'Up with Steve Kornacki' for Saturday, April 19th, 2014
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UP with STEVE KORNACKI
April 19, 2014
Guests: Coral Davenport, Bill Nye, Alex Bozmoski, Sam Stein, L. Joy
Williams, David Ramsey, Tony Plohetski, Peggy Fikac, John Wisniewski
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: A busy morning ahead with big Chris Christie
news out of New Jersey and with word of another grand jury investigation
involving a 2016 Republican prospect, this one around Governor Rick Perry
Also news this morning out of South Korea where coast guard
officials say three more bodies have been recovered from that sunken ferry
bringing the official death toll there to 32 people. More than 260 others
are still missing. Most are believed to be trapped inside their cabins on
the ship including many of the 325 students who were on a field trip.
Today divers reported saying three bodies through the windows of an
underwater cabin, but were unable to enter. Strong currents kept them from
going inside. The captain of the ship is now under arrest for abandoning
ship and prosecutors say he also wasn`t at the helm when the ferry was
navigated through tricky waters. Two crew members are also in custody and
later this morning, we hope to go to our reporter in South Korea for more
on the very latest over there.
But until then, we want to begin today with something called coal
ash. This is what it`s like to go canoeing these days on the Dan River in
North Carolina. That (inaudible) slicing through gunk that is called coal
ash. Not only does coal ash make a river thick and dark and viscous, but
the stuff is toxic.
In February, this is an aerial view of what it looked like after
nearly 40,000 tons of coal ash spilled out of a holding pond to the dormant
coal plant in North Carolina that was run by Duke Energy. The plant
doesn`t even need to be in operation anymore, but you still need some place
to keep the coal ash that`s left behind and that`s the coal ash you`re
stuck with as a result of having burned all that coal.
So coal ash ponds dot the landscape of North Carolina in places
across the country. Coal ash now blankets some 70 miles of the Dan River.
On Wednesday the governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory announced a plan
to close all 33 of Duke Energy`s coal ash ponds in the state or convert
them into landfills. It`s not clear how he`s going to do it, but he says
he has a plan.
And because Governor McCrory who used to work for Duke Energy and
his administration have been under fire for oversight that allowed that
massive coal ash spill to happen in the first place. Pat McCrory also
announced that his plan would try to end loopholes and otherwise tightened
regulations. It`s also huge news this week about another nasty by-product
of burning coal.
One that`s harder to see but maybe even more destructive greenhouse
gases. The United Nations came out with its report on climate change this
week saying we have seen the largest increase in greenhouse gas emissions
in the last decade. They pointed to coal as a big reason for that spike.
The past decade has seen a huge jump in the number of coal burning power
plants that have come online.
The most polluting of all of the power stations that are out there.
The U.N. says in its report that it`s not too late to do something to stop
the worst effects of climate change, but if we`re going to do so, time is
really running out quickly. Time is running out to halt the melting of ice
sheets that would raise sea levels.
Time is running out to reverse course on stronger heat waves to put
the world`s food supply at risk. It`s running out to flip the script on
hurricanes. The reports saying the world must reduce emissions by 40 to 70
percent by the year 2050 and to be near zero if we have any chance of
turning things around.
On Thursday as the White House was hosting a solar summit, President
Obama called on private companies to step up their use of solar power. The
White House also announced a new $15 million program to help state and
local governments expand their use of solar power. Not a lot of money, but
it`s a start.
We also learned this week that one of the states will not be
Oklahoma. The Oklahoma legislature actually passed a bill this week that
would make the use of solar energy more expensive not to encourage its use.
Utility customers who want to install roof top solar panel small wind
turbines could face extra charges on their bills.
That`s the news out of Oklahoma this week. The measure there now
goes to the desk of Governor Mary Fallon. What about in Washington? What
about Congress? In 2009 in Copenhagen, not long after taking office,
President Obama pledged that he would get a sweeping climate change bill
passed through Congress and signed into law.
But a few months later, that bill died in the Senate. In the wake
of the U.N. report this week, it`s pretty much crickets on Capitol Hill
unless you count the congressman who said in an interview, he didn`t
believe that climate change was manmade. The article says $ 2.5 billion
that the U.S. gives in foreign aid to help other countries combat climate
change is in danger of being cut by Congress. So how many wakeup calls do
we get when it comes to climate change?
The U.S. along with China are the world`s biggest polluters of
greenhouse gases. Is there an appetite, any appetite here in the U.S. to
do something about that? What has to be happen to awaken that appetite?
We want to talk about all that with our panel. We have Bill Nye,
you know him as the "Science Guy," also an educator and scientist along
with Coral Davenport. She is an energy and environment policy reporter
with the "New York Times," Alex Bozmoski, he is the director of strategy
and operations at the Energy Enterprise Initiative at George Mason
University. That`s a conservative group making the case for the free
market to deal with global warming.
And Sam Stein, he is a White House correspondent and political
editor with "The Huffington Post." Coral, I will start with you. You`re
covering this this week. If you could give us the bottom line of what this
report is saying because I think, you know, people have heard so many
different reports have come out with warnings and dates and targets. What
is the big news, the bottom line that this report is trying to tell us?
CORAL DAVENPORT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": This report was about policy. We
have heard report after report after report about what the science tells
us. Bad stuff is coming. We`re going to probably very likely tip past
this 3.6 degree tipping point before the end of the century, storms,
floods, et cetera. This report laid out what governments need to do to
make that not happen. It said there is still time to do something. The
window is very rapid.
It essentially said that governments have to have very strong carbon
cutting programs in place up and running by 2030. It particularly
recommended pricing or taxing carbon pollution as the most effective
policy. And most specifically it called on the economies that are the
major polluters to take very rapid action. There are ten major economies
that contribute 70 percent of greenhouse gases.
Of course, the biggest of those are China and the U.S. I talked to
some of the reports` authors and said, OK, what specifically does that mean
for the U.S.? They were able to lay out some very specific policies. They
said the U.S. needs to have a program in place, a law passed probably by
20. This means we`re going to see something directly on the shoulders of
the next president if something is going to happen or not.
They said it`s probably going to have to be some sort of price or
tax on carbon. They said President Obama is taking action now. He`s
moving ahead with the set of aggressive EPA regulations on coal fire power
plants. We talked about that as the number one cause. Republicans also
refer to that as the war on coal. They said that`s a good, strong first
step and the next president is going to have to do something much faster,
much more stringent, which is the political landscape for that is
KORNACKI: We`ll get into that, but we`ll stick on the science for a minute
because we have the "Science Guy" here. So you talked about I think it was
BILL NYE, "THE SCIENCE GUY": That`s in Fahrenheit.
KORNACKI: Being like sort of the tipping point. When you look at this
report and you look at that tipping point number, do you think what this
report is recommending is the solution to avoid hitting that number?
NYE: Well, these are policy questions. But from an engineering
standpoint, which is what we need is energy storage. By that expression I
mean batteries. We need a better battery of some kind. To do that we
would invest and we would invest in the same way we had a space program.
People will have to draw this analogy to Apollo. What happened there is
you put these dozen NASA centers in all these different states and these
enormous problems were solved. So the problem, though, if you have people
that think the problem doesn`t need to be solved, then you can`t begin the
longest journey with the single step.
KORNACKI: That has been the political question. The political question,
we saw the cap and trade push in 2010 that completely died.
NYE: Cap and trade, that`s probably not -- from a policy standpoint, a
carbon tax is going to be a lot more effective.
KORNACKI: This is a good place to start out. You represent a conservative
group that`s trying to sort of merge conservative policy ideas with
actually tackling climate change. So the idea of a carbon tax what do you
make of that as a potential solution? Is that something your group would
be good with?
ALEX BOZMOSKI, ENERGY AND ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: If it`s done correctly,
absolutely. I get frustrated to no end that the right has seeded this
debate. The whole climate policy question to the left. When you do that,
you end up with really bad policy. The question is Washington going to
wake up on climate change? Washington is doing a lot on climate change
already. It just happens that the programs that we`re promulgating tend to
be wasteful and inefficient and in some cases unDemocratic.
And so Republicans are already for a lot of things that are good for
the climate. If you think globalizing the American shell gas revolution
through natural gas exports, liberalizing electricity markets, aggressive
research and development funding, energy efficiency, Keystone. The thing
is they don`t tie it to climate change because it`s a political risk right
now to discuss climate.
KORNACKI: But Coral is talking about how this report tells us that
tackling carbon and specifically through a carbon tax really is the key.
If it`s done right, I think the term carbon tax maybe needs a little
explanation. If you say if it`s done right, what does that mean to you?
How should this look?
BOZMOSKI: Well, firstly, conservatives, I think, across the board agree
that companies should not be allowed to socialize their soot and so the way
to deal with that is by putting a price on the externality, the carbon.
And in order to ensure that the government doesn`t grow, that the
government doesn`t expand the size, scope and power of the federal
government, every dime we raise through a carbon tax should be rebated to
taxpayers, through tax cuts on income.
It`s really silly that we tax things and we want more of like hard
work, but we don`t want things that we want less of. Definitely want less
of or some of my more sceptical friends might say we probably want less of.
But we all can agree 100 percent, we want more income. So let`s stop
taxing the good things and start switching to tax the bad.
KORNACKI: So Sam, is there any, you know, the talk in 2010 was that the
big trade-off would maybe get some Republicans, more oil drilling, more
natural gas, nuclear power things like that, maybe that would get
Republicans to go with the cap and trade. Now maybe if you have a carbon
tax, do you see any combination here to get Republicans to support
something like this?
SAM STEIN, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": No. I mean, I appreciate what he`s
saying. In theory taxing carbon and giving it back to taxpayers would be
something that people like Gruver Norquist who is oppose to any tax
increase would say, OK, it`s a net neutral. But whenever it`s suggested in
political halls, they always say well, this would be a job killer. Until
we`re in a better economic footing, I don`t see any Republican proactively
saying something like you just said.
It`s worth going back a couple years and looking at what the
president did with this, which is he took pre-emptive steps to try to make
this deal happen. He increased offshore drilling, for instance, much to
dismay of environmentalists. The theory was that if he took those pre-
emptive steps, the opposition would meet him half way there and it never
So now we`re in a situation where we`re basically reliant on finding
new technologies as Bill talked about and that`s where I see this debate
going. We get past that tipping point and suddenly it becomes so critical
for us to find the new technology that we have a mad technological dash.
And people understand that it is requiring innovation is going to be
required to solve this crisis. But I`m not sure if we`re ready to make
those technological dash.
KORNACKI: Where is the tipping point? How far? What are we talking about
NYE: The tipping point for climate change? Well, everybody, I`m all for
the report, but we`re probably past it in a practical standpoint. I mean,
to galvanize the whole world to make these sweeping changes is really
difficult. But economically, if we had technology to export, some new cool
idea, a set of new cool ideas, maybe we could change the world. This is my
KORNACKI: How far are we from that technology of capturing carbon?
NYE: There`s a couple things that look promising, but that is so daunting.
It`s the scale of it. We`re talking about billions of tons of carbon.
It`s really extraordinary thing. This is chemistry and if you don`t -- if
you have trouble accepting that then you have trouble doing anything about
KORNACKI: We`ll pick it up after the break here. But I know, Coral, you
were writing this week about the political challenges too and basically the
odds, the very slim odds of anything happening in Washington before 2016 at
the earliest. Again, want to talk about what it could look like if
something were to get done on Capitol Hill and what the cost is of waiting
that long. We`ll pick it up right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: President Obama
promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet.
My promise is to help you and your family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Says former Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, the 2012
convention. You have probably seen that clip a few times. Sounds like
Alex has heard it a few times. We talk about the Republican resistance. I
put these polls on the screen. This is from Pew last year. Just a
question, is there solid evidence the earth is warming? Eighty eight
percent among Democrats, 62 percent independents, but half of Republicans
say yes. You ask is the human activity the main cause of global warming,
you have 66, 43 and now you have a quarter of Republicans. So you`ve got
basic partisan difference here, Coral.
DAVENPORT: You know what`s amazing, if you go back to the previous
presidential election 2008, John McCain campaigned directly and
aggressively on tackling climate change. He called climate change caused
by humans a national security threat. He proposed a cap and trade. All
his party rallied around him. This was part of the Republican Party
KORNACKI: But what happened to McCain in 2010, right? He`s facing a
Republican primary challenge and he doesn`t work with Lindsey Graham --
DAVENPORT: But McCain is still part of a group of moderate Republicans on
Capitol Hill just like Lindsey Graham or Lamar Alexander or Lisa Mikowski,
who will say climate change is real, it`s caused by humans. This is a
problem. What has happened is that -- I actually think that there are a
lot of moderate Republicans in the party who quietly look at the science
who were in place with where McCain was in 2008 who got spooked by the Tea
They saw that Tea Party groups like "Americans for Prosperity" were
aggressively and openly going after Republicans who said, and I talked to
"Americans for Prosperity" president, Tim Philips, who said any Republican
who plays footsie on this green stuff, we want to make sure they can`t win
STEIN: Let me just say about McCain. His line in that -- in the `08
campaign was, listen, even if you don`t believe in the science, doesn`t it
make sense to sort protect ourselves just in case. You rarely hear that
from Republicans anymore. I think part of the problem with respect to
McCain is that he lost. And Republicans took lessons that they didn`t need
to derive from lessons, but they institutionalized them.
The other thing I would say, which I think dominates this entire
debate politically is that this was considered basically in the throes of a
recession. People started putting this false comparison of you want job
comparison as if you don`t want both. You could do both, but now we don`t
have a really sane political debate going on. We have a jobs versus
climate debate. I don`t see anything getting done unless we can break
KORNACKI: If you talk about when you see the polling data we just put up
there, the reaction to Romney, what is going on in the conservative
movement? You have these quotes popping up all the time. We have one
saying this is a natural occurrence. It`s an agenda-driven science.
What`s going on in the right to feed this?
BOZMOSKI: Well, firstly, I think that the sort of prudence that Sam was
talking about from the McCain campaign, you see that in the Republican
electorate much better than those polls present. We did a poll, George
Mason and Yale did a poll of Republicans and the Republican-leaning
independents and found that 62 percent of Republicans say we probably or
absolutely should take steps to reduce climate change. And you know, 80
percent of Republicans under 35 think we should do something to reduce
Even 62 percent of them support the president`s EPA regulations,
which is crazy and should be scary to Republicans that we`re hemorrhaging
young people, women and Hispanics on the climate issue. But to get back --
we have to clean up the mess on the left-hand side of the road here a
little bit, because the messaging problems that have been created by
activist scientists and activists who say the apocalyptic scenario and then
follow it with a big government scheme or proposal have tied those two.
STEIN: Don`t you need something?
KORNACKI: We`re talking about the basic idea of the carbon tax, which
you`re saying in certain forms wouldn`t have a problem with. We`re looking
at reality of a Republican Party that politically is going to have a huge
problem with it.
NYE: Let me ask you, politically, the Republican Party has a situation
where it`s win or take all in the primaries. So is it true that you got to
be as a Republican candidate, you have to be very far to the right and then
you have to go back to the middle if you win the primaries. Is that part
of the problem? But keep in mind, for those of us on the other side,
climate change is a worldwide, a planetary-sized problem.
So having regulations is not inappropriate. And I remind all of my
libertarian colleagues that we have regulations not just to protect you
from big government, as evil as big government is apparently in your
perception, but to protect me from you. That`s the other thing we have
regulations for. So if I`m a consumer and somebody is luting the air, I
have a concern in that.
So the idea that big government is inherently bad, I don`t really
agree on especially when you consider that we protect oil fields with an
enormous military. That`s an investment to keep our economy going,
BIZMOSKI: Bill, you care a lot about climate change, I can tell. So I`m
surprised to hear -- I`m glad you are open to a carbon pricing scheme
that`s revenue neutral and that shrinks the government. I`m surprised to
hear that you`re so keen on these EPA regulations to regulate greenhouse
gases because they won`t have any bite for 20 or 25 years.
KORNACKI: The longest journey starts with a step.
BOZMOSKI: Do you think they are going to hold power for 25 years enough to
keep these things going? The status quo is nothing for climate change.
KORNACKI: That`s the political question here. You`re talking about 2016,
Coral. So President Obama couldn`t get anything through Congress in 2010.
He uses his executive authority on these EPA regulations. The next
president if it`s a Republican could wipe them away. If Republicans
control either the White House or one branch of Congress past 2016
elections, are we really talking about nothing is going to happen after
2016? Does that require having Democrats running everything to get
DAVENPORT: No, this requires moderate Republicans standing up and
acknowledging this problem and being willing to work on it. Sam correctly
pointed out that nothing on this is going to happen in Congress before the
presidential election. If you look at the long-term political and policy
road map, there are a couple of potential openings for something to happen.
The first is if and when there`s ever a comprehensive corporate tax
reform bill. This could be something that happens in the context of the
next administration. And this is absolutely something that could happen
under a Republican president and even with a Republican House and Senate,
the idea would be that you would have a moderate fiscally conservative
Republican who is in the mix on tax reform who says, look, this is a good
thing to do for fiscal conservatives.
KORNACKI: Tax reform and climate change, I have been hearing about these
grand bargains forever. I want to thank Bill Nye, "The Science Guy"
actually with an engineering background, Coral Davenport of the "New York
Times", Alex Bizmoski with the Energy and Enterprise Institute at Goerge
Mason, thank you all for joining us this. A lively discussion. Appreciate
Coming up, the major player in the bridgegate scandal who made some
very interesting phone calls when the scandal was breaking and hasn`t been
talked about until we shine a light on that later this morning.
Plus we`re going fishing with the biggest names in Virginia
politics. That`s all still ahead. So grab some bait, another cup of
coffee and we`ll be right back.
KORNACKI: For obvious reasons when there`s talk of 2016 in the Democratic
race, Hillary Clinton dominates the conversation just as she dominates the
polls. In the oxygen she doesn`t take up is mostly left for pundits to
take pity on Joe Biden a sitting vice president who is running 50 points
behind someone else for his own party`s nomination or also the talk up the
idea of a grass roots insurgency behind progress icon, Elizabeth Warren,
maybe she`ll get interested.
There`s also Brian Switzer, the colorful former Montana governor.
He sat on this set a few months ago and he toyed with the idea of running.
We`ll see if that goes anywhere. So when it comes to the Democrats in
2016, you don`t hear a lot of names mentioned. The conversation isn`t
really about who might run, it`s more about whether anyone will actually
run against Hillary. This week brought something of a surprise answer to
that question with someone else, Martin O`Malley, the governor of Maryland,
thrusting himself into mix.
In an interview, O`Malley told Sam Stein of "The Huffington Post"
what it would take to convince him to enter the race. Here is a hint. It
wouldn`t take much. Quote, "I don`t think it`s a matter of my convincing
as it is a matter of my preparing." O`Malley has also told "The Washington
Post" he`s moving forward with preparations and won`t wait for Clinton to
decide whether she`s running. This past weekend O`Malley was in Wisconsin
blasting Paul Ryan and Scott Walker at a state party event in Milwaukee.
Next month, he will be speaking to Democrats in Nevada touting a
governing record in Maryland that he believes is in sync with the
progressive base of the Democratic Party. On Monday, O`Malley signed a
bill decriminalizing marijuana and that follows the minimum wage, gun
control measures, signing the dream act giving tuition to undocumented
immigrants. In some ways he`s enacted the agenda that President Obama has
not been fully enable to enact in Washington.
Polls show he would start way back at the back of the pack. Is
there room for him to grow and about to put an end to the talk of Hillary
Clinton getting the nomination without opposition? Well, here to discuss,
O`Malley`s record whether he can take it national, we have political
strategist, L. Joy Williams and also Sam Stein who wrote the article, got
the big news this week.
Sam, tell us about this week. It`s been no secret to people who
follow politics that Martin O`Malley is interested in running for
president. There was indications from his camp last year saying if Hillary
Clinton runs, I`m not going to do it. It seems he`s changing his tune on
STEIN: That`s what struck me as well. I put the question to him. If you
yourself are convinced that you want to run for president, would it matter
if anyone else was in the race? He said it wouldn`t. Which means, by
extension, if Hillary Clinton were running and he thought he could run and
make a good candidate, he would do it. All indications are he believes
He`s touring the country and talking to different Democratic parties
and appearing in different states trying to figure out if the
infrastructure is there. Mainly if the money is there. You don`t want to
jump in against a fundraising operation with very little to show for it.
Like you mentioned, he does have a record to run. He has a good
domestic record that Hillary Clinton did you want have because she was at
the State Department and so there is a case to be made. I just don`t know
if there is going to be much traction there.
KORNACKI: I wonder, I`ll give my take on Martin O`Malley. I saw him at
the 2012 convention. He spoke and he and a few others Biden comes to mind,
this was a chance to audition for 2016. His speech didn`t go over well.
It left me thinking, maybe a totally unfairly, my take is he`s the Tim
Pawlenty of the Democratic Party. Am I being too hard? A very nice guy
with a great resume for Republicans and he just never generated excitement.
I look at Martin O`Malley.
L. JOY WILLIAMS, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Maybe he should have started at the
Democratic convention with being the head of a rock band like he actually
is. And so maybe a charisma would have shown off. He can take the next
couple years and build on the record as he`s going across the country
talking about his legislative record and what he was able to do as
As you go across the country and talk to people, state parties,
you`re at the Jefferson dinner, you begin to develop a public persona, a
national persona with charisma that you can then project on a national
stage. And that is what he`s lacking now because he can get into those
speeches and things and there`s a lot of statistics and numbers and he`s
kind of boring sometimes, but as he crisscrossed the country, if he`s a
good candidate, he will be able to gain some of those skills.
KORNACKI: How much appetite -- maybe you talked to him about this. How
much appetite is he gets a sense there is among Hillary Clinton, 70
percent, I have never seen this.
STEIN: Pollsters haven`t either. This is probably the best position front
runner ever, with respect to a primary campaign. I think everyone
recognizes that. I don`t think people in the O`Malley camp are convincing
themselves, it will be easy. Maybe this is a vice presidential nominee.
It would probably behove him or someone else to challenge her in a primary.
What you saw in 2008 was this inevitability wasn`t there and then she
became a better candidate on the stump.
I think same with Barack Obama. When he was challenged by Hillary
Clinton, it made him a better candidate. For the Democratic Party, there
are people who do want to see a contested primary. They don`t want to see
Hillary Clinton skate away with the nominee.
WILLIAMS: I think the difference is voters don`t see an alternative
besides Hillary Clinton so they don`t know anyone else. The polls can
show, Cory Booker is in that list, they don`t see anyone else.
KORNACKI: They see a vice president.
STEIN: I disagree. They see an Elizabeth Warren type because the natural
divide is the establishment versus the populist, right? I`m not sure
Martin O`Malley gets that populist vote. But they want to see a contrast.
The Elizabeth Warren contrast is more profound than the Martin O`Malley
KORNACKI: We have to jump out, but it`s staggering. A sitting vice
president running 55 points behind. That I have never seen.
Good news for Democrats this week where you would least expect to
find it. Details on that coming up next.
Plus connecting the dots in the Chris Christie investigation.
Closer to all the key players and almost anyone else, stay with us.
KORNACKI: Still ahead, key conversations in the bridgegate scandal
involving one of Chris Christie`s closest advisers. Someone who`s rule has
been overlooked until now.
But right now, we`ll continue our regular look at the most pivotal
battlegrounds of 2014. The most important number to remember when it comes
to the battle of control of the Senate is seven. That`s the number of
Democratic held seats that are up this year in states won by Mitt Romney in
2012. That`s seven juicy targets for the GOP. Of those seven states,
Arkansas has ranked very high all year on the list of Democratic seats most
likely to go. It`s a southern state with a fading Democratic tradition.
A state with a trend toward the GOP has been radically accelerated.
A state where a two-term Democratic senator was crushed by 21 points in the
midterms. That was one of the worst margins of defeat. That`s why
conventional wisdom at the start of the campaign said that Mark Pryor, a
two-term Democratic incumbent, that he would be just as doomed as Blanche
Lincoln had been. But then came this. A new poll released this week by
the Democratic campaign committee that puts Pryor ahead of his Republican
Granted this is just a partisan poll but there`s also another survey
that puts Pryor ahead by three points. He`s one of the last Democrats
standing in Arkansas. This is not at all where most people thought this
race was going to be at this point. This is a seat that even some
Democrats were writing off, but now they have a real chance to hang on to
it. If they hang on to this one, it`s going to be harder for Republicans
to gain control of the Senate this fall.
He`s an Iraq war vet. He has an A rating from the NRA. He likes to
take every opportunity he can to remind voters of Pryor`s support of the
affordable care act, something that`s not popular in Arkansas these days.
Explains why Cotton is talking like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM COTTON: The only way to repeal Obamacare is to take back the Senate
from Harry Reid. The only way to do that is to beat Mark Pryor. He is the
most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate. We can get the job done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Meanwhile, Pryor`s camp released a series of ads targeted
towards seniors. Just last week Cotton invited Pryor to a series of five
debates across the state with no moderators or panelists. It`s a request
Pryor has the news out of Arkansas this week is reports of Mark Pryor`s
demise has been exaggerated. Can you keep defying the political gravity
and hang on to a crucial seat for both parties?
Joining us to discuss this contentious race in Arkansas is David
Ramsey. He is an associate editor at the "Arkansas Times" joins us live
from Arkansas. David, thanks for taking time this morning. I admit at the
start of this year I was one of those people who looked what happened to
Lincoln in 2010 and said it is Arkansas.
It`s a midterm, it`s the Obama presidency. Republican with any name
is going to beat the Democratic incumbent. Are you surprised that Mark
Pryor is as competitive in this race and what is the key of him being ahead
DAVID RAMSEY, "ARKANSAS TIMES": I think everyone is a little bit surprised
because of the dynamics you just described. You have an off-year election,
given the demographic, that`s going to lean Republican. You have a state
that is become more and more Republican in 2012 the legislature flipped to
the Republicans for the first time since reconstruction. And you have an
unpopular president. Obamacare remains unpopular. The approval rating is
in the low 30s in Arkansas. A lot of people thought that a Republican
state-wide candidate would have to do is repeat Obama and Obamacare over
KORNACKI: Just like we saw in that ad we played there. What`s happening?
Why is that not working?
RAMSEY: I think that a couple of things. On one, Mar Pryor, the Pryor
name remains -- his father was a popular former governor and senator. So
Pryor`s name helps a little bit. I think the other thing is that Pryor is
really hitting cotton on his record. As you mentioned particularly 5 out
of the 9 ads Pryor has run have hit Cotton on Medicare. Cotton voted for
the Ryan budget as well as the Republican Senate Committee Budget.
And basically what the Pryor campaign is saying is that Cotton wants
to voucherize Medicare and will have cuts for seniors, cuts to preventive
care and there`s other issues where cotton has taken some votes that Pryor
is going to hit him on. Voting against the farm bill, against the violence
against women act, voting against disaster relief aid. So a generic
Republican has a lot of advantages, but I think part of what we`re seeing
is Pryor has a strategy to paint Cotton as extreme and that may be starting
KORNACKI: Seems to be gaining traction.
WILLIAMS: If you drill down to some of those polls, the partisan one and
the other one, it seems Pryor is leading among women. So the turnout would
be to sort of focus on women and some of his ads focus on that. You get
closer to the campaign, they will be doing that. Women voters outperform
in that area as well. If he can target women and particularly continue to
bring up the record of cotton, then you`ll be able to turn out women.
STEIN: This isn`t 2010. In, 2010 the recession was still there, the
economy wasn`t as good as now and voters were throwing them all out.
Secondly, we talk about the affordable care act and how Cotton is repeating
it. It`s a little more complicated in Arkansas. They expanded Medicaid
through a private option essentially. And when you talk about repeal, you
talk about taking 150,000 people and just denying them Medicaid coverage.
And I think what we have seen in the last week is Cotton has produced word
salad when asked what he would do with those 150,000. It`s a bit more
complicated to talk about repeal than it was when Lincoln was running
because it wasn`t a piece of legislation.
KORNACKI: That would be amazing if the story of a 2014 ends up being the
Senates save the Senate because Obamacare backfired in a state that Romney
carried. It was big. David Ramsey joining us, thank you for taking the
time this morning.
If you like smoked fish on your bagel, you`ll like where we travel
next. That`s straight ahead.
KORNACKI: If you have watched this show for a while, you know I have
affection for quirky traditions. There`s the dinner in Arkansas where they
eat raccoon while listening to candidates talk. There`s fancy farm in
Kentucky where rowdy crowds devour mutton while cheering on their
candidates and heckling the other guy too. We have taken you to both of
Now we want to take you to Virginia to the woods of the south
eastern corner of the commonwealth. That`s where two candidates helped
this week to renew another kind of tradition, another one of a kind
tradition by sharing thank planks. It`s not the kind you would find in a
political platform. They were there to plank a fish. A river fish called
It`s how you cook shad in the woods of South Eastern Virginia by
nailing it to a wooden plank and smoking it for hours. I`m told it`s
delicious. Just like they told me raccoon is delicious. It`s when the
shad was planked that the Democrats got together to choose their nominee
for governor. But Virginia`s Democratic power center has shifted north to
the growing and diversifying Washington suburbs. One in every three voters
in the state now live there.
Since the year 2000, three quarters of Virginia`s population has
come from residence of color, which is dominated by conservative
Republicans. As a result the premier annual political event in Virginia,
the one known as shad planking is changing with the times too. MSNBC`s
Perry Bacon Jr. and our producer, Ann Thompson traveled to Wakefield,
Virginia this week to file this exclusive and fun report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jimmy, bring another board please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The secret is you eat before you come.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s true.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Drinking a beer and shaking hands is
ED GILLESPIE: I`m not just saying that.
ROBERT BAIN, SHAD PLANKING ORGANIZER: It`s kind of like a political pulse
in the commonwealth of Virginia. Years ago when the bird machine was in
power and this thing first started, it was only white males here. In the
70s, ladies started coming, people of color and that`s all inclusive.
PERRY BACON JR., MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: How has the event changed?
GRAYSON JENNINGS, VIRGINIA FLAGGERS: It`s got an little more politically
BACON: Tell me what you mean by that.
JENNINGS: Both the major parties have run a little scared of us. They
don`t want to come over here. Last year, they ask a Republican if they saw
this poster here. He says not me. So it`s just gotten too politically
correct. We might not be coming back.
BACON: How do you win in a state that`s becoming bluer every day?
GILLESPIE: Parts of the electorate that Republicans have written off and
allowed Democrats to take for granted, my campaign won`t do that. If you
go to my website, one click of a mouse, you can get a Spanish language
version of my video.
BACON: McCullough didn`t come this year. Talk about why you came today.
WARNER: One of the things I`m proudest of is there`s no part of Virginia
I`m not going to contest. That I have not had friends I worked for.
I realize I`m here as an endangered species, a Virginia Democrat.
Neither political party has paid enough attention to small town
America. We can show you can build jobs in Mumbai. We have not shown we
can bring jobs to Danville.
BACON: Thanks so much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come back and see us.
KORNACKI: Thanks again to Perry Bacon and our Ann Thompson for that
report. The confederate flag guy is interesting, but apparently he is not
coming back next year.
Coming up, a bottle of vodka and a crazy jailhouse video. They have
given rise to an investigation that now seriously threatens Rick Perry in
his 2016 ambitions. We`ll tell you how that fits together and we have big
news on bridgegate too.
KORNACKI: If you watch this show on a regular basis, you know we talk
about the biggest names of the bridgegate scandal a lot. Chris Christie,
Bridget Kelley, Bill Stepian, David Wildstein, Bill Beroni, there`s also a
new name that hasn`t entered into the conversation until now. Important
new details about who it is and why he`s important ahead.
KORNACKI: Full hour of big developments ahead. Not just the latest on the
Chris Christie investigation, but we have news out of Texas this morning of
a Rick Perry investigation as well.
Before that, though, we want to go the latest and get the latest on
that South Korean ferry rescue effort. And for that, we turn to NBC`s
chief global correspondent Bill Neely, reporting this morning from Jindo,
South Korea -- Bill.
BILL NEELY, NBC NEWS CHIEF GLOBAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Steve.
From a place of sadness and frustration where many parents now feel
that any hope of finding their children still alive in that ship is fading
fast. They did, however, hear for the first time really in any detail an
explanation from the captain of the ship who was paraded before the cameras
when he was formally arrested and charged here, apologized to the parents.
And he said the reason he hadn`t ordered an evacuation was because
there were no rescue boats and he feared that if the passengers with their
life jackets went into the sea, they would simply drift away. Alongside
him was the 26-year-old woman who was steering the ship at the time --
remember, the captain was in his cabin -- and the helmsman who blamed the
steering gear. While the relatives blame the captain -- remember, he was
paragraphed getting off the ship early and also filmed arriving on shore,
one of the first survivors to land ashore. He`s 69 years old and charged
now with criminal negligence. For the relatives of the missing children,
this really is terribly difficult.
I have just come from a gym where many of them are gathered. I`ll
tell you, one of the officials announced that two more bodies had been
found of girls with long, dark hair. When he said that, there were screams
from the floor of the gym. They have watched a video, an underwater camera
which went to the hull of the ship I think to show them really how bad the
visibility really is. And some of those parents have now given DNA in
order perhaps to more easily identify the bodies of the children who were
The rescue effort continues. Divers have just recovered three more
bodies here and they have been taken to the mortuary. Huge cranes have
arrived to lift the ship, though that won`t happen until the parents say
that that`s OK with them. At the minute, it`s not. One man telling me we
simply cannot give up hope.
At the high school where these children were from, more poignant
scenes, another candle light vigil not just to the children but to the vice
principal who survived. He`d organized the trip, but when he was here
afterwards, having survived, he then killed himself. A poignant story,
desperately heartbreaking scenes here, Steve.
KORNACKI: That was NBC`s Bill Neely reporting from South Korea. Our
thanks to NBC`s Bill Neely for this heartbreaking story and just giving us
all those developments. Appreciate it.
Now, turning a little awkwardly to domestic politics, and a story
that`s captivated the nation for months now. Republicans with an eye on
running for the White House in 2016 have been watching closely, along with
the rest of us, is Chris Christie has been rocked by scandal. Top criminal
lawyers have been hired, a grand jury has been convened, federal
prosecutors are now looking into some very big allegations.
But this week, we learned that maybe Chris Christie isn`t alone.
Another Republican governor and potential presidential candidate is facing
a grand jury investigation that could affect his national ambitions, begun
on a Friday night in Texas just a little more than a year ago when a
motorist phoned in a complaint about a car driving erratically on a state
road northeast of Austin. The car was swerving in and out of traffic. It
blew through an intersection. It was driving on the shoulder.
The sheriff`s deputy ended up finding the car pulled over in a church
parking lot. That`s where the Travis County district attorney Rosemary
Lehmberg was parked. The top law enforcement official had been driving
that car. She had an open vodka bottle in the passenger seat. She then
failed a field sobriety test. She refused to take a breathalyzer test and
she was arrested for drug drinking.
Sheriff`s office determined her blood alcohol level was almost three
times the legal limit. So, Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County district
attorney, spent the night in jail. In that behavior that night, berating
officers, pounding the door of her cell and just generally appearing drunk
became something of a spectacle.
And there were not surprisingly many calls for her to resign. One of
them coming from Texas Governor Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in
the state`s history, who is due to leave office the end of this year and is
toying with a second presidential bid.
But Rosemary Lehmberg wouldn`t go. She served about half of a 45-day
jail sentence, paid a $4,000 fine, lost her driver`s license for six months
and entered a treatment program and also kept her job. So, Governor Perry
ramped up the pressure. Last June, "The Austin American-Statesman"
reported that officials were telling the district attorney that unless she
resigned, Governor Perry would remove state funding for Travis County`s
public integrity unit for the next two years.
Now, this was a big deal because Travis County is different from
every other county in Texas in one important way. It`s the home of the
state`s capital city where the business of state government is conducted.
And that makes the Travis county district attorney`s office important
because that office`s public integrity office monitors the ethics of state
legislators, the entire state government.
This is the same unit, the Travis County public integrity unit, that
under a previous D.A., Ronnie Earle, brought charges of money laundering
and conspiracy against former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
DeLay was later convicted, but that conviction was overturned by a state
appeals court. You`ll see here in this booking sheet DeLay turned himself
in in Harris County, the home of Houston, who`s 165 miles away.
So, this is not a story about just any county and just any county
official in Texas. This public integrity office for Travis County is the
main investigative body for government ethics in the entire state of Texas.
A few days after that story ran last summer, Rick Perry followed through on
the threat and vetoed the funding that the legislator had just appropriated
for the office, $7.3 million over two years.
Now, the politics of this. Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney,
is a Democrat. While Texas` government is dominated by Republicans, and
that makes Lehmberg and her office one of the biggest potential thorns in
the side of Perry and his fellow Republicans. Republicans had been trying
to get the power out of that office for years, as a matter of fact.
So, if Lehmberg were to resign, then her successor would be appointed
by Perry, her successor would be a Republican. So, Democrats howled and a
watchdog group called Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint against
Perry. They alleged that he had violated the state penal code. They
charged that he was engaged in a coercion of a public servant or voter,
bribery, abuse of official capacity and official oppression.
In August, Judge Burt Richardson of the Texas court of criminal
appeals appointed a special prosecutor, a man named Michael McCrum, and
things have been pretty quiet until this week. That`s when "The Austin
American-Statesman" broke the news that a grand jury is being sworn in to
look at whether an indictment is warranted. "The Austin American-
Statesman" also reported that Governor Perry has hired a defense attorney
at expense to taxpayers to represent him in this inquiry.
On Monday, the governor`s office issued a statement saying that this
veto was made in accordance with the veto power afforded to every governor
under the Texas Constitution. As we have from the beginning, we remain
ready and willing to assist with this inquiry.
Joining me back on the set is political strategist L. Joy Williams,
Sam Stein of "The Huffington Post."
And for more on these developments out of Texas, I want to bring in
Tony Plohetski. He`s investigative reporter for "The Austin American-
Statesman." He joins us this morning from the Texas capital. Tony was
first to report the news this week that Governor Perry hired a defense
lawyer to represent him in the criminal investigation.
And also in Texas, we have Peggy Fikac. She`s the Austin bureau
chief with "The San Antonio Express News", as well as reporter with "The
Tony, I`ll start with you because you have spoken recently with this
special prosecutor. And I think just looking at this from afar, this was a
story we saw a little bit about this last summer. We all forgot about it
and I think there`s surprise nationally for people who remember this story
that it seems to be picking up steam in terms of this investigation. And
the comments that you got from this special prosecutor suggests he really
is sort of honing in on Perry and the people around him.
Can you tell us about those conversations?
TONY PLOHETSKI, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN: Yes. So, I think what
was going on nationally was also happening locally. We weren`t hearing a
lot about this investigation. It was getting scant attention. And then I
started hearing several weeks ago that Travis County officials were getting
ready to convene a special grand jury and that this prosecutor was going to
take this case to that grand jury.
So, I reached out to him and actually sat down with him for an
interview on the record, on camera, April 1st in his San Antonio office.
And he said during that interview that he has turned over evidence in this
investigation that he`s quite concerned about. He wouldn`t go as far to
say he believed that Governor Perry committed a crime, he stopped short of
that. But he did go on record saying he`s quite concerned and is moving
forward aggressively with his investigation and this case.
KORNACKI: And when you say committed a crime, because -- I mean,
some people would look at this and say we look at the drunk-driving
conviction for the district attorney and I think people across the aisle in
that situation would say probably not the best person to have in office.
Probably, he shouldn`t resign, and he has the power as the governor to use
the line of veto to take out funding for anything he wants. He used that
But the crime here is saying he as governor is essentially using his
power to force a resignation of a duly elected official and that would
constitute a crime?
PLOHETSKI: Well, exactly. And that is the big question here. I
mean, the governor is part of the legislative process may say to a lawmaker
-- lawmaker, change your bill or I`m going to veto it. What set this is
apart is that Rosemary Lehmberg was overwhelmingly elected by Travis County
voters to be the district attorney of Travis County. So, there`s a
question about the legality of him actually saying you resign or I`m going
to withhold your money.
And there`s a question about whether or not that violated, as you
mentioned, several laws -- bribery, coercion of a public official, abuse of
authority, those crimes. But legal experts that I`ve talked to really kind
of have differing opinions about whether the governor may have actually
stepped over a legal line.
KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, those are some heavy charges, heavy
Peggy, I want to bring you into this now, too, because you were
covering the grand jury selection this week. So, can you tell us a little
bit about where that process stands, where we can expect it to go from
here? How long -- do you have any sense how long it`s going to take to be
some resolution on this?
PEGGY FIKAC, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS: Yes, the judge seated 12
grand jurors and two alternates on Monday. They immediately talked with
the special prosecutor, Mike McCrum, privately. They will be meeting every
other Friday is their schedule. They have the power to subpoena witnesses
as they look into this case.
And all indications are that this is going to be a lengthy look into
the governor`s actions and whether it violated -- he violated any laws,
L. JOY WILLIAMS, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: I have a question because it
seems it`s a legal argument, right, whether or not the governor had the
power to -- or we know he had the power, but whether he committed a crime
or not. I have a question about what people on the ground -- you know,
voters sort of think about this and seeing the video and seeing that this
district attorney was arrested for drunk driving and should she be
investigating other legislators? It seems that people don`t -- may not
sort of grasp on to this?
KORNACKI: Yes. Tony, I wonder, what is the -- what`s the sense
you`re getting from voters down there? Because, again, it seems like I`m
just imagining this playing out in my state or any state. It seems such a
clear cut case to call for a resignation of district attorney given what
Are people seeing Rick Perry as, yes, sure, of course, he should be
trying to get rid of her or, wait a minute, there might be other issues
PLOHETSKI: Well, of course, Travis County is highly Democratic, made
up of largely Democratic voters, and the truth is throughout her whole
ordeal, Rosemary Lehmberg received a lot of support from them. Those folks
were saying do not resign under any circumstances.
But at the same time, there were people out there who absolutely
thought that her behavior was awful and she did, of course, acknowledge
that. She`s apologized multiple times. But then there`s also the issue
of, again, the governor stepping in and trying to impose his will on Travis
County voters. That`s where the real problem here lies.
SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: One thing that has not been
mentioned in this discussion is that the Travis County D.A.`s office was
investigating the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which
was giving out a lot of money to Rick Perry friends. So, it`s not just
that he was trying to maybe unseat someone who there`s a case she was
driving drunk, incredibly drunk, and get someone who is his crony of his in
the office, but maybe he was trying to impede an investigation of his own
administration. And I think that`s sort of the bigger issue here is was he
trying to cover up something that Travis County D.A.`s office was on to.
I don`t know. I don`t follow this closely. I`m wondering if --
KORNACKI: Yes. Peggy, we have to squeeze a break in. But I`m going
to ask you about that because that is one of the central questions here is
as Sam is saying, the Cancer Research Institute giving out money to a lot
of Rick Perry`s sort of associates and money that people say was
misappropriated. That`s something this office was looking into it. We`re
going to look at that aspect and I`ll ask you about that when we come back.
KORNACKI: So, Peggy, I want to pick it back up with you. We were
setting this up about the unique power of this Travis County, you know,
prosecutor`s office and sort of the watchdog for the entire state
government when it comes to ethics. And this district attorney who Rick
Perry is trying to get to resign by vetoing funding for office, she was
engaged in an investigation into Cancer Research Institute that was proving
embarrassing to Republicans. Tell us about that investigation.
FIKAC: Yes, that`s correct. The Cancer Research Institute was set
up to do research and be an incubator for agencies that are entities
looking for cancer cures and spinning businesses off. It was a big
achievement for Governor Perry to create this. But as it got going, there
were concerns raised and investigations done that showed that the grants
being awarded had not undergone the proper review.
And so, the district attorney`s office was looking into that at the
time that Governor Perry made this veto threat and there were some people
who suggested that at least there was implication that if Rosemary Lehmberg
were removed, that this investigation that was proving embarrassing to the
governor might not go forward.
Now, as it happened, the investigation did go forward. There was an
indictment in December of the agency`s chief commercialization officer.
The investigation is concluded. They don`t expect any other indictments
out of this. The prosecution in that case will be going forward. The
agency in the meantime has been revamped by the legislature.
KORNACKI: Let me ask, Sam and L. Joy, just sort of the national
politics of this, because Rick Perry is clearly interested in running for
president again. I have no idea why, how it went the first time. But he`s
clearly interested --
STEIN: Because it can only get better.
KORNACKI: -- in taking another stab at it. Play this out because
again, we have sort of gone over that the complexities here on the one hand
he can just say, this was a district attorney with no business being in
office. I`m going to take any step I can as governor to get her out of
office. On the other hand, you can say, oh, look, she happened to be
investigating at the time as we just heard. You know, a Cancer Research
Institute that was proved embarrassing to him. If this thing ends in an
indictment of Rick Perry and who knows if it will, is this something that
will -- that will hurt him or is this that he could -- do you think this is
the kind of indictment he could kind of politically survive?
WILLIAMS: Again, I think the leap for this, right, the leap to tie
this to this investigation and whether or not he hadn`t committed a crime
or things like that, there`s so many other things that you can use against
Rick Perry in a presidential election that I don`t think this becomes the
issue. And I don`t know -- making people understand sort of --
STEIN: I don`t want this video used against me like five month`s
time, you know, like, it turns out that I was incredibly wrong. But I just
-- if I were Rick Perry`s lawyers, I would say have you seen that video,
you know? Have you see that video?
This is someone in law enforcement who clearly broke the law and he
took action to get her out of a law enforcement office. And he was within
his rights to use his veto power to force that action. And I just don`t
know if it holds up in court, but certainly seems to me like it would hold
up in the court of politics.
KORNACKI: Yes, I guess the court of public opinion is one thing.
But, then, you know, again, there`s the legal argument, about, he has the
line of veto power, but if you`re using it for some form of coercion, there
could be some kind of -- there could be a violation there.
But, Tony, the other question is, look, obviously, the politics of
this as we explain, this district attorney and any Democrat who occupies
this district attorney`s job right now, given the nature of Texas politics,
is really one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, power to
investigate Republicans who basically run the state. So, if she were to
resign right now, Rick Perry gets to replace her. He puts a Republican in
What happens then? Did they have an election in another year because
it`s an overwhelmingly Democratic county? Or there is a chance here that
this really main toehold that Democrats have left in Texas government can
be handed over to Republicans for a long time?
PLOHETSKI: Well, first of all, she has steadfastly said she`s not
resigning. She continues to say she`s not resigning. In fact, she
survived a civil trial, a full-scale civil trial to remove her from office.
So, she`s back at work doing her job. She`s got a couple years left on her
But had she resigned, it is true that the governor would have
appointed her successor to basically serve out the rest of her term. That
would have given the Republicans a couple years to have someone in that
office before a regular election, again, a couple years from now, when I
think everyone expects a Democrat would be put back in that office.
STEIN: Can I ask a question, has this at all been brought up with
Greg Abbott or Wendy Davis in terms of that race? Is it percolating to
that level at all?
PLOHETSKI: Not that I have heard, but Peggy may have a better pulse
KORNACKI: Yes. Peggy, is it an issue in the governor`s race?
FIKAC: It has been mentioned. Wendy Davis` campaign has tried to
make not so much the removal of Rosemary Lehmberg, but the investigation
into CPRI, an issue, and her race against Attorney General Greg Abbott. He
was on the oversight or was named to the oversight board for CPRI. He
appointed a deputy to serve in his place.
So, in a tangential way, it was it`s become part of the governor`s
KORNACKI: Yes. So, we`ll see if there`s some kind of indictment
here, Democrats, Rick Perry indicted. Look at the headline and Rick Perry
(INAUDIBLE) will say, look at video. You can see how that plays out.
I want to thank Tony Plohetski with "The Austin American-Statesman",
Peggy Fikac with "The San Antonio Express News", Sam Stein of "Huffington
Post" and strategist L. Joy Williams, we will see you both at the end of
We`ve just told you about the Rick Perry investigation. Up next,
it`s time to bring you up o to speed in a new name in the Chris Christie
KORNACKI: Coming up next, the major player in the Chris Christie
investigation who made some very interesting phone calls when the
bridgegate scandal was breaking and who hasn`t been talked about until we
tell you who he is on the other side of this break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB FRANKS (R), FORMER U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: This raises some
fundamental questions. If there`s some college student looking to run for
higher public office, if there`s a local mom who`s thinking about running
for the school board, some of the lessons that they might learn from this
campaign would be quite unfortunate. I think Jon Corzine is a good and
decent person, but the lessons that some could learn from watching his
campaign I think are quite unfortunate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Now, unless you`re a New Jersey political junkie, you
probably don`t recognize that guy, but he`s actually really important to
the Chris Christie, George Washington Bridge scandal now playing out in New
So, let me tell you about him for a minute. His name is Bob Franks.
He`s a moderate Republican congressman in New Jersey`s 2000 U.S. Senate
race. He was supposed to get crushed.
He was running against Jon Corzine and Corzine just left Goldman
Sachs and was pouring money into his campaign in a way that no one had ever
seen before. He ended up spending $63 million of his own money in that
race. That`s about $57 million more than Bob Franks raised and spent.
Now, New Jersey is also a very blue state. When Franks ran in 2000,
it would have been three decades since the state had elected a Republican
to the Senate. And it was that same year, 2000, that Al Gore running at
the top of the ticket against George W. Bush, carried the state by 16
Bush campaign didn`t even bother to contest New Jersey. So, everyone
figured that Bob Franks was nothing but a sack official lamb that year.
But when the votes were tallied franks fell just short. It was a three-
point loss, which was still impressive given everything he was up against.
If you ask political people in New Jersey about that 2000 Senate
race, they will tell you that Bob Franks may have lost the election, but he
won the campaign. And one of the reasons he won the campaign was because
of the team he had around him. It was a core group of young, smart,
talented and ambitious political pros.
And these are names you probably do know. Names like Bill Baroni,
you know him as one of Christi`s former Port Authority appointees and
central player in the bridgegate saga. But in 2000, he was fresh out of
law school and eager to get into politics. So, he signed on as the lawyer
for the Bob Franks for Senate campaign. When the election was over, Baroni
launched his own political career. He won a seat in the state assembly, he
moved up to the state senate, he ended up at the Port Authority in 2010.
And who did he ask the Christie administration to send with him?
That would be David Wildstein, the man who more than anyone else, the
Mastro report, that`s the internal investigation commissioned by Christi`s
office, the Mastro report pointed its finger at him as the main culprit
behind the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
Baroni and Wildstein were close friends and one of their connections
was Bob Franks, because David Wildstein was also a Bob Franks fan. He
looked up to Franks. Franks has been one of his political mentors.
And then there was the 23-year-old guy who drove Bob Franks around
back in that campaign against Jon Corzine and his name is Bill Stepien. We
know him now as Chris Christie`s former campaign manager. Someone who`d
been one of his top political deputies and someone who was poised to play a
major role in the 2016 Christi White House campaign until the bridge
scandal broke and Christi denounced him.
Back in 2000, Stepien was fresh out of college. It was the first
time he`d been paid to work in politics. And there he was driving around
Bob Franks to all his speeches, to all these meetings, and all these
debates in that 2000 campaign. That got Stepien his foot in the door and
pretty soon, he got to manage a campaign of his own and it was the campaign
of Bill Baroni for state assembly in 2003. And from there, he was off and
And sadly, Bob Franks passed away at a much too young age of 58, just
a couple years ago. But Bob Franks in that 2000 campaign is one of the
threads that connects Baroni, Wildstein and Stepien, three most of the
critical figures in the Christi scandals.
And it`s no accident. They are part of the close-knit core group of
New Jersey Republicans whose roots can be traced to Franks, who stayed in
close contact with each other and ended up on Chris Christie`s team, which
brings us to this man, the man who ran the Bob Franks campaign in 2000,
whose reputation as a strategist soared because of how close they came to
pulling off what would have been a seismic upset.
His name is Mike DuHaime and in 2000, he was 26 years old and getting
his first shot at managing a major statewide race. He was close to Baroni,
he was close to Wildstein and Stepien was his protege. And they all stayed
close after that race. DuHaime went on to run the New Jersey Republican
Party, to play a role in George W. Bush`s 2004 campaign, to become
political director of the Republican National Committee, to run Rudy
Giuliani`s campaign, and then, finally, to become the top political
consultant to Chris Christie, the architect of his victorious campaign in
2009 and his reelection campaign last year, someone who has become the most
indispensable political adviser that Chris Christie has.
That`s Mike DuHaime. He gave Bill Stepien his start in politics. He
has deep in longstanding ties to David Wildstein and Bill Baroni and he has
emerged as a trusted confidant of Chris Christie, and he is someone we
learn this week who was talking regularly with all of these people as the
scandal gathered steam at the end of last year.
This is one of the 75 interview memos at Randy Mastro`s law firm.
This is the firm that the governor`s office picked to conduct the internal
investigation that purports to exonerate Christi. This is one of the 75
memos released this week. It summarizes two interviews that Mastro`s team
conducted with DuHaime.
And what becomes clear when you read this is he essentially served as
a messenger, relaying critical information as the scandal took shape
between Christie, Stepien, Wildstein and Baroni. They apparently weren`t
all talking to each other. DuHaime told investigators that Stepien even
seemed to be ducking Wildstein`s calls, but they were all talking to
DuHaime and they were saying some heavy things.
DuHaime says that he met with Wildstein at the coffee shop last
November 11th. This was in the early days of the bridge scandal. This was
long before any of us knew about Bridget Kelly`s time for some traffic
At that coffee shop the memo says, Wildstein told DuHaime that he
would have not have done the traffic study without Trenton knowing about it
beforehand. And Trenton here is a shorthand reference to Christie`s
office. The memo says the two spoke again in the next few weeks and that,
quote, "Wildstein told DuHaime specifically that Kelly and Stepien knew
about the traffic study beforehand.
And then some time after that, DuHaime apparently discussed this with
Stepien. And according to the memo, Stepien told DuHaime that that he knew
about traffic study before him because Wildstein had come to him with this
particular study about the traffic study. But because Wildstein was always
coming to Stepien with crazy ideas, Stepien dismissively told Wildstein to
take the idea to Trenton because Stepien no longer worked in state
And on December 11th of last year, memo says that DuHaime and
Christie talked on the phone and that, quote, DuHaime specifically reported
to the governor that Wildstein told DuHaime that both Kelly and Stepien had
knowledge of the traffic study beforehand. Memo also says that DuHaime
can`t remember if he told Christie what Stepien had told him, that he
couldn`t remember because of, quote, "the high volume of DuHaime`s
communications with Stepien during that time. Again, remember, DuHaime is
Stepien`s mentor. They were Christie`s top two political lieutenants. The
memo was telling us that they talked so frequently that DuHaime cannot
distinguish one call from another back in December.
For that matter, the memo also says that DuHaime was, quote,
"constantly in contact with the governor about many things" and that
DuHaime and Christie spoke again on December 12th and twice on the morning
of December 13th. And December 13th is a key day here because December
13th is the day that Chris Christie held that press conference where he
purposely denied that anyone on his team had any advanced knowledge or any
involvement in the lane closures -- the day he says he gave this ultimatum
to his senior staff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I put to all of them one simple
challenge. If there is any information that you know about the decision to
close these lanes in Fort Lee, you have one hour to tell either my chief of
staff, Kevin O`Dowd, or my chief counsel Charlie McKenna.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And if you look at the memo from the interviews that
Mastro`s team conducted with Christie, it seems to suggest that one of
those conversations with DuHaime where DuHaime told Christie that Wildstein
had said Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien had known about the closures ahead
of time and that they had gotten clearance from Trenton to closer the
lanes, that it was one of those conversations that prompted Christie
(INAUDIBLE) to step down and gave them that ultimatum.
Then there`s this, back in the DuHaime memo from Mastro
investigators, it has to do with two phone calls from the morning of
December 13th -- from just before Christie went out, held that press
conference and assured the world that his team was clean when it came to
the lane closures.
Now, look at this closely. This is from that memo -- Stepien called
DuHaime from the statehouse, asking DuHaime to confirm that Wildstein had
said Kelly had knowledge of the lane realignment beforehand. Stepien asked
DuHaime if Wildstein had proof of Kelly`s knowledge beforehand.
Stepien told DuHaime that the governor would be holding a press
conference later that day to address the lane realignment and Stepien
warned to confirm what DuHaime was told by Wildstein, to make sure Stepien
heard it correctly. And then the memo says DuHaime placed a call to
Wildstein to, quote, "verify that Wildstein was certain that Kelly had
knowledge beforehand." Wildstein replied that he was 100 percent certain
that Kelly had prior knowledge and there were e-mails to further confirm
Kelly knew beforehand.
So, think about this. The memo is telling us that Christie`s top
political adviser, Mike DuHaime, a man who was, quote, "constantly
communicating with Christie and regularly in contact with Wildstein,
Stepien and Baroni, that Mike DuHaime was told by Wildstein that he was 100
percent certain that there were e-mails proving that Bridget Kelly had
advanced knowledge and he was told this just before Christie held that
press conference to tell the world no one on his senior staff had anything
to do with it.
Chris Christie`s top political consultant was told that by David
Wildstein just before Chris Christie went and made a public statement that
would blow up spectacularly in his face three weeks later when that Bridget
Kelly e-mail finally did come out.
So, what did DuHaime do with that information that morning? Did he
alert Christie? Did he talk to someone around Christie? Did he say
Mastro report doesn`t tell us. We reached out to DuHaime yesterday,
invited him on our show, and we haven`t heard back. But again, think about
this -- the memos say that one of Christie`s closest confidants was being
told reportedly and explicitly by David Wildstein that there was proof
Bridget Kelly had known and Wildstein had known, too, and that Wildstein
said he had Trenton`s approval, had the governor`s office approval for what
he had done.
They say that Mike DuHaime was being told this, that he was talking
with the governor, that he was in close touch with Stepien and Wildstein,
too, and we know his relationships with some of the most critical players
in the story go back years. They go all the way back to the Franks
campaign in 2000, maybe even earlier. But all we now about his
communications with Christie and Wildstein and Stepien and Baroni comes
from the memos, the memos that were released by the law firm hired by
Christie`s office, the law firm that we just found out donated $10,000 to
the governors association just before it released that report exonerating
A statement to MSNBC this week, Gibson Dunn clarified that they
regularly give to the RGA and have done so since 2009. It was the year
Governor Christie was running his first campaign. There`s absolutely no
indication here that DuHaime did anything wrong or had any knowledge or
involvement in the scheme or any attempt to cover it up.
But it seems that he was in closer contact with most of the key
players more than just about anyone else we`re talking about here. And we
just might unlock a little bit more of this mystery of who exactly knew
about the closures and when exactly they knew it if someone else besides
Mastro`s law firm asked Mike DuHaime about all those conversations and
looked closely at what he was being told by all those key players and what
he was telling Christie and those around him.
The legislative committee that`s been investigating this, this is the
same committee that blew the story wide open when it got its hands on that
"time for some traffic" e-mail from Kelly, that committee has so far issued
two dozen subpoenas. Mike DuHaime has not been among them. There`s a
report in "Wall Street Journal" on Friday says the committee is poised to
issue six more subpoenas next week. If that happens, will one of them be
to Mike DuHaime?
When we come back, I will be joined by the co-chair of that
legislative committee, John Wisniewski. We will ask him about that and
more. That is next.
KORNACKI: We just explained how three of the essential players in
the bridgegate surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie`s
administration, Bill Stepien, David Wildstein and Bill Baroni came to know
each other as well as the fourth person, Mike DuHaime, Christie`s top
political adviser who this new memo show was relaying messages between them
and Governor Christie as all of this was going down.
Now, here to discuss it with me, we have Democratic State Assemblyman
John Wisniewski, who was the co-chairman of that legislative investigative
Thank you for joining us today, Assemblyman.
STATE ASSEMBLYMAN JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: Steve, good to be
KORNACKI: So, in that very brief intro I just read a minute ago
about Mike DuHaime, the reason why we focus on this so much is it showed
somebody who knows all of these key players, most of these key players very
well, who has ties to them that go back a long way and there are all sorts
of references in here to the frequency that he was having communication
At the same time, this is somebody who has Chris Christie`s ear. So
as I said at the end there, it really struck me that hours before he gives
that press conference on December 13th assuring the world, no, we`re clean.
Nobody in my senior staff knew, we now know from this that his closest
political adviser was told by David Wildstein 100 percent certain there are
e-mails that link Bridget Kelly to this.
KORNACKI: What do you make of that?
WISNIEWSKI: Mike DuHaime is a very smart and talented political
operative. And what we`re asked to believe in the conclusion of the Mastro
report, what you just talked about is part of the documents that make up
the Mastro report. What we`re asked to believe is that Mike DuHaime for
the first time committed this act of political malpractice. He knows this
information as somehow he doesn`t communicate it to the governor.
The governor made it very clear on December 13th, that he had no
knowledge, his staff had no knowledge. But the fact of the matter is, we
have someone very significant in his inner circle who had multiple
conversations that unquestionably said that Bridget Kelly and Wildstein
knew something about what was going on at the lane closures.
KORNACKI: It strikes me, too, if you look through this report there
are all sorts of instances like this, where -- I mean, Christie had been
told by Mike Drewniak, who`s his press secretary, had dinner with David
Wildstein in early December.
KORNACKI: Wildstein had also told him this thing about Kelly and
Stepien knowing, and about getting Trenton`s approval. That had been
relayed to Christie as well.
So, you have -- there`s more than just one person here who is giving
Christie an indication that Bridget Kelly --
WISNIEWSKI: The governor marked up the exit statement on David
Wildstein leaving the Port Authority. Mike Drewniak had a conversation
about it. We know that Kevin O`Dowd had got a copy of an e-mail from
Bridget Kelly, and that conversation were shared with the governor. We
know that Mike DuHaime had conversations that told him pretty clearly that
Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein knew about this.
And yet, what we`re asked to believe is that none of this information
got past those people, that it stopped there, and that somehow the governor
had no knowledge of any kind about it. I think that underscores what three
major newspapers in New Jersey have said, that the work of the committee
needs to continue to go forward because the more we see, the more we have
KORNACKI: Well, I want o go back to that and ask you about the role
your committee has played here because this is something important. To set
it up, I want to go back to that December 13th press conference we keep
talking about. So, this is, again, DuHaime is told hours before this by
Wildstein, 100 percent certainty that Bridget Kelly, there`s e-mails
linking Kelly to this.
And this is Christie coming public in December 13th press conference
and assuring there`s no involvement of his senior staff in any of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Governor, can you say with certainty that someone else
didn`t -- on your staff or in your administration didn`t act on your behalf
to order those lane closures for political retribution?
CHRISTIE: Yes, I have absolutely -- absolutely no reason to believe
that, Angie. And I have made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff
that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come
forward to e me and tell me about it and they have all assured me that they
REPORTER: Campaign chief? Campaign staff?
CHRISTIE: Oh, yes. I have spoken to Mr. Stepien who`s the person in
charge of the campaign and he has assured me the same thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And, Assemblyman, what I wonder when I go back and look at
this, it`s not a question to me -- I mean, there`s no evidence that Chris
Christie had foreknowledge of the closures, that he hatched a scheme or
something. But the question I keep coming back to, I guess the term I use
is willful ignorance because he`s a former federal prosecutor. There are
all these warnings we`re finding out about that were sort of popping up in
his orbit that I think any former federal prosecutor, this would arouse
And in this case, there was a clear incentive for Chris Christie and
for his whole team to be willfully ignorant because the clock was running
out on your investigation. When he gave that press conference in December,
you basically had one month left, your committee that was investigating
this, had one month left before its subpoena power was going to expire and
there was every indication the new speaker of the assembly was not going to
renew your subpoena power. It looked that way right up until the Bridget
Kelly e-mail came out.
So, I mean, you can look at this and say if they were intentionally
ignorant, they were willfully ignorant, there was a chance they would get
away with this a month later without anybody ever finding out anything.
WISNIEWSKI: My suspicion is they really thought no one would be able
to uncover that e-mail from Bridget Kelly and they fell very comfortable in
making the strident and strenuous denials. And you`re right. The subpoena
authority that the transportation committee had at that time, the clock was
ticking, there was a month left to it.
And from what you see now in the Mastro report, the interview notes
that Randy Mastro`s firm developed, makes it clear there was a high level
of knowledge within the administration and so now what we`re being asked to
believe is that notwithstanding all of these significant people have
knowledge, that it never went beyond them, never went to the governor. We
don`t know that it did, but it certainly is very hard to accept that that`s
how it actually played out.
KORNACKI: So, we had the report in "The Wall Street Journal"
yesterday saying six new subpoenas from your committee next week. Is that
WISNIEWSKI: Well, we have been talking for the last couple of weeks
since we last met about bringing individuals in for testimony before the
committee. We`ve gotten to that point where we`ve assessed enough material
that we can start asking questions to witnesses. And we`ve lined up
potentially four individuals that we think we`re going to bring in, so I
can foresee four subpoenas going out to individuals. We want to consult
with the members of the committee first to make sure they understand who
we`re bringing in. We had that generic conversation last time we met, when
we met in executive session, so this is not a surprise or news to anybody
on the committee, but we do want to firm up exactly what the plans are for
who`s coming from us.
KORNACKI: So, so it looks like four subpoenas coming soon from your
committee. Is Mike DuHaime among them?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, I don`t want to get into specific names right now,
but clearly what you`ve uncovered, what we`ve uncovered through these
interviews has opened up a whole new possibility of additional subpoenas
not only for documents but for additional people that up until now, we
might not have thought were relevant to the investigation.
KORNACKI: OK. Well, we will keep an eye out for names next week. I
think that`s the thing everybody is looking for on these new subpoenas. I
want to thank New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski for joining us this
What should we know today? Our answers are after this.
KORNACKI: All right. It`s time to find out what our guests know now
they didn`t know when the week began.
Sam Stein, we will start with you.
STEIN: Well, so I`m going to pimp my own reporting again, OK? But
on Tuesday, I went to a conference. It is with a bunch of scientists,
maybe the 12 brightest young scientists in America that just received an
award from the president for their work.
We sat down around this table and talked about the future of science
in America and all of them were incredibly skeptical because of funding
that was being cut from the National Institutes of Health, National Science
Foundation. They say there`s a brain drain in this country where young
people like them are discouraged from going into the field because they
don`t have the money there, there`s so much competition for grants and that
we`re going to have a reckoning down the road if we want to be the
preeminent power when it comes to scientific future --
KORNACKI: If you don`t put the money into research now, you`re not
going to get any -- you`re not going to get any research done.
WILLIAMS: So, I have a fun one. As Joselyn (ph) on Twitter
reminding me, that today is National Record Store Day and it`s one of the
small businesses that have been dying over the last couple of years as
people move to MP3s and sort of having music on their gadgets. But for me,
I still have a record player and there is nothing like hearing certain
music on vinyls. It`s just part of the experience.
KORNACKI: Are you buying old records or are they still making new
stuff on --
WILLIAMS: You know, yes, I do both. So, I generally buy old records
for certain sound, it just sounds better on vinyl. They do make it because
there are still some DJs that still use vinyl.
KORNACKI: OK. National Record Day, there we go. I do know that one
I know tit`s our one-year anniversary of doing this show. I just
want to say thanks to everybody. The guests, the staff, we have the best
team here at MSNBC, no offense to the other teams.
I want to thank MSNBC contributor Sam Stein, political strategist L.
Joy Williams for joining us this morning.
And thank you for joining us today for up for the last year or two
for that matter. Tune in tomorrow, Sunday morning at 8:00, we will discuss
Michael Bloomberg`s $50 million push to reform our nation`s gun laws and
tackle the NRA. The executive director from Gabby Giffords advocacy group
will join the panel.
Coming up next is Melissa Harris-Perry. On today`s "MHP", a closer
look at who and what constitutes a real threat when it comes to fighting
terror. Also, a preview of the union vote that could shake up college
sports basketball stars. Swin Cash will be among Melissa`s guests. That
is all straight ahead next.
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