UP with STEVE KORNACKI
April 12, 2014
Guests: Anthony Roman, Maya Tolstoy, Clay Risen, Lynn Sweet, Frank
Phillips, Brian Beutler, Lisa Brennan, Paul Butler, Brian Wice, Brian
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: There is news that broke overnight in the
Chris Christie investigation. We are going to tell you what it is in and
what it could mean shortly. But we begin this Saturday morning with the
latest on Flight 370. It was 36 days ago that we came on the air with
reports of a Malaysia Airline passenger jet that had gone missing on a
flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
In more than a month later now, it seems that investigation is at a
critical juncture. Not a single piece of debris has been found, but
investigators appear to be honing in on the flight`s two very important
black boxes. Crews on the hunt for the airliner zeroed in on what they
believe are sounds coming from the black boxes thought to be deep on the
floor of the South Indian Ocean.
Pinging sounds they described as nearly constant as heard from listening
devices suspended from floating buoys a thousand feet below the water
surface. The Australian Air Force has dropped 80 of these buoys as part of
its search, but it`s been three days now since they last heard any of the
pings. The race is on to figure out exactly where the sounds are coming
from before the batteries in the black boxes die.
As a result of that data, the underwater search zone does appear to be a
lot smaller than it once was because a ping here and a ping there, they
have been able to triangulate a presumed location and narrow down just how
much of the seabed they need to search. They are roughly 500 square miles.
That still leaves you something the size of Los Angeles.
The surface area is roughly 16,000 square miles of ocean. As "The
Washington Post" illustrated on Tuesday, the ocean depth that they are
working with talking about 15,000 feet here that depth makes for a huge
challenge. The empire state building stands more than 1,200. The 3,200
feet is the maximum known depth that a sperm whale can dive.
The Titanic was found at 12,500 feet of water. It took 73 years to find
that. They found Air France Flight 447 at 13,000 feet. If it`s there
Flight 370 could be 15,000 feet below the ocean surface. That is nearly 3
This morning, Tony Abbott, Australia`s prime minister expressed confidence
in the search even as he warned that a difficult task remains ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: While we do have a high degree of
confidence that the transmissions that we have been picking up are from
flight MH-370`s black box recorder, no one should underestimate the
difficulties of the task still ahead of us. Yes, we have narrowed down
very considerably narrowed down the search area, but trying to locate
anything 4.5 kilometers beneath the surface of the ocean is a massive task.
And it is likely to continue for a long time to come. Given that the
signal from the black boxes is fading, we`re trying to get as many
detections as we can so we can narrow the search area down to as small an
area as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Joining me now is Anthony Roman, a former commercial and
corporate pilot. He is now the president of the Global Investigation from
Roman and Associates. And out in Denver, we have a Greg Feith, he is a
former NTSB senior air safety investigator and NBC News aviation safety
And Greg, I`ll start with you. We hear the prime minister of Australia
there. He has been saying this for a few days now. He is confident that
they are on the trail that the pings are significant and they are going to
find this thing. You hear from some of the families of the victims. They
are understandably skeptical. They are saying they haven`t heard anything.
They are not hearing the government tell them it`s confirmed. It`s just
suspected. How confident should the families be in what the prime minister
is saying? How confident should all of us be that these pings really are
from the black boxes?
GREG FEITH, NBC NEWS AVIATION SAFETY EXPERT: That`s a real good question,
Steve. The big thing is that the prime minister is a politician, so he`s
trying to be as optimistic and hopeful especially since he`s been briefing
the Chinese and there`s been a lot of let down in the past. He`s trying to
maintain the best face. But when you listen to Angus Houston, he is very
measured in his words, cautious about what he says and until they actually
see something, they can`t confirm it.
And I think that you have a bit of a battle there when it comes to the
chosen words only because the families have been let down. There is this
huge effort to try to capture the sounds that we`re all looking for, the
pings, narrow down the area and race against time. And I think that right
now it has to be measured, we have to make sure that we listen really to
Because he`s probably got the best information about the validity of those
box signals, the pingers and where they may locate that box. Got to
remember that those signals just give us an area, don`t necessarily take us
to the exact location of either box.
KORNACKI: But Anthony, are you confident that the pings are from these
boxes? Could they be from something else completely or is it with a high
degree of confidence we can say the flight is somewhere around here?
ANTHONY ROMAN, FORMER COMMERCIAL AND CORPORATE PILOT: Confidence and fact
are two different things. And I think we have to make a very serious
distinction between the two. Yes, there is confidence that these are
coming from the black boxes. They have been analyzed both on site, on the
ocean, and in the laboratories in Australia. So there appears to be a very
high degree of confidence, yet you have no confirmation. Up until there`s
a visual sighting of the wreckage, can they begin to say it is likely it`s
MH-370 and up until they secured some of the wreckage or the black boxes,
they cannot really confirm that it is.
KORNACKI: And I wonder too, just looking at this, we have had all sorts of
reports over the last few weeks, they found 60 pieces of debris, they are
sending out planes, none of this debris that`s been turned up is actually
from the flight. If we`re talking about a plane that crashed into the
water here and we`re getting to the area where we`re kind of close,
shouldn`t there be some piece of debris that`s surfaced at this point. Is
it plausible that the whole plane goes down intact?
ROMAN: Well, not intact, but it is plausible that there is very little to
no debris. There was an American Airlines flight that was hit by a
horizontal tornado that spun off the top of the Rockies about 12 years ago
and it nosedived into the ground. There was a huge crater, and there was
no piece larger than three or four inches of any debris in that aircraft.
There were no chunks left. It virtually disintegrated. So it`s very tough
to say what angle they crashed at, what the sea state was at the time.
There are so many variables and factors that go into this.
KORNACKI: And Greg, I just want to ask you, beyond the question of the
search that`s going on right now, there`s also the attempt in obviously
getting the black boxes will answer a lot of this. There`s the attempt to
figure out what exactly happened. If the plane ended up down there, why
did it end up down there? We have seen some reports this week that it may
have been flying at a very low altitude when it turned back over Malaysia.
What do we know now about how the plane would have gotten down there, about
what happened after it lost contact on that night?
FEITH: Steve, we have to be very cautious. The information that`s been
reported over the last couple days is not based on fact. It`s based on
somebody leaking some information without it being vetted. I have been
saying for the last month that the information I have from the folks that I
have been talking to is that airplane never descended after it was at
35,000 feet. There`s been a lot of talk about how it climbed and descended
and that just is not fact.
The information that came out of the airplane coming down to 5,000 feet to
avoid radar, there`s no logic there because the airplane then had to climb
back up not only to get to an altitude where they would have a sufficient
fuel burn to get them as far as they went in the ocean, but the airplane
became radar contacted again when the climb happened. So there`s no logic
We have to be careful with this kind of factoid or believed factoid and
then people building a story around it. The big thing here is that when we
look at this information and we look at what`s been going on and we know
really what is fact. We know that the satellite information is probably
the best source of information. We know where this airplane is in general
terms and hopefully the pingers will or at least what is believed to be the
pingers will put us in an area we can recover wreckage and get to the
The boxes aren`t going to tell us everything, and I think in general terms
and hopefully the pingers will or at least what is believed to be the
pingers will put us in an area we can recover wreckage and get to the
boxes. The boxes aren`t going to tell us everything, and I think families
if they are expecting they are going to have the answers from the two
I want them to be cautious that it won`t tell us why things happened. It
will tell us what happened, it will tell us what the airplane was doing and
whether automation was flying, but it`s not going to tell us the why.
KORNACKI: Right. Still a very important piece of evidence, if and when
they are able to collect that. We will talk about that challenge about
going that deep into the ocean. We`ll have an oceanographer, how do you
search that deep in the ocean. That`s when we come back.
KORNACKI: Back with our guests, talking about the search for Malaysia
Airlines Flight 370. Greg Feith, former NTSB senior air safety
investigator, former commercial and corporate pilot, Anthony Roman is here.
And Maya Tolstoy is joining us now in the table. She is an oceanographer
who studied ocean acoustics, currently an associate professor with Columbia
Maya, I`ll start with you. Just looking at this on the map and starting to
read about it, it seems to me like this is basically the most remote area
of the world. It`s like 1,500 miles from Perth, Australia. We`re talking
about something that`s 3 miles deep into the South Indian Ocean. Can you
just tell us a little bit about what is the ocean like on the surface there
and when you start getting that deep into the ocean, I mean, what is it
MAYA TOLSTOY, OCEANOGRAPHER: Well, it is a very remote area there, but you
have to remember two-thirds of the surface of our planet are covered with
ocean, so there`s a lot of remote ocean out there. The good news with this
search is it`s moved slightly further north. The area they were originally
searching in the 40s is much worse seas so that greatly hampers search
So this area of the seas are a little better, although the winter is
coming. In terms of the sea floor in that area, it`s relatively flat and
also relatively old so that`s, again, good news in terms of comparing it
with the Air France flight. That`s very young sea floor so it has a lot of
lava exposed at the surface. In this older sea floor, what you have is
So the good news with the heavy sediments is when you use side scan sonar
systems, you can pick out where there might be debris much more easily.
You send down an acoustic pulse and it reflects back off the sea floor. An
aircraft would have a much stronger reflection than a sediment. Whereas if
you have lava there, it also produces a strong reflection. In this heavily
sediment area it should be easier to pick out debris.
KORNACKI: Anthony, Greg was talking about even if we get the black boxes,
that`s not going to answer everything. As I understand it also, this is a
plane that was potentially in the air for seven or eight hours. The black
boxes only record like two hours of communication, is that right?
ROMAN: That`s the cockpit voice recorder. That`s on a two-hour loop.
However, the flight data recorder records approximately 80 parameters and
can record for the length of that flight. So I think you`ll have
significant data with regard, as Greg has pointed out, with regard to the
systems on the aircraft, whether it was being flown automatically, the
pilots using the auto pilot and activating it themselves when they wanted
to make a right or left turn or a climb.
KORNACKI: Just to clarify, other people are confused about this too.
There`s the cockpit voice recorder. That`s where you hear the
conversation. The black boxes we`re talking about you can chart where the
plane was going, what maneuvers it was making.
ROMAN: Where the thrust levers were, what speed it was traveling at, what
altitude it was at and whether or not the aircraft was being manipulated by
the pilots or a third party manually or by flight control systems.
KORNACKI: And so Greg, on that question then of the cockpit voice
recorder, we`re always talking about the black boxes being indestructible.
Does that apply to the cockpit voice recorder? If this plane is recovered,
are we confident we`ll hear what the pilots were saying or is that an open
FEITH: No, when we talk about the black boxes that outer shell, the orange
part of the box is just a piece of sheet metal, typically aluminum or
steel. That really breaks away. It`s the core of the boxes that`s
encapsulated in a titanium shell with a water jacket for fire protection.
I have done accidents where that`s been totally obliterated during the
impact sequence. Fortunately, we were still able to get usable
But when we talk about the cockpit voice recorder and what Anthony said
it`s on a two-hour loop, we`re not sure what we`re going to hear. If it
was able to run or allowed to run for the full course of the flight, then
it`s overwritten itself several times. But if the cockpit -- if the pilot
in the cockpit decided he was going to try to stop all known information
about him and what he was doing or she was doing in that cockpit, they
could pull the circuit breaker on the cockpit voice recorder.
We had that with Silk Air where the captain of that particular flight
decided to pull the circuit breakers on both the cockpit voice recorder and
the flight data recorder. What he did was when he pulled them, they
stopped recording. But what we found on the cockpit voice recorder was the
first two hours of the flight when he arrived at the airplane, he was
talking to the first officer, talking to the crew.
We got some very valuable information even though we didn`t have the actual
part of the flight where he took the airplane down. We did have very good
information that helped us figure out what his motive was.
KORNACKI: And just very quickly, Maya, knowing this part of the world, you
hear about the search for potentially 15,000 feet deep, are you confident
they will be able to get black boxes that deep in this part of the world?
TOLSTOY: I am, yes. The technology exists to do that. It`s a lot harder
when you`re working at those depths so it will take longer, but they
absolutely have the technology to be able to do that.
KORNACKI: OK, great, I want to thank Greg Feith, former aviation
investigation for getting up this morning as well as oceanographer, Maya
Tolstoy, former pilot, Anthony Roman, thanks for joining us.
Four American presidents traveled to Texas this week to celebrate the
legacy of another American president, LBJ. What it means for the current
president and what he`s trying to accomplish. That`s ahead.
KORNACKI: This was the week that President Obama and three former
presidents traveled to Austin, Texas to pay tribute to one of their
predecessors, Lyndon Johnson. He`s a controversial president, one who
racked up land mark legislative achievements on the domestic front only to
see his presidency and much of his legacy undone by his mindless escalation
of the war in Vietnam.
It was the biggest of LBJ`s domestic achievements that brought all those
presidents to the LBJ Presidential Library this week. That`s the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, which turns 50 this summer. It was triumphant moment
for equality. It was also in a way a shameful one. After all it had been
a century since the civil war, more than 100 years since Abraham Lincoln`s
And only in 1964, just 50 years ago, that America reach the point where a
bill banning discrimination in public places could pass Congress and be
signed into law. It might have taken even longer than that if fate hadn`t
placed Johnson in the presidency in November, 1963. He inherited from John
F. Kennedy a civil rights bill that was stalled in Congress blocked as
always by the unified non-yielding opposition of Southern Segregationists.
Johnson himself had once been part of that southern opposition to embrace
civil rights as a congressman or a senator from Texas would have ended his
political career on the spot. But as a president, he was now in position
to do something. Warned by advisers to steer away from civil rights in his
first address to Congress after JFK`s assassination, Johnson scoffed at
that suggestion and replied, what the hell is the presidency for then?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: No memorial or eulogy could more
eloquently honor President Kennedy`s memory than the earliest possible
passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Three months after that speech, LBJ`s civil rights bill passed
the House and four months after that it cleared the Senate and Johnson
signed it into law in 1964. It`s a feat that 50 years later the country`s
first African-American president spoke of in personal terms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Because of the
civil rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new
doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody. Not all at
once, but they swung open. Not just blacks and whites, but also women and
Latinos and Asians and Native Americans and gay Americans and Americans
with a disability. They swung open for you and they swung open for me.
That`s why I`m standing here today because of those efforts, because of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: President Obama also reminded us the civil rights act was just
the first of a series of historic laws pushed through Congress and signed
into law in the LBJ years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And he didn`t stop there. Even though his advisers again
told him to wait, again told him let the dust settle, let the country
absorb this momentous decision. He shook them off. The meat in the
coconut, as President Johnson would put it, was the voting rights act. So
he fought for and passed that as well. Immigration reform came shortly
after and then a fair housing act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: There was also Medicare and Medicaid, major components of the
social safety net we know today, pushed through Congress and signed by
Johnson. The great society is what he called his domestic program. For a
few years in the mid-1960s, it felt like LBJ could do no wrong. His
popularity would never sink and influence with Congress would never wane.
The sweeping laws and programs wouldn`t stop coming.
Decades of bottled up progress finally uncorked with a president with a
magic touch. Of course, the good times did stop for LBJ. The final years
of his presidency were defined by a civil rights backlash, civil unrest
escalating war protests and the beginnings of a political realignment that
fuelled the conservative movement that to this day seeks to roll back LBJ`s
That`s not what this week`s festivities were about in Austin, but they were
about the best part of the LBJ years when a president took on one major
challenge after another, device solutions and pushed until Congress went
along with him. This is the LBJ who was celebrated this week and seems now
to be in the midst of a reassessment by modern day historians and pundits.
A president who knew how to get things done even if the process was dirty.
That`s the LBJ image that`s taking hold. That image has spawned plenty of
commentary that President Obama, whose agenda has been stalled by
Republicans since they took over the House in 2011, could achieve more it
if me took the same approach of Congress that LBJ did.
That`s the argument. Of course, LBJ governed in a very different era. His
biggest achievements came with monstrous Democratic majorities in Congress
that Obama could only dream of today. A year they wouldn`t devote itself
to using every legislative tool at its disposal to fight just about any
bill or any nominee with the president`s support.
No wonder as the AP reported this week perhaps no historical analogy irks
the White House more than the comparisons between Presidents Barack Obama
and Lyndon B. Johnson. It is also the fact that Obama can lay claim to the
biggest single addition to the social safety net since LBJ`s days, the
affordable care act.
It`s entirely that his own major achievement. But still the polarization
that defines Washington today and the frustration of many of the
president`s supporters that he hasn`t been able to do more represents a
sharp contrast with LBJ on display this week. How accurately are we
remembering the Johnson years and is there anything in his example that
could reignite the Obama presidency?
How can any president achieve anything big as the divide between red and
blue America only grows deeper? Here now to discuss we have Lynn Sweet,
the Washington Bureau chief at the "Chicago Sun-Times." Clay Risen, he is
the author of the book, "The Bill Of The Century, The Epic Battle for the
Civil Rights Act, and also an op-ed staff writer at "The New York Times."
MSNBC contributor, Jonathan Capehart, he is a columnist with "The
Washington Post" and NBC News presidential historian, Michael Beshlosh
joins us in Washington. Thank you all for being here.
I want to talk about sort of the modern day politics of how LBJ is invoked
today and the unfairness or fairness of that in sort of the state of the
Obama presidency. But first I think I want to go back to that era. We
talked about the passage of the civil rights act in 1964 and more broadly
the great society. To get a clearer understanding of exactly what the
times were like, what LBJ`s role was in that?
And Clay, I know you have written about this and you say this sort of
modern reassessment of LBJ is getting it wrong and that his role in for
instance, the civil rights act is largely overstated.
CLAY RISEN, AUTHOR, "THE BILL OF THE CENTURY": It`s overstated, but he
also deserves a lot of credit in a different way. LBJ one of his smart
moves was to let the people who are already running the bill to do their
thing. They already knew the game plan. What Johnson did was make a moral
case. The film you just showed, his speech right after Kennedy`s
assassination was filled with this moral urgency that he pushed through to
the very end and demanded a full bill. He refused to accept compromise.
That was incredibly courageous. It`s not what we think of Johnson doing.
KORNACKI: The image of Johnson is, as we say, the guy who could talk to
the congressmen, intimidate him and just keep them on the phone until he
got a yes.
RISEN: There was some of that going on, but a lot of it was stepping back
and using the power of the presidency. The soap box, as you will, to get
up in every speech, every opportunity he had, every press conference and
say I demand not just a civil rights bill, but the full civil rights bill.
A lot of people were taken aback Senator Dirkson, the minority leader,
thought he could work out a compromise with Johnson. And he went to the
White House and said, let`s make a deal here. Johnson said, absolutely
not, you go talk to Humphrey, but I will not accept anything less than the
KORNACKI: So Michael, when you look back as a historian at the civil
rights act in 1964 and all the other great society accomplishments for
Johnson, so much action in Congress packed into so few years. What do you
see as the keys to Johnson having that kind of success on the domestic
front as president?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Key was he had the
second most Democratic Congress of the 20th Century. Johnson can argue it
round or flat, but it would have been impossible for someone to botch that.
There would have been a minimum of things that any president could have
gotten in that time, but it was because Johnson had these enormous
legislative skills that came from the House in the `40s and the Senate in
the 1950s that allowed him to maximize this.
But I think what Clay said is absolutely right. I would even broaden the
compass a little more. You can`t in this society wait for a president like
John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson to simply decide it`s time for civil rights
and send off a bill to the Congress. They were politicians. Kennedy did
it in `63 not because he wanted to damage his re-election in `64, which he
did with this.
But because Birmingham had happened. People were outraged by barking dogs.
Conservatives were saying this is getting outside of the system of law the
president better do something. In 1965, Johnson was very cautious about
voting rights. What pushed him to do it was the Selma march and what
happened in Alabama to make Americans say, this is the time.
So you know, what is wonderful about our society is that when it`s working
well, you`ve got the grass roots, these things happening, Congress
responding to it and a president at the top. You really need all these
KORNACKI: Michael mentioned it there, the majorities that President
Johnson as a Democrat joined in Congress. We can show the 89th Congress,
this is one of the most productive Congresses of all time. I mean, in the
House it was 295 to 140. I think in the Senate it was 65 to 35. The
Democrats had that margin. So totally different.
But Jonathan, I wonder when we look there was civil rights, voting rights,
great society and that was in the wake of the `64 election. There was also
a backlash in 1966. They lost a ton of those seats in the House. They
lost a ton of Senate seat and LBJ`s popularity plummeted. I wonder if you
see the beginnings of really the modern story of politics and the modern
political divide that we now see.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: The backlash. The president --
Michael said that Johnson made the moral case for all the things he did,
but it came with consequences. And yes, I think right now what we`re
seeing is this sort of clash between two different eras. President Johnson
had a different Senate, but I also think at the time there was a reverence
for the presidency, for the office of president among members of Congress,
but also members of the press that just does not exist today.
We have seen things happen to President Obama, also to President Clinton,
President Bush that would never happen back in the day of Lyndon Johnson.
So if you look at what`s happening now, take for instance Newtown. A
cataclysmic event that happened in this country along the lines of the
bombings in Birmingham and all the things that could push people to do the
Newtown was of that level to my mind. There was a human cry in the
country, do something about this. The president gets out there and makes
the moral case. The moral case was not enough because the opposition to
what the president and the majority of the country wanted to do was much
And I would say that one of the things that President Johnson had that just
isn`t there today that was there under Clinton and Bush and Reagan, ear
marks. It`s easy to be president and cajole and bend a senator over a desk
when you can hold over that senator`s head. If you do not vote for this, I
will take away funding for your bridge, your community center, I won`t do
all these things.
KORNACKI: When you`re talking about a Tea Party Republicans who define
themselves by how much government they dismantle and can go back to their
constituents and brag about the power of the earmark even if it existed
sort of non-existent with them. But Lynn, curious what you make of what
Jonathan is saying about the basic reverence for the presidency back in
Johnson`s era verus now. Even among members of the press. Is that
something -- what do you make of that?
LYNN SWEET, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I respectfully disagree as that a
significant point of comparison between the two because you`re talking
about an insider`s game and getting it passed, not dealing with all the
forces. So if for the moment we narrow the discussion to what Obama did,
you mentioned a name that was very important and that was Senator Dirkson.
Obama had a willing Republican partner, the senator from Illinois, a
Republican lion who stepped up and what he was able to do is prevent the
Senate from filibustering the civil rights bill.
So that was a very crucial role because just as we have rules in the Senate
now and we have these votes to advance legislation, this bill could have
been stopped without a vote. So no matter new media, old media, you need a
willing partner and Obama had that.
KORNACKI: Johnson had that. That`s what I want to pick up. We have to
squeeze a break in. That`s what I want to squeeze into the next block.
The comparison that drives the White House crazy. Why can`t Obama be more
like LBJ? I want to look at the nature of the opposition they face to see
if there`s any validity. We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT JOHNSON: Their cause must be our cause too because it`s not just
-- it`s really all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry
and injustice. And we shall overcome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And that`s Lyndon Johnson in 1965, that`s the year of the voting
rights act. Lynn, you were talking about Dirkson.
SWEET: It was Lyndon Johnson. I said Obama a few times. I want to make
KORNACKI: Lyndon Johnson had the governing partner.
SWEET: Lyndon Johnson had a partner in Everett McKinley Dirkson. Obama
does not have a partner.
KORNACKI: And Michael, I want to get to that point with you about just
sort of the way the two parties are sort of different than they were in
1964. Largely, it`s because of what happened in 1964 that the differences
between the two parties sort of sorted out. The Republicans are the right
of center party and there`s this big divide that seems to get bigger
largely as a as a result of `64. Is that right?
BESCHLOSS: I`m glad to hear my friend, Lynn, pumping for Everett Dirkson.
Illinois needs all the help it can get sometimes. But you`re absolutely
right, Steve. Johnson was brilliant in all sorts of ways. One of the most
brilliant things he said was in private and people don`t know much about
it, which is after the election of `64, Johnson told his legislative people
we have this big Democratic Congress, two-thirds Democratic Senate. You
may think we`re going to spend four years getting our wish list through.
We`ve got about six months because by the summer I`m going to have asked
all these members of Congress particularly in swing districts that made it
in `64 against all odds to make sacrifices and they are going to stop doing
it. It turned out to be right. When you and I think of the great society,
much of what he got done was done in the first six months. Goes to Texas
in August after the voting rights bill, it happens in Los Angeles, a lot of
Americans were outraged by that.
Began to be more skeptical about civil rights. Suddenly the atmosphere was
much more difficult by `66. So that the election of `66, he loses 47
Democrats in the House. All night people are saying this guy, in some
cases it should have been women, but wasn`t in those days. They lost
because of white backlash.
That was the night that Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California.
Not on civil rights, but that was the beginning of the conservative
movement. Johnson was so oppression that what we did in the summer of `65
probably was fuelled by Reagan.
KORNACKI: I guess you could see a modern parallel in 2009-2010, Obama has
the majorities in Congress, pushes through a huge addition in the social
safety net. In 2010, you get that midterm backlash. So Clay, look,
stipulating the major differences we have put out there between what it was
like in Johnson`s time, the majorities he had, second of all, the
cooperation from some Republicans because moderate and liberal Republicans
existed back then.
Obama just faces this wall of Republican opposition right now that is
impossible to breakthrough. He has tried every which way. Is there
anything you see when you look back to the Lyndon Johnson example, though,
is there anything more that Obama could or should be doing that would have
gotten a little more done?
RISEN: I think that Obama at least from what I know as an outsider, I
think Obama could be doing more on the day to day meeting and greeting and
cooperating, should have been doing this from the very beginning. One of
the things that Johnson did going back to his time in the House and then
the Senate and the presidency was just daily upkeep of relationships and
really making sure he was in there talking to everybody, setting up favors
and things like that so a big deal he didn`t have to talk to somebody for
the first time.
KORNACKI: That`s -- and Jonathan, I guess from Democrats in Washington, I
guess that`s the biggest complaint I hear about this president and this
administration is he has played golf with John Boehner. He tried to strike
the deal, but he`s not on the phone with different members of the Congress,
different senators. He`s not aggressively trying to pick them off peel.
Do you think that`s --
CAPEHART: That is a reasonable knock against the president. He is the 180
version of President Clinton. President Clinton was the guy, hold on to
you, go to the rope lines, and stay there until the last person left.
President Obama is the complete opposite. He`s much more self-contained.
He`s much more comfortable in his own skin so he doesn`t need, he does not
want the gelation that clearly President Clinton wanted.
So that makes him a different kind of president and frustrating in a town
that wants to be able to say, I talked to the president yesterday. I was
invited to the White House. I was on Marine One. I golfed with the
president. I was invited to Camp David. When was the last time -- I can`t
think of the time the president invited any member of Congress to Camp
David. These are all the tools.
The one time I can remember the president using Air Force One for this
purpose is he took Congressman Eric Shock with him to some sort of rally.
This was the vote for the stimulus. He didn`t get Congressman Shock`s
vote. We have seen instances where the president has tried to reach out
through cocktails at the White House early on in his term, but they didn`t
yield any kind of benefit for him.
They don`t just do this to do this. They do this to yield a benefit for
the president in his agenda and I guess it didn`t bear fruit fast enough
for the president so he`s like, I`m just going to go back to being me and
doing things not for public consumption but behind the scenes. There are
people on Capitol Hill, Democrats in particular, who look at the White
House and think, what the hell is going on?
KORNACKI: We have to squeeze one more break in here. I want to pick it up
for what it means for the rest of Obama presidency and any presidency that
follows it. You look at the hyper polarization. Can big things still
happen? No matter who the president is, like they did in 1965, we`ll ask
that question when we come back.
KORNACKI: This question of whether big things are still possible in
Washington. It seems like a long time ago, but it was only a couple years
ago that a very big thing did come out of Washington, the affordable care
act. It`s being implemented today. That was the product of President
Obama having big Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate and even
with that, just was able to get it through.
But, Lynn, is that really what it`s come to, to get anything big and
significant through anymore? Your party needs to control everything. You
need the big majorities otherwise there`s no room for compromise.
SWEET: We`re going to have a test in November and again in 2016. The one
issue you could do something on potentially is immigration. The Senate did
pass a comprehensive immigration bill. President Obama has been working on
it for years.
KORNACKI: And the Republican House is saying absolutely not.
SWEET: Right, or they put up obstacles that they keep raising the bar on
security before they will go to the second issue. So it`s the only issue I
see as a potential if Republicans think they have to deliver something
before the election.
KORNACKI: We have been having that conversation. We`re watching it right
now with Jeb Bush make a humane comments about immigrants and get raked
over the coals for it. Michael, the big presidency like you had the first
two years of President Obama, is that possible short of those kind of
BESCHLOSS: Probably not, and that`s the poignant thing. If you look at
Dirkson as an example, the reason why Dirkson remained Senate leader of the
Republicans in the 1960s was not because this was a fire brand who was
going to have go after LBJ and the Democrats. It was the opposite. They
knew he knew the president, could make deals, could get things for them.
The same thing was true of many Republican members of Congress who were re-
elected because they were able to work with the other side.
Same thing with Democrats in other times. That`s all out the window. I
used to be optimistic and say this huge combat in Congress will probably
abate at least when there`s a national emergency. Well, after 2001 after
9/11, it really didn`t. Maybe for a couple months after the biggest
economic crisis in 2008 since the great depression. Didn`t abate them.
So I`m almost saying when is that going to happen? So the result is I
think you`re right. We`re going to be in a situation where presidents who
wanted to get big things done will not try to do it in a bipartisan way as
Johnson did with civil rights and Medicare, it will be probably much more
the Obama model with health care where you try to get big Democratic
CAPEHART: Up against the clock. But really quickly. What`s needed is an
opposition that wants to govern. Right now the Republican Party is filled
with Tea Party folks who are sent to Washington to stop things, to stop
government. So until the Republican Party gets to the point where it
decides it wants to compromise, where it`s not a dirty word, big things
KORNACKI: Until the primaries stop killing off Republicans who do any kind
of compromising, that`s one of the variables. I want to thank NBC News
presidential historian, Michael Beschloss and here in New York, MSNBC
contributor, Jonathan Capehart, Lynn Sweet with the "Chicago Sun-Times" and
Clay Risen for "New York Times," thanks for joining us.
Big news this morning in the Chris Christie investigation. That is
KORNACKI: A big week of major developments in the Christie investigation
with even more of them breaking this morning. First, the latest on the
search for that missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet. The prime
minister of Australia said this morning that he feels confident the pings
that have been picked up by underwater beacons are from Flight 370`s black
boxes. He warned that the search is likely to continue for a long time.
Four pings detected this week by underwater buoys have allowed search crews
to narrow the search zone. They haven`t heard a new signal in the past
three days and the race is on to fine the black boxes before their
batteries run out. More information as it becomes available. We`ll be
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Still ahead this morning, the big news in the
Chris Christie investigation. But first, we`re kicking off with this hour
with what`s going to be a regular feature here. A close up look at the
most pivotal races of 2014, contests that are going to determine if
Democrats hang on to the House, if Democrats hang on to the Senate and
which party will end up in control of the most important state houses.
We`ll start today in a state where there was some big although not entirely
unexpected news on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT BROWN, SENATE CANDIDATE, NEW HAMPSHIRE: I want you all to know about
a decision I have made. Starting today I`m a candidate for the United
States Senate for the state of New Hampshire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So now it`s official. Just over four years ago, Scott Brown was
an unknown state senator from Massachusetts. Then he scored a truly
stunning upset when he won a special election to fill the remainder of the
late Ted Kennedy`s U.S. Senate term and made him a national Republican star
and he lost that seat to Elizabeth Warren in 2012. He toyed with running
in another special Senate session last year, this time to replace John
Kerry. He also flirted with running for governor of Massachusetts this
year, but now he is a new resident of New Hampshire seeking to unseat
Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.
Now a little bit about the history of Brown is up against here. In the
past 200-plus years, a total of 21 people who have managed to win election
to the House from two different states. There`s been one person, Sam
Houston, who managed to get elected governor in two different states.
There have been just two senators who served more than one state in their
careers. James Shields and Whitman Thomas Willy, both back in the 19th
Century when senators were still chosen by state legislatures.
Scott Brown is trying to become the first elected by the voters in two
different states. Now about the importance of this particular race, it is
critical for Democrats to win this one and here`s why. Right now they have
a 55-45 majority in the Senate. But there are seven Democratic held seats
in states where President Obama lost to Mitt Romney in 2012.
There`s only one Republican held seat in a state where Romney lost to
Obama. That means Republicans have a lot more pickup opportunities than
Democrats. Plus as we have talked about before, midterm elections are bad
news for the party controlling the White House. So New Hampshire is a
perfect example of the kind of state where Democrats have to hang on this
fall if they are going to keep the Senate.
They state is politically competitive. It did vote for Obama by six points
in 2012 and has gone Democratic in five of the last six presidential
elections. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat Brown wants to unseat is finishing
her first term and she is relatively popular. New poll gives her a 49-35
approval rating. If she wins, it`s not going to by itself save the Senate
for Democrats, but if she loses, it means they are in serious trouble.
That same poll, by the way, shows Shaheen starting out with a six-point
advantage over Brown, but look closer and there`s good news for Democrats.
Brown`s unfavorable rating in New Hampshire is 10 points higher than his
favorable rating. A lot of suspicion I guess about people from
Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Does Brown have a chance of overcoming it
or could this race be his last stand? The defeat that snuffs out what for
a moment there was a bright political star.
Joining me now to discuss this we have Frank Phillips, he is the State
House bureau chief of "The Boston Globe" and NBC news producer and
reporter, Kasie Hunt, who is joining us this morning from Manchester, New
Kasie, I know it`s 2016 politics that brought you up to the great state
this weekend. But obviously, big news up there is Scott Brown getting into
this race. We show that poll that gives him the negative favorable rating
starting out ten points more unfavorable than favorable. Do you attribute
that to this carpet bagger charge moving into New Hampshire? Do you get a
sense that`s early on in this campaign hurting him up there?
KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Democrats will say that what they see in
their own sort of surveys and as they talk to people is that there`s this
built in trust deficit that`s based on this it idea he`s a political
opportunist. It`s not even a carpet bagging charge. That`s part of it.
He only moved to New Hampshire four months ago. What it really is, OK, he
was in Massachusetts. He was a Republican. He couldn`t win in
Massachusetts as a Republican so he moved to New Hampshire.
And that`s something that voters up here don`t necessarily caught on to. I
have had a handful of conversations with people since I have been here.
There`s definitely this sense I don`t know about that guy. And that`s
going to be the main hurdle that he`s going to have to overcome is to
convince people that he really does actually mean what he says and does
think it`s about more than just wanting to win a Senate seat, any Senate
KORNACKI: Well, Frank Phillips, you covered him closely and have a really
good sense of Scott Brown, probably has a good sense of anybody who`s
covered him. I just wonder, the question I have when I look at this is
what happened to Scott Brown? Because he wasn`t able to win the Senate
election in 2012 against Elizabeth Warren, but he left that race with
strong personal popularity in Massachusetts. Governor`s seat opened in
2014. Looked like he could be very competitive there. It seems like a
rather extreme move to switch states and try to run to the Senate. Did
something go wrong for him in Massachusetts after 2012? What`s your sense
FRANK PHILLIPS, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": I think a lot of people are wondering,
including those Republican who is are great supporters with him back in
2010 and in 2012. They are very disenchanted with him. Privately the
Republican leadership and activists are wondering why he didn`t stay in
Massachusetts. He would have had a real shot at winning the seat that
Kerry vacated. Then he could have run this time. He would have been a
And I think there`s some real feelings here among the Republicans that they
feel that he`s just out for himself and gone up to New Hampshire and it`s
playing into that narrative. I do think he`s going to be a very strong
candidate. He knows how to campaign and he will do well up there. I don`t
know if he`s going to win, but he left behind some hard feelings in
KORNACKI: The other thing I want to ask you about, the race between
Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown in 2012 was significant because there was
a pact between the two candidates not to allow outside money, not to allow
the big super PACs that have these huge expenditures going into races
elsewhere in the country. Scott brown has been asked about whether he
would take that pledge in New Hampshire. Jeanne Shaheen challenged him to
take that pledge.
He has literally laughed it off I think when he`s been asked about it. It
looks like he has no intention of following that same pledge. Do you think
he attributes his loss in 2012 in Massachusetts to not having that outside
Republican money? And if he does, is that a fair interpretation of why he
lost in 2012?
PHILLIPS: No, that`s not a fair interpretation. He had plenty of money.
Huge amounts of money. More money was spent in that race by multiples than
we have ever seen in Massachusetts. It was incredible what Warren and
Brown were able to bring in. And they didn`t need super PACs up there and
I think he`s not going to have that much problems raising his own money.
He`s got a national network.
He`s still a political rock star in some circles nationally, but having
super PACs come in will help him. It will be effective and it`s going to
wash all over Massachusetts again because they are going to be using the
Boston media market and we`ll be watching it a great race up there.
KORNACKI: Right, Boston TV stations are probably going to make a fortune.
One thing that Scott Brown really emphasized in his speech on Thursday
night was health care, Obamacare, just bashing it. In a way that sort of
likes like the Republican template for 2014. With the good news that`s
come out for the administration in terms of enrollments, but the fact that
New Hampshire is a state they are doing the Medicaid expansion so repealing
it would have extra complications in New Hampshire. What do you make of
that strategy? Running against Obamacare, he was the canary in the coal
mine. He showed there was going to a backlash. But four years later, is
it going to be a little different?
HUNT: There are a couple things here. First of all, that Medicaid
expansion was backed by many Republicans in the legislature. So the
politics of that up here are a little tricky. One thing Democrats want to
hear from Scott Brown is whether or not he would back to have expanded
Medicaid. Second of all, Democrats will also say that this is a place
that`s heard the anti-Obamacare message over and over and over again, more
than maybe any other state in the country because they went through it in
2010, again in 2012 with the presidentials.
We`ll go through it again this time around. They are counting on there
being this sense of anti-Obamacare fatigue. People are tired of hearing
about it. That said, it is going to be a big issue. It`s not popular
here. Shaheen is going to have to figure out a way to finesse her message
on that. You`ve seen vulnerable Senate Democrats take this more aggressive
tact of saying we need to fix this it law. So far we haven`t seen Senator
Shaheen step out with an aggressive message, so it will be interesting to
see whether that`s where she goes with it.
KORNACKI: How does she handle the affordable care act? Does she run on
it, run away from it? My thanks to Frank Phillips with "The Boston Globe"
and NBC`s Kasie Hunt up there in Manchester. What could be big trouble
just ahead for John Boehner`s job security? That`s next.
KORNACKI: Plans for another conservative coup as John Boehner as speaker
of the House became public on Thursday. When "National Journal" reported
that a group of conservatives in the House say they have 40 to 50 members
committed to ousting Boehner and electing a new speaker. The math isn`t
exact. Based on the current balance of the House, they would need 17
Republicans to defect in order to deny Boehner the 218 votes he needs to
win the speaker`s gavel in a floor vote. That number will change after
this November`s election.
If Republicans pick up more seats, it will take more Republicans to oust
Boehner. If they lose ground, it will take fewer. If this feels like deja
vu all over again, it should, because the conservative revolt against
Boehner back in January of 2013 where 12 of his fellow Republicans refused
to vote for him for speaker. It was not quite enough to beat him, but it
was more than enough to put a scare into him.
That effort was chaotic and disorganized. That`s putting it politely, but
as "National Journal" reporter, Tim Alberta, writes, quote, "This time
around unlike the ham-fisted mutiny of 2013, rebels are broadening their
offensive beyond Boehner`s gavel." Conservatives are also fed up with
Majority Leader Eric Cantor who is long been seen as the obvious successor
Last month, Cantor forced a voice vote to delay cuts in payments to doctors
under Medicare is what`s known as the Medicare doc fix. Cantor allowed the
bill to pass without giving conservatives a chance to register their
resistance and so they were infuriated by that. Congressman Matt
Selman of Arizona saying, quote, "I`m getting used to being deceived by the
Obama administration, but when my own leadership does it, it`s just not
So now the renegade conservatives may only accept Cantor as speaker if he
brings another conservative into the leadership team with him. Can the
most conservative members of the House pull off a coup this time? If they
prove they have the numbers, will Boehner just step aside? Can they find
someone to challenge him who can win majority support on the House floor?
By the way, given all the grief he takes from his own side all the time, is
this a job John Boehner even wants to fight for anymore. Well, here to
help answer those questions, we have Brian Beutler. He is now the senior
editor at the "New Republic." Brian, congratulations on your new gig
there. I guess I will start with asking to game this out.
You had a really good piece this week sort of looking at how inept the
Republican conservative planning has been on this, but let`s say we get
past the November elections and this group of Republicans is 20 or 30
strong, enough to deny Boehner those magic 218 votes. What happens then?
BRIAN BEUTLER, "NEW REPUBLIC": So it doesn`t just go to the second place
finisher. They basically go to the second round of voting. If nobody wins
the majority, they go to the third round. This process could continue
indefinitely. What would I think more likely happen would be either
Boehner would get nervous or embarrassed or acknowledge that there was too
much resistance and step aside voluntarily, or he could press ahead, and
this is where it sort of matters whether this rebel faction has an
You know, if you have 30 or 40 people voting against him, that`s a pretty
strong statement, but if those 30 or 40 people are voting for a variety of
different people to be speaker, then there`s no alternative. There`s no
heir apparent to Boehner that they are fighting for and nobody for other
Republicans to rally around. Eventually they are going to have to either
find someone or just have this disorganized sort of statement of opposition
that fizzles out because there`s nobody in line to succeed Boehner.
KORNACKI: In terms of Boehner, I guess, part of it is maybe to scare him
into stepping down. You`re talking about what would happen next January.
If we`re just talking about this November`s elections and you get 25 of
these Republicans able to go on the record saying, that`s it, we`re done
with Boehner. Do you think Boehner just says, that`s it, I`m done? Is
that the end of John Boehner right there?
BEUTLER: I personally think that the outcome of the election is going to
determine whether Boehner will run again. It`s really hard for me to see
even a robust faction like 30 or 40 Republicans deposing Boehner if he is
speaker during an election in which Republicans gain seats. Particularly
in an election like this where it doesn`t look like Republicans are poised
to have a big victory. If he can pull one off for them, he can decide
whether he wants to be speaker or not and they are the not going to have
the juice to depose him.
If they lose seats, they are going to have a much stronger argument. So I
really think that the election is going to be a determining factor. These
stories where the conservatives start getting louder and louder about their
opposition to Boehner tend to happen as you said, after the leadership does
something to tick them off.
This time it was the dock fix, but earlier it was noises about immigration
reform. And it happens from time to time. When Boehner does their
bidding, it kind of quiets down. So I think that it might be reasonable to
interpret this as sort of like a statement of anger at the leadership and
an effort to bully them into towing the conservative line between now and
KORNACKI: And we`re a little short on time, but that gets me to my
question. You talk about all these instances in which Boehner was forced
to back down, forced to do their bidding and that`s been the story of his
speakership as best as I can tell. My question is why does he want this
job when he has such little latitude to do anything on his own?
BEUTLER: He himself when he`s asked do you like this job, he says I need
this job like I need a hole in my head. He publically talks about how
difficult it is. I think in a way he`s worried about what happens if
somebody who is much more in line with Tee Party type conservatism or
somebody who is more disorganized or more opportunist were to get the gavel
where weather it would be worse for the Republicans than his speakership
Just because it`s such a fractious group of people that he thinks he`s
capable of doing the best job of holding it together. That may actually be
true. He`s had a rough speakership, but it`s not just because he`s a
hapless fellow. He`s trueing to rule over this conference that`s
incredibly unruly. I don`t think he has confidence that there`s anybody in
line to succeed him that could do a better job.
KORNACKI: My thanks to Brian Beutler with the "New Republic." That big
news this morning in the Christie investigation we have been teasing it,
it`s coming up next.
KORNACKI: Breaking news this morning in the Christie investigation. But
first the latest in the search for the passenger jet. The prime minister
of Australia saying this morning that he feels confident that the pings
that have been picked up by underwater beacons are from Flight 370`s black
boxes, but he warned the search is likely to continue for a long time.
Four pings detected this week by underwater buoys have allowed crews to
narrow the search zone, but they haven`t heard a new signal in the last
three days. The race is on to find the black boxes before the batteries
run out. More information as it becomes available.
Big news in the Christie investigation right after this.
KORNACKI: We have some breaking news in the investigation surrounding New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie`s administration and his top political
appointees. This morning`s "Wall Street Journal" reports that Manhattan
District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has issued a subpoena last month for
records from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The subpoena
seeks, quote, "Information on some of the agency`s highest profile projects
in correspondence among top officials."
We have not been able to confirm this independently, but this information
being sought according to unnamed source familiar with the matter cited by
the "Journal" relates to projects in New Jersey. The rebuilding of the
World Trade Center and the construction of a new path commuter station
Quoting from the article, while a subpoena sought correspondence among top
officials of the authority and Mr. Christie`s administration, it didn`t
seek similar correspondence with the Office of New Governor Andrew Cuomo,
who shares control of the authority. This comes after the U.S. Attorney
for the southern district of New York subpoenaed records relating to
potential conflicts of interest having to do with David Sampson.
He is a close Christie confidant who until recently served as both the
chairman of the Port Authority and politically connected law firm. He
withdrew the subpoena and deferred to Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney for
New Jersey and "Journal`s" report states that the advance subpoena covers
Governor Christie announced David Sampson`s resignation as chairman of the
Port Authority on March 28th, the day after the internal review, his
administration commissioned asserted that neither he nor anyone except
former aide, Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority official, David
Wildstein, was behind the George Washington Bridge access lane closures
that snarled Fort Lee in traffic.
Soon we will be learning more about that internal review. Assemblyman John
Weisnewski who is co-chairman of the Legislative Committee investigating
the bridge tie-up tell us that he`s received 75 names of people that the
Christie administration`s investigators talked to for their report and that
on Monday, that could be a committee excepts to receive the memos from
There are no recordings or transcripts from those interviews, only memos,
but the committee expects to get them this coming Monday. As you can tell
from the past few hours a lot has happened this week into the investigation
of the Christie administration. Developments this week were primarily
legal in nature. Some other lesser known players came into the spotlight.
So we`re going to spend the next few minutes breaking it down for you.
What you need to know, and more importantly, who you need to know this week
to understand everything that`s been happening in New Jersey. The first
name to keep track of is Paul J. Fishman. We mentioned a minute ago, he`s
the person who has the job Governor Christie used to have. He`s the United
States attorney for New Jersey. His office has been looking into his
predecessor`s administration these past four months.
We hadn`t been hearing about what`s been going on in Fishman`s office, at
least not until this week. It`s when the legal news web site reported that
David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official in the thick of the
lane closures, that he recently spent days talking with investigators. No
one can say just yet what that means whether he`s cooperating with the
investigation as part of a deal that`s unclear.
His attorney has made it clear that Wildstein would talk for immunity. The
investigation does seem to be active especially when you add this report
about David Wildstein to this revelation that someone testified in Newark
Name number two to keep track of is Charlie McKenna, Governor Christie`s
chief counsel. He secretly met with Fishman`s office back in January. He
knows the Newark U.S. Attorney`s Office very well, he spent 18 years there
as a federal prosecutor. That was before joining Christie`s administration
as director of Homeland Security in 2010 and he later became Christie`s
That`s the position he was in last fall when Governor Christie says that
McKenna was among the two people he asked to look into the lane closures.
According to the master report, the internal Christie administration
investigation into the lane closures McKenna took part in preparing Bill
Baroni for testimony before the State Legislative Committee last November.
That`s the testimony in which he repeatedly insisted the fort lane closures
were part of a traffic study and blasted the town for their privileged
access to the George Washington Bridge.
McKenna was also apparently in contact with David Wildstein after Baroni`s
testimony. Mr. Wildstein texted a worried Baroni, quote, "Charlie says you
did great." This is another person who was talking to the Federal
Prosecutor Paul Fishman. And another person who has been talking with
Fishman in a much different capacity is Reid Schaar, a former assistant
U.S. attorney, but from the Chicago office.
He`s currently heading up the state legislature`s lane closures. He is the
one who argued on the committee`s behalf in state superior court last month
to compel former Christie aides, Bridgette Kelly and Bill Stepian, to turn
over their documents. Which brings us to the judge who oversaw that case.
Her name is Mary C. Jacobson from New Jersey Superior Court.
She is an appointee of Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman. It was
her ruling in September that legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey. By
the way, well, on Wednesday, Judge Jacobson denied that order to force
Stepian and Kelly to turn over documents and put out a 98-page opinion
calling the subpoenas that were issued, quote "extremely broad."
A blanket subpoena calling for a fishing expedition without the promise of
immunity justifies a blanket response. In this case, a blanket denial.
Jacobson ruled that the subpoenas might have had a chance if they were
narrower in scope. She gave suggestions like limiting them to just the
communications between Stepian, Kelly and Wildstein where their phone
records reading specific documents rather than a broad swath of
communications that had been requested by the committee
If they had done that the judge said the subpoenas might have been
enforced. The committee says it`s considering narrowing the scope of those
subpoenas and are also suggesting they will call Stepian and Kelly to
testify though they are likely to only hear the fifth amendment invoked
over and over again.
We think there`s one final person you ought to know about this week. Steve
Sweeney, he is the New Jersey Senate president and the top Democrat in
state government. Instead of being a formal federal prosecutor like
everyone else we`ve been talking about, he`s a former iron worker. Sweeney
was a footnote in Ryan Lizza`s "New Yorker" profile this week in which he
outlined why Christie`s political mentor, former Republican Governor Tom
Cain no longer seems to support Christie.
Last year`s elections Christie tried to remove Cain`s son, Tom Cain Jr., as
the Republican leader in the New Jersey state senate because Cain had tried
to defeat Sweeney and his Democratic allies in South Jersey. On Tuesday
the day before the Jacobson decision was handed down, Sweeney suggested to
the Star Ledger Editorial Board that the committee might be finished if
they did not win their argument in Jacobson`s courtroom and that Kelley and
Stepian need to hand over those documents saying it`s time to walk away and
not interfere with the U.S. Attorney`s investigation.
Sweeney ended up walking back those comments hours later, but his point had
gotten across. All the momentum, all the energy in the investigation of
the Christie administration has now shifted to the courthouse in Newark.
Chris Christie`s former office, that of the U.S. attorney, a job whose
corruption busting power he is revelled in.
Joining me to talk about all of this we have Lisa Brennan, the reporter
from Main Justice who broke many of the stories we`ve just talked about
this week. Brian Wice is a Houston criminal defense attorney and friend of
the show who regularly joins us on this topic, Paul Butler, a former
federal prosecutor and now a professor at Georgetown Law School. Also a
friend of the show who regularly joins us on this topic, Brian Thompson,
New Jersey reporter for WNBC, a friend of the show who frequently joins us
on this topic.
Lisa, I want to start with you because your reporting was the most
substantial this week and sort of advanced the story most this week. The
thing that stands out most that you reported was about David Wildstein
meeting with Paul Fishman and his prosecutors for a few days. Can you tell
us more of the details of when that was and anything you know about what
was discussed, how that came about, what we should make of what you`re
LISA BRENNAN, MAIN JUSTICE: I think it`s a sign that Wildstein is
beginning the process of maybe cutting a deal or getting immunity. That
process involves him letting them know exactly how much information he has
and what the quality of the information is. And because we know he was the
anonymous blogger, we know that he has a lot of information from those days
and he may be going over that and the information he has with respect to
all the different scandals.
KORNACKI: So Paul, from a prosecutor`s standpoint, tell us how this works.
If you were dealing with somebody like David Wildstein in this situation,
is there a way to call him in or call his lawyer in and have conversations
where you find out what they know, but it`s sort of office the record.
There`s no deal cut. What would you be doing as a prosecutor in this
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I would be playing footsie, which
is what these lawyers are doing. You`re trying to find out what they know.
Even at this early stage, you`re always thinking about a potential criminal
trial. Who would make the best witness, whether you want to make a deal,
that taints the witness a little bit. You only want to make a deal if they
have the goods. You want to see what they have to share whether it`s
something that implicates the big guy whether it`s worth your while.
KORNACKI: Take us through, Brian, if you could, from a defense lawyer
standpoint. We don`t know the full circumstances of this apparent
Wildstein meeting with the U.S. attorney, but if you`re a defense attorney
and you`re going in there in this situation, take us through what that
conversation is like. What kinds of things are you saying? How is
something like this negotiated?
BRIAN WICE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There`s the fancy legal term, which
is what do you know? But what you`re going to do is you are going to tell
the investigators I know a, b, c and d, this is who I can give you. If
you`re investigating crimes involving federal jurisdiction, I`m not a
lawyer, but I may play one on TV, but this is what I think these people may
have been involved in. Now as you pointed out, anything that you say
during that session can`t be used against you in the event that you have a
falling out. But any lawyer who sends a client in to talk to any
investigative body without knowing what the end game is, I have a funny
feeling it`s going to be cleaning the green room here next week.
KORNACKI: So what is your sense? What are people saying about it?
BRIAN THOMPSON, WNBC REPORTER: I think what we`re seeing here is David
Wildstein, who was tossed under the bus by the governor and his staff has
become an enemy now of Governor Christie. That`s pretty much common
perception at this point. That if anybody is going to do damage, it`s
going to be David Wildstein. And not to play a lawyer on TV here, Brian
and Paul, but my friend Joe Hayden tells me you`re indicted by your
enemies, but you`re convicted by your friends.
And so whoever is going to end up indicted, if anybody is indicted out of
this and we`re not saying the governor will or anybody on his staff, we
don`t know, but if there is a criminal case to pursue here, they have the
first leg with David Wildstein, as Lisa has suggested in her reporting or
appear to have the first leg or trying to develop that, and then the
question is can they build that case of former friends or friends or
whatever that will eventually convict whomever it is they go after.
KORNACKI: There`s been no indication. One thing I keep saying is the
process playing out in Fishman`s open is opaque. Lisa managed to get some
reporting out of there, but when you think of when Chris Christie was U.S.
attorney, things leaked out of there all the time. . It wasn`t that hard
to find out. It`s been very hard for reporters to find out what`s going on
in that office. By all indications, there`s been no indications that
Bridget Kelly appeared before this grand jury. That Bridget Kelly has been
in for any of these meetings. Her lawyer has put out a statement saying we
want a deal. Is there any significance to that, Lisa?
BRENNAN: I think she could be next. In terms of talking to prosecutors.
But yes, her lawyer has put out that she`s willing to cooperate and she
obviously has very valuable information. So it`s not clear when that will
happen. I think Wildstein may take a while longer.
KORNACKI: So could it get to the situation where it`s like who has the
better -- let`s make a deal?
BUTLER: That`s absolutely what will happen. You can`t immunize everybody.
They are snitches. So if there`s a jury, it`s going to look at their
testimony suspiciously and the more snitches you have, the weaker your case
is. So I would be surprised if there`s immunity for both Wildstein and
Kelly. I think they will choose. There might be a deal with someone else.
But in terms of what you said, if there`s a prosecution, I`m starting to
think there`s going to be a prosecution.
Because prosecutors are kind of like vultures. If they see a juicy case,
they zoom in on it. What you reported about the Manhattan district
attorney, we have the New York federal prosecutor and the New Jersey
federal prosecutor all wanting a piece of the case. It sounds like there`s
KORNACKI: I want to pick that up exactly the news about the Manhattan
district attorney now getting involved in this too. Sort of multiple
jurisdictions here. I want to pick up the conversation about what exactly
the federal crime might be here and we talk about the lane closures, but
there`s so much involved. I want to see how that is being separated by
these law enforcement entities. We`ll talk about that when we come back.
KORNACKI: We want to take a minute and talk about New Jersey U.S. Attorney
Paul Fishman`s counterpart across the Hudson River, Preet Bharara, he is
the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. Might have seen
his names in the headlines this week for clashing with New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo over an anti-corruption panel.
But there`s another threat here. Main Justice reported this week that the
public corruption unit in Bharara`s office is looking into the Port
Authority side of the Christie investigation. We are told that this is not
yet the case. He says he doesn`t know what Fishman`s office is doing, but
implied that his office is watching and is ready to jump in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I think I can
say fairly that when something is serious and something has gotten the kind
of attention that the issue described has that all hands are on deck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: You may remember that a few weeks ago, the southern district of
New York subpoenaed then Port Authority Chairman David Sampson`s law firm
only to quickly withdraw that subpoena in deference to Fishman. Lisa
Brennan of the legal news site, Main Justice, is still with us and Lisa,
you obviously reporting on what Preet Bharara has done and is up to now.
You were doing some reporting this morning about the Manhattan district
attorney now maybe getting involved.
I know you have been doing some reporting on that. Can you talk about
those two pieces? Not Paul Fishman, but Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney
for the Southern District of New York and the Manhattan district attorney,
what it is you suspect they are looking at and what role they are going to
play in all of this?
BRENNAN: Well, they have chatted with Fishman apparently and they are
cooperating. So they have deferred SDNY`s to New Jersey. If when New
Jersey is done they feel they have more to pursue, then they can under rule
six, they can begin their investigation.
KORNACKI: Do you think -- he deferred -- chose to defer to Paul Fishman.
They advanced basically very similar information to what the office
subpoenaed. Do you suspect Vance will be told to defer?
BRENNAN: I think they have people in that office that I think there will
be communication between Fishman`s Office and Vance`s Office now that it`s
out there. I think Vance will proceed and where it gets tricky is in
turning over information and calling witnesses. And if there`s a witness
that Fishman wants, Fishman trumps Vance`s investigation so they will have
to wait. But there`s a distinct possibility that Vance`s investigation
could help Fishman`s so there`s a good reason for them to work together.
KORNACKI: A couple different issue here`s. We talk about Wildstein and
Kelly and the lane closures and what was behind that, but there`s also the
issues about David Sampson and partly through the interview with the mayor
of Hoboken who talked about Sandy aid was linked to the development project
and was represented by David Sampson`s law firm. A big part of this seems
to be the David Sampson.
THOMPSON: At Vance`s level, everybody is focused on Sampson right now.
And I know with the committee, for example, the legislative committee that
was Weinberg are heading up, they are looking very seriously at when they
bring their witnesses, they are not stopping with this decision by Judge
Jacobsen. They are looking at putting witnesses on the stand again.
And my sourcing indicates that could very well be some of these Port
Authority official who is testified last fall to the transportation
committee the bridge had the division had maybe the executive director of
the Port Authority to find out what Sampson`s role was in an official
capacity as chairman of the Port Authority how he maneuvered, how he
The Governor Christie called him a hands off guy. All of our information
is exactly the opposite that he was a hands on guy. And if he was a hands
on guy, that means there`s probably a paper trail. There`s certainly a
witness trail. If you start digging into that as the committee, Lord only
knows what they are going to uncover that might help either the federal
investigation or Vance`s.
KORNACKI: What about the legislative committee`s role going forward? The
judge`s ruling saying you can`t compel the documents. It puts something in
there that technically the committee has the power to give them immunity.
But what role can that legislative committee play going forward.
WICE: Not a great deal. I have always believed that this legislative
inquiry, partisan to be AAA to Paul Fishman`s big-league investigation. I
really think in large part the legislative investigation jumped the shark
when Judge Jacobson shut them down. They can talk about all they want
about going forward, but I think at this point what we`ve seen now are
prosecutors at every level fighting over their piece of turf like the jets
and the sharks. There is not going to be anything left in the event the
legislative committee decides they can breathe life into an investigation
that I think is DOA.
KORNACKI: So when we -- focusing back on Paul Fishman and the federal
investigation, whether it`s dealing with David Sampson or the bridge lane
closure, we know a couple things this week. We know from Judge Jacobson`s
ruling she`s basically saying, yes, there`s a federal investigation under
way and we know there`s this grand jury that`s taking some testimony. It
suggests to me at least as a layman that Paul Fishman`s office believes a
federal crime could be involved which would put it in his jurisdiction.
How long, do you have an expectation or a sense how long these things
usually take to put together? Are we talking about something that a year
from now we`re still going to be waiting for some kind of indictment or is
this something that we could see in the next few weeks?
BUTLER: I doubt it`s going to be the next few weeks. It`s more likely a
year from now. In the District of Columbia, we have a federal
investigation of our mayor that started three years ago. There was a
primary where he was running. He doesn`t know whether he`s going to be
indicted. So these things take as long as they take for the prosecutor to
get evidence. You know, charging someone with a federal crime is a big
And again, I`ve said before, if you go after the king, you`ve got to kill
them. So they only want to do this if they have got the best evidence. So
they start real low. Now the guy they brought into the grand jury last
week is low level. They already knew what he was going to say because they
interviewed him. The only reason they brought him to the grand jury is to
preserve his testimony. So it sounds like they`re preparing a case, but I
think it`s going to be longer rather than sooner.
KORNACKI: Society political context of this is that Chris Christie is very
much hoping to resume his political career. He went right out to Vegas for
that Republican event as soon as the internal report was out. It sounds
like this cloud will be over his head for the indefinite future.
Up next, what do we know now that we didn`t know last week? First, the
latest on that search for the missing Malaysia passenger jet. The prime
minister of Australia saying this morning that he feels confident the pings
being picked up from underwater beacons are from Flight 370`s black boxes.
Four pings detected this week by underwater buoys have allowed crews to
narrow the search zone. They haven`t heard it for the past three days.
More information as it becomes available.
KORNACKI: It`s time to find out what our guests know now they didn`t know
when the week began. Paul, we will start with you.
BUTLER: I learned that if you have to be the subject of a federal
investigation, it`s great that it`s a white collar investigator because you
have great lawyers. The judge`s opinion was a ringing endorsement of the
Fifth Amendment, the value against the privilege of self incrimination.
Most people don`t get the benefit of that process, including the 14 million
people who get arrested every year. So Bridget Kelly and Stepian are
KORNACKI: It helps to have top flight lawyers.
THOMPSON: Left field. Jeb Bush may be a candidate for president, pundits
say no. As long as he keeps people stringing along, it sucks all the air
out of the donors and the moderate Republicans who are wondering who
they`re going to support. When Jeb Bush drops out, if the investigation is
short, who`s left? Chris Christie.
KORNACKI: There`s the Chris Christie comeback scenario. Lisa.
BRENNAN: I think I learned that if you`re a law firm hired by a governor
who needs an internal investigation, and you`re going to do a comprehensive
and exhaustive investigation, you need not record a thing.
KORNACKI: It makes you wonder how much of an investigation this was versus
how much of a defense document this was. Brian.
WICE: As a criminal defense attorney whose clients walk into court as a
two to three touchdown underdog and the notion of criminal justice being
like government intelligence or jumbo shrimp, I know the constitution is
alive and well in the garden state. Props to this judge for recognizing
this, what it was, an overly broad fishing expedition. Major props to
KORNACKI: Two lawyers agree that was the right ruling this week. We`d
love to have seen those documents, but I guess somebody will soon enough.
I want to thank Paul Butler, Brian Thompson, Lisa Brennan, Brian Wice,
thanks for getting up this morning. Thank you at home for getting up with
us. Up next is Melissa Harris-Perry.
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