number relatively speaking. It`s 28 who said, fine, we`ll
vote to increase the debt limit. But I guess what I`m asking, do you have
a sense of how many wanted to vote yes or how many would vote yes if they
could? What is the -- what is the big number you guys could get to here on
some of these other issue?

KILDEE: It`s hard to measure. I guess the one thing we know for sure
is there`s maybe 70 or so, 60 or 70 hardcore ideologues. The rest of them
I think could go either way, 28 of them basically went with us because the
speaker knew he had to deliver those votes.

But from what we`ve seen in the past, you know, there`s I think a
working majority between the Democrats and I think still a majority of
Republicans, but it`s a weak majority. It`s a majority that`s afraid of
their own districts of afraid of interest groups, but if they were to sit
at home and examine their own conscience, I think a majority would have
been with us.

That to me is the story of tonight. It`s not so much how they all
voted, but it`s how they voted as compared to their own consciences. I do
think we have to, maybe this is a moment where they can look at themselves
and say, look, next time I`m going to be one of the 28. Maybe we can get
to a majority that`s actually a function of majority. We don`t have to get
to the brink of economic catastrophe as our new Fed chair, Janet Yellen,
said would have been if we had tripped that ceiling, she said it would be
catastrophic.

We can`t get to that point. We just can`t get to that point before we
get, you know, the yes votes that we need to do the --

KORNACKI: Yes, I think you`re hitting an interesting point there. I
think if anything comes out tonight, it is there is a little less fear
among Republicans of the repercussions that come with crossing the Tea
Party. We`ll see how far it goes on in 2014.

KILDEE: I hope so.

KORNACKI: Congressman Dan Kildee, thanks for joining us tonight.

We`ll have the latest developments in Governor Chris Christie`s
bridge-gate, including what the governor had to say today about it, when we
come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Karl Rove is taking shots at Rand Paul. I`ll tell you why.
That`s ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you think about it going forward, does the G.W.
Bridge situation impact your ability to execute on those priorities for the
state?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Actually, I`m shocked you
brought that up.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: That was Chris Christie before he briefly addressed the
bridge-gate scandal before his one and only public event in Chicago where
he`s raising money on behalf of the Republican Governors Association.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: Some people who worked for me made significant mistakes in
judgment. When you`re the leader of that organization and you`re
confronted with that, the first thing that happens to you, what happened to
me, was extraordinary disappointment. Extraordinary disappointment that
people that I had trusted had made such bad judgments and had not told the
truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Christie also held private one-on-one meetings with top
donors in Chicago and a hedge fund CEO at a small dinner event. The
fundraising trip comes amid questions over whether the scandal-scarred
governor has become a liability to his party as the head of the RGA, which
last year raised more than $52 million to help elect Republican governors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED STRICKLAND (D), FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: To have Christie now
traveling around the country in his wounded condition trying to raise money
I think is the spectacle. Republican candidates are avoiding Christie like
I would avoid someone who had the swine flu.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: What appears to be an attempt to quiet it, the RGA
announced today it set a fund-raising record of $6 million in January under
Christie. The RGA does not normally release its monthly fund-raising
totals.

Meanwhile, there was a small protest today at the George Washington
Bridge. Really small protest based on that shot. Where a national group
organized victims -- some of the victims of the lane closures to speak out
against Christie.

Also, today, the Christie campaign won approval from the New Jersey
election law enforcement commission to spend campaign cash to fund its
respond to the subpoenas over the bridge scandal.

Christie, himself, said during his public event in Chicago that he
still hasn`t gotten to the bottom of what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: We`re in the midst of an internal review now, and whatever
that internal review discloses, we`re going to release to the public and if
there`s more action that needs to be taken, I`ll take it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Chris Christie`s doing a lot more than just looking at
members of his own team. Leading that internal review is a high-powered
defense attorney, Rudy Giuliani associate named Randy Mastro. Mastro is
seen as a prosecutor, not someone you would be hiring to play defense.

He has been pursuing a very aggressive legal strategy. Mastro`s team
has requested to meet privately with Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and to
examine her personal journal. Zimmer, of course, is alleging that the
Christie administration threatened to withhold Sandy aid if she didn`t
cooperate on a development project in her city.

And yesterday, Mastro and team requested records of the Fort Lee
mayor`s office, Mayor Mark Sokolich and his staff. They even asked for any
documents that Sokolich and his staff provided to the media.

That`s not all. Christie`s team also sought Zimmer`s correspondence
with "The New York Times". And today, we learned they want to interview
Sokolich as well.

Look at this, this "Bergen Record" chart shows, Mastro, himself, is
representing many Christie administration figures who are supposed to be
the subjects of the internal review.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think what their message is is, you know,
they`re trying to sort of threaten people, and, you know, not explicitly,
but saying, you know, we`re going to go back after you if you come after
us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Joining me now is Paul Butler. He`s a law professor at
Georgetown University Law Center. He`s a former federal prosecutor with
the U.S. Justice Department where he specialized in public corruption.

Paul, thanks for joining us.

So, let`s start with this. This caught me by surprise when I saw the
news last night that Christie`s team, it`s not just that they wanted to
interview Dawn Zimmer, themselves. It`s not just that they wanted to look
at her diaries. They also wanted her correspondence with "The New York
Times," the correspondence of her staff with "The New York Times".

My read on that, sounds like Kate Zernike, that`s an attempt to have a
chilling effect on the media, perhaps, and on public officials like Dawn
Zimmer who might want to come forward. Is that`s what`s going on here?

PAUL BUTLER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: Well, it could be, but
the fact is the lawyer can ask for all these documents, but there`s no
obligation for the mayor to turn them over.

It`s really the prosecutor who`s running this show. He`s got this
extraordinary subpoena power. So, he can on behalf of the grand jury get
any documents he wants.

But with these other witnesses, and Christie`s lawyer, if they want to
cooperate, they can. If they don`t want to, they don`t have to. And you
can be sure the prosecutor is discouraging their cooperation.

KORNACKI: Well, New Jersey has this very liberal open public records
law, you know, for lack of a better way of putting it, where it sort of
comes down on the side of if people want to see, you know, documents, they
should be part of the public record, people get to see them.

So, the potential here, at least, is for the Christie legal team to
get their hands on documents and go public with them and pursue almost a
public strategy. I mean, just looking at this from a lawyer`s standpoint,
I just, what do you see as the strategy behind this aggressive attempt to
get documents, publicly available documents, from Sokolich and from Zimmer?

BUTLER: Well, I think Chris Christie has hired the defense attorney
version of Chris Christie. And that`s fine. You know, we want everyone
who is being investigated by the United States to have the best possible
defense.

But at the end of the day, you know, the grand jury can subpoena
testimony from these witnesses. They can make them talk. So, they`ve just
got a lot more power than the defense. It`s not really like the scales of
justice are equal at this stage of the investigation.

KORNACKI: I wonder what you make of this internal review. Governor
Christie talked about it today out in Chicago. He said when we have
findings, we`ll release them.

Randy Mastro is basically conducting this internal review. As we
showed according to the "Bergen Record", when you look at the people on
Christie`s staff who presumably he`ll be interviewing, they are all
represented by his firm. To me, it raises the basic question, well, you
know, if he`s investigating this and trying to get to the bottom of this
and he turns up anything suspicious about any of these people, how does he
then turn around and be their lawyer, too? How can you wear both of those
hats?

BUTLER: Well, that`s exactly right. So, it`s not unusual early in an
investigation for one lawyer to represent several employees of an
organization.

Here`s why it`s a problem in this case. We`ve seen that Governor
Christie`s strategy is to blame his subordinates. He says the buck stops
with Bridget Kelly or the buck stops with David Wildstein or the buck stops
with that guy who wrote the memo last week who talked about David Wildstein
in high school not being the most popular kid.

So, it`s one thing to have a lawyer represent the coach and the team
if everybody is actually on the same team, but when the coach abandons the
team or pits the teammates against each other, then there`s a serious
potential for conflict.

KORNACKI: And one final question, we`re a little short on time.
Yesterday, we had the news of all the subpoenas, the new subpoenas going
out and also the call from the state legislative committee that`s looking
into this for Bridget Kelly and for Bill Stepien to supply the documents
that so far they have refused to supply citing the Fifth Amendment. Do you
think ultimately the committee is going to get those documents, or do you
think they will be able to hold on to the documents by citing the Fifth
Amendment?

BUTLER: No, they`re going to get those documents. There`s no Fifth
Amendment privilege on the document of voluntarily prepared documents. So,
it`s a Hail Mary pass by the lawyers to buy some time, and that`s always a
conflict in these public corruption cases because the target, the public
official, wants to get it over as quickly as possible for public relations
and for political reasons.

But it`s in the best interest of witnesses and the criminal best
interest of the target, of Governor Christie, to kind of delay things. And
so, he`s got conflicting advice from his political advisers and from his
criminal defense lawyer.

KORNACKI: All right. Paul Butler from Georgetown University Law
Center -- we thank you for joining us.

BUTLER: Always a pleasure.

KORNACKI: Remember when Governor Christie said this about Fort Lee
Mayor Mark Sokolich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: His name was never mentioned to me. His position was never
mentioned to me. When I say, John, he was not on my radar screen. That
means he was not on my radar screen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: A whole lot has changed since then, and Mayor Mark Sokolich
is now the subject of another e-mail attack from the Christie team. That`s
next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: We have seen New Jersey Governor Chris Christie`s allies
and the defenders questioning Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer`s credibility. And
it makes all the sense in the world they would.

After all, they adamantly deny the allegations that they tied Sandy
recovery money to her fast-tracking of a development project represented by
the law firm of one of Christie`s top political allies. So, of course it
makes sense that Christie`s lawyers and Christie`s office would
aggressively and publicly seek to challenge her story.

What doesn`t make as much sense, though, is who else the governor`s
team now seems to be targeting, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Now,
Sokolich is one of the more colorful characters at the heart of the
Bridgegate traffic scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SOKOLICH (D), MAYOR OF FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY: David Wildstein
deserves an ass-kicking. OK? Sorry. There, I said it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And Sokolich made some big news on Friday because of two
interviews he gave, or at least some people interpreted it as big news.

One of those interviews was with Bloomberg, the other with "The Bergen
Record." Mike Kelly, a columnist for "The Record," described Sokolich`s
remarks as his most extensive comments yet, with Sokolich telling "The
Record" that the Christie administration made efforts to gain his
endorsement, lavishing gifts on him, including a personal tour of the 9/11
Memorial Plaza by David Wildstein.

"I have told to be nice to you," Sokolich recalled Wildstein
remarking. "The Record" reporting -- quote -- "Sokolich said Governor
Christie`s aides courted him for more than two years with gifts from the
Port Authority to his town, like shuttle buses, pothole repairs and
emergency radios."

But when Sokolich did not volunteer his support, he says he was
punished with paralyzing traffic jams. A lot of people jumped to this as
evidence that Sokolich was changing his story. And Christie`s office was
no different. In an e-mail to us, a Christie spokesman characterized
Sokolich`s comments as -- quote -- "a total departure, in direct
contradiction to the version of events he has told up until then," up until
then being up until Friday.

It made me wonder, did he really change his story? Has Mark Sokolich
really changed the story he`s been telling? What did he say on Friday that
was so at odds with what he has been saying all along?

So, let`s go back to when this scandal first broke wide open in early
January. Back then, Sokolich expressed skepticism that the traffic
problems if Fort Lee were retribution for his refusal to endorse Christie
for governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOKOLICH: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Now, since then, Sokolich has basically stuck with that
story, that he doesn`t remember being explicitly asked to endorse Christie,
but that there`s also a lot of room for interpretation in his dealings with
the Christie team.

For instance, a few days after that interview in January, Sokolich
told "The New York Times" that he had sat down with a Christie campaign
staffer in the spring of 2013 and the staffer had mentioned that other
Democratic mayors were endorsing Christie. "I never called and said no. I
never called and said yes." That`s how Sokolich explained his response to
the paper.

"I think they interpreted my response to that conversation to be a
no."

Now, compare that to what Sokolich told Bloomberg News on Friday, when
he said that retribution for his non-endorsement of Christie -- quote --
"is more of a feasible explanation than some of the other theories that
have been advanced, but it`s an ever-changing phenomenon."

And that`s the kind of answer Sokolich has been offering all along,
that he doesn`t really know why he or why his town were targeted the way
they were, that it`s possible his non-endorsement is the reason, but that
other explanations are possible, too.

Now, a charitable take would be that Sokolich is basically thinking
out loud, that he`s trying to figure out the same mystery the rest of us
are. And more cynical take would be that he knows more than he`s letting
on. Either way, though, the Christie team`s eagerness to attack his
credibility is puzzling, because they are not disputing the wrongdoing that
is at heart of the story. It`s wrongdoing that was done by their own
people.

The governor said he was appalled to learn of the vindictive nature of
the lane closures. He`s publicly apologized to Mayor Sokolich. He`s
personally visited Fort Lee to apologize to the residents. He promised to
get to the bottom of it. He said he doesn`t know why it has happened yet.

And now his team is attacking Sokolich for supposedly changing his
story? Again, it`s entirely possible that Sokolich knows something he`s
not letting on publicly. But the story he has told in public really hasn`t
changed that much. And it`s left the same basic question unanswered: Why
did Christie`s people close those lanes in the first place?

Sokolich can speculate all he wants about the most likely explanation,
and Christie`s team can jump on him all they want if his speculation
changes. But that`s what this story is really all about. Why exactly were
those lanes closed? That`s a question that is as much a mystery now as it
was before that big news broke about Mark Sokolich on Friday.

Coming up: The junior senator from Kentucky is in quite a pickle. We
will tell you how Rand Paul is dealing with it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, "THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM": Can we
start with the hardest question that I have for you? And it is this. Why
are you endorsing Mitch McConnell?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I`m here in Texas to endorse Don
Huffines.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: Going to back to Kentucky, because he asked me. He asked me
when there was nobody else in the race, and I said yes. And...

(CROSSTALK)

BECK: Well, Al Gore -- Al Gore has asked me to change my opinion on
global warming, and I don`t do that. So...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: That was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul giving what sounded
like a less-than-ringing endorsement of his colleague Mitch McConnell`s
reelection bid on Glenn Beck`s radio show.

And after everyone had a chuckle over that, today, a reporter at the
Web site Talking Points Memo published a statement from Rand Paul`s office,
which offered a slightly stronger statement of support -- quote -- "Mitch
McConnell is an important ally and a conservative voice in Washington for
the people of Kentucky. The commonwealth is stronger because of his
service, and I look forward to continuing to work with him."

Now, that is a nice endorsement. And if it sounds at all familiar,
it`s the exact same endorsement, word for word, that Paul gave to the
Associated Press back in July of last year.

Here it is. "Mitch McConnell is an important ally and a conservative
voice in Washington for the people of Kentucky. And the commonwealth is
stronger because of his service, and I look forward to continuing to work
with him."

So, it seemed like the two of them had forged something of a quid pro
quo political relationship, Paul with his presidential aspirations, maybe
looking for connections to McConnell`s donor base and his political base in
the Republican Party, McConnell, running for reelection, looking to keep
Tea Party challengers at bay.

Well, now that McConnell does have a primary challenger from the
right, a Tea Party-backed Republican named Matt Bevin, Glenn Beck wanted to
know why Rand Paul was still endorsing Mitch McConnell.

Rand Paul is still interested in running for president in 2016. And
so the question now seems to be, if he can`t convince Glenn Beck why he`s
supporting Mitch McConnell for reelection, how in the world is he going to
convince the Tea Party conservatives that he shares their values?

So, perhaps that partly explains his recent repeated attacks on Bill
Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern
in his office.

There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior. And it
should be -- it should be something -- we shouldn`t want to associate with
people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: With Hillary Clinton widely perceived as the 2016
presidential front-runner on the Democratic side, Rand Paul`s strategy
seems to be, in his words -- quote -- "When it comes to the Clintons, it`s
hard to separate one from the other."

It`s a strategy, although it might not be a very good one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS: Rand Paul is out there. He`s banging on the
Clintons every day. Now, what`s his strategy?

KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well,
I`m not certain he has a strategy. I was intrigued the other day.
Somebody said, why are you doing this? And he said, because people keep
asking me about it.

And, frankly, Rand Paul spending a lot of time talking about the
mistakes of Bill Clinton does not look like a big agenda for the future of
the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: With Rand Paul alienating both sides of the Republican
Party, with Chris Christie`s 2016 hopes looking less and less hopeful, we
will take a look at the changing 2016 landscape. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Number one priority for you?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Elect and reelect Republican
governors. That`s priority number one, two and three. That`s it. When
you`re chairman of this organization, that`s it. You don`t have any other
agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Just three months after Chris Christie took over the
Republican Governors Association, and the news today from his trip to
Chicago is that for the first time in Christie`s three trips outside New
Jersey, a Republican candidate for office was willing to publicly be in the
same room with him.

That was not the case in Texas last week, where both Rick Perry and
Greg Abbott, who`s running for governor to succeed Perry this year,
declined to meet with the governor, or in Florida last month, when Rick
Scott took pains to make sure he wasn`t photographed with Christie.

The very candidates Christie is tasked with electing seem to be
running away from him. And that`s just when Christie is working his second
job. When he returned from New Jersey, the scandals threatening his
administration will be waiting. So far, he`s limited his visibility in the
state.

Last week, he answered questions on the radio. Bridgegate was
mentioned briefly. The allegations related to Sandy money in Hoboken
weren`t touched on at all. This Thursday, he will attend a town hall in
Middletown, a town ravaged by superstorm Sandy. We don`t know how much
time, if any, he will spend addressing the scandal rocking his
administration.

But it is clear at this point that, no matter how much Chris Christie
avoids questions about the traffic in Fort Lee and the allegations in
Hoboken, between the U.S. attorney`s investigation and dozens of
outstanding subpoenas issued by the New Jersey joint committee, this is not
going away. Sooner or later, Chris Christie will have to address the
allegations in Hoboken head-on.

And he will have to explain why he has not vouched so far for his
lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, and he will need to tell us why his
deputy chief of staff sent out that now infamous e-mail for some traffic in
Fort Lee.

Right now, Chris Christie doesn`t seem inclined to give us any of
those answers, but, really, how long can this go on?

Well, joining me now is the majority leader of the New Jersey State
Senator, Loretta Weinberg. She`s a Democrat. She`s co-chair of the joint
state legislative committee that`s investigating the lane closures at the
George Washington Bridge.

And, Senator, thanks for -- thanks for joining us tonight.

I wonder, when you look at the governor leaving the state, like he did
this week, like he did over the weekend, like he did in Florida, with all
these scandals swirling around him, is this causing a problem in New Jersey
for him, where voters are sort of saying, what is he doing outside the
state, when there are questions relating to his administration that haven`t
been answered in the state?

LORETTA WEINBERG (D), NEW JERSEY STATE SENATOR: Well, I think
certainly the polling shows that, what`s happened to the governor`s poll
numbers.

But, you know, we have got a lot of big problems going on here beside
Bridgegate. I am vice chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee, not --
I`m not talking about the joint select committee. It`s a regular committee
of the legislature chaired by Senator Bob Gordon.

This morning, we had the first in of a serious of hearings on Sandy,
on the lack of -- the problems with the company, HGI, that was fired. They
are the people who took the first applications from all the people who need
aid, the fact that money is not being spent, that people were erroneously
rejected.

There are huge problems here. We have other issues around New Jersey
transit. So -- and we haven`t even started to get into the budget season.

KORNACKI: Well, so, what do you expect? He`s -- as we said in that
setup, he`s kind of curtailed his public appearances. I mean, when you
compare with he was doing a few months ago with what he`s doing now, it`s a
lot harder to get public statements out of him.

But he`s coming back to the state and he`s holding this town hall in
Middletown on Thursday. Do you have any expectations at that event that a
lot of -- some of these questions, some of these issues you`re talking
about are going to be aired and he`s going to forced to address them a
little bit?

WEINBERG: Well, certainly, Sandy should be talked about in
Middletown. And, as I said, there are many issues around that.

In terms of what the select committee is covering in terms of
Bridgegate, you know, I just find it a little bit peculiar when I read
about the governor`s attorney, Mr. Mastro, who is supposedly doing an
internal review of the governor`s office about what went wrong. I mean,
maybe I`m being a little simplistic. I feel the same way about the Port
Authority, who -- they started a committee to look at what went wrong.

As soon as Pat -- if nobody knew about this, let`s give that nobody
knew about it before or during. As soon as Pat Foye`s e-mail was in the
press, the easiest way to find out what went wrong would have been to call
in Pat Foye and Bill Baroni and say, OK, tell me what happened here. I`m
reversing it. I`m making sure that such a thing never happens again and
I`m firing whoever was responsible.

If that had happened, if that had happened in the governor`s office at
the beginning of October, maybe you and I wouldn`t be sitting here
discussing this issue right now.

KORNACKI: We have -- the issue now is your committee has -- you have
a lot of subpoenas that are outstanding. You authorized some more.

You have had some new information that`s come back to you, though,
from some of these subpoenas that went out a few weeks ago. I wonder if
you can tell us -- I know you can`t be too specific here, but have you
learned anything from the information that`s come back in the last few days
that sheds any new light and that offers any clarification on this?

WEINBERG: No, I don`t think that we have learned anything that sheds
any new light.

But a lot of documents are not complete. They`re coming in on a
rolling basis. So we still have many more documents to look at. So I
can`t say that -- speaking personally, those documents that I have
reviewed, I can`t say I have learned anything particularly new, some
things, some things about the tone of the way this was all discussed about
the tone of the way they treated people.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: A continuation of some of the stuff we have seen about,
like, these are Buono voters -- the children of Buono voters, that sort of
thing?

WEINBERG: Yes. Right. Right.

KORNACKI: You have seen some of that.

All right, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg, we want to thank
you for joining us.

We will have more on this right ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I think, as you look forward to 2016, our party`s priority
should be on winning, not winning the argument, winning the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Joining me is Brian Murphy, assistant professor of U.S.
political history at Baruch College and former managing editor of
PoliticsNJ.com, and Lynn Sweet, columnist and Washington bureau chief at
"The Chicago Sun-Times."

And, Brian, I will just -- I will start with you. That clip we just
heard right there, it just strikes me as that was the thing that the
Christie people were already pitching to the national Republican audience
before last November`s election.

Like, look, he won with 60 percent. This is the guy that wins blue
states. This is what he was going to spend all 2014 and 2015 on the road
saying. And in the face of the scandal, he`s out there saying it anyway,
but it`s not going -- it`s not coming across the way that they thought it
would back in October and November.

BRIAN MURPHY, PROFESSOR, BARUCH COLLEGE: No, I mean, I guess he could
put that speech in the can for six months, and, if nothing changes, you can
pull it out.

But if you`re just using the same talking point six months later and
you have got this going on, it just doesn`t add up.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Does it accomplish anything for him? Is it...

MURPHY: I`m not sure.

I mean, at some point, the money that they have raised for the RGA,
some of that that we have seen come in was already banked long before this
happened. So the question is, what do we -- what kind of numbers are they
going to be releasing in April and May, after this has really been going on
for a while, and we have seen whatever damage begin to accumulate and
really settle in on the polling?

KORNACKI: Right.

And, Lynn, you did some reporting on this. Obviously, he`s in Chicago
today. And you called around, looked around at the four Republican
gubernatorial candidates out there. And you were finding not a lot of
enthusiasm for sharing the stage with Chris Christie on this trip. Can you
tell us a little about your reporting?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well,
it turned out there`s four people running for governor. One of them -- I
mean, Steve, let me just say, this is a city -- he came to a city that was
not fazed at all by this controversy that`s dogging him.

I might be a little bit contrarian here. The city absorbs on an
ongoing basis multiple serial political controversies and scandals where
public officials routinely go to jail, OK? So this is something people
take in stride.

The four people running for governor, at the one public event he had,
which was at a civic club of Chicago, one showed up, and by the time the
day ended, another one, who`s one of the very wealthiest donors and fund-
raisers in the area, who is running for governor, he met with him. The
third person, well, he now has his own scandal. The state treasurer was
just accused a few days ago in a lawsuit of sexual harassment charges from
a guy who is in -- who worked in his office.

So, maybe -- it`s a little confusing, but my reporting did show this,
that, early on, as of last week, no one was willing to say, Steve, that
they wanted to be at the event with him for sure, with the exception of one
person. But he did do well in Chicago today. I talked to one of the
people connected to the donor community, and they have not written him off.

KORNACKI: Right. Well, and that`s interesting. Now, we could do a
couple hours -- I would love doing this -- on New Jersey vs. Chicago, Cook
County, political corruption. Who votes the dead more? And maybe we will
throw Rhode Island in there.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: But we will save that for another time.

But, Brian, so Lynn is saying he got a decent reception out in Chicago
today. And one thing that strikes me about this is, the RGA role he has
right now is particularly critical from Christie`s standpoint in terms of
his 2016 viability. It`s so critical to him that he maintain the
impression that everything is going OK with this 2014 RGA thing, because
this is like his trial run as a national candidate.

Can he connect with the donors? Can he connect with the politicians
across the country? And if they`re all running away from him, if these
April and May reports come back and they`re disappointing in terms of the
money raised, then this is basically saying, hey, look, in 2014, it`s not
working, and then 2016, it`s not going to work either.

MURPHY: Right.

The timing is horrible for him. And we will just have to wait and see
what happens. I mean, from the sound of what`s going on Chicago, I guess
maybe he should book a long-term hotel suite just to hang out in Chicago,
because this is all fine there.

It`s going to -- the question for him has always been, how does this
play outside of an urban, sort of a Northeastern or even Northern setting?
How does it play in Texas? How does it play in real Republican primary
states, where I think that`s always been the question? And this has kind
of been a Northeastern story.

And the question for him has always been, how does he really -- when
you really run this test, how does this work in Republican primary states?
And there, you just -- right, we both hear the same thing, that a lot of
people are just saying, look, guys, this was -- this is a tough, tough race
for him to get into. And with this on his back, it makes it that much
harder.

KORNACKI: And quickly...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Go ahead. Yes, Lynn, go ahead.

SWEET: If I could just speak quick, the Illinois primary is just a
few weeks away. It`s the second -- it`s the second one in this whole line.

But I do want to make it clear, yes, it probably would have been
optimal to have had the four rivals in a picture with the man who runs the
Republican Governors Association.

KORNACKI: Yes.

And the interesting thing there, too, is just the "Star-Ledger,"
"Newark Star-Ledger" editorial that got so much attention, if you read
through it carefully, when they get to the end of, it they basically said,
we made a mistake in endorsing Christie in 2013.

But then they looked ahead to 2016, and they said, well, you look at
the party of Ted Cruz, the party of Rand Paul, in that party, we would
still pick Chris Christie.

So, I`m wondering if there are Republicans out there who still say, we
are really concerned about Chris Christie`s electability, all these issues,
but maybe still, compared to everybody else, this is our best bet. That`s
something we`re going to figure out over the next weeks.

Anyway, Brian Murphy from Baruch College, Lynn Sweet from "The Chicago
Sun-Times," thanks for joining us.

And that`s ALL IN for this evening. You catch my show, "UP," weekends
at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

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

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