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PoliticsNation, Friday, December 5th, 2014

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Show: POLITICS NATION
Date: December 5, 2014

Guest: Zachary Carter; Seema Iyer, Brian Thompson, John Wisniewski, Faith
Jenkins, Seema Iyer, Tara Dowdell, Josh Zepps, Liz Plank


REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, Ed. And thanks to you
for tuning in.

Tonight`s lead, the grand jurors were playing on their cell phones. That`s
the startling new allegations in the Eric Garner chokehold case. It comes
from the man who shot this cell phone video. Ramsey Orta testified before
the grand jury. He tells "the New York Daily News" they were barely
listening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAMSEY ORTA, WITNESS: Nobody in grand jury was even paying attention to
what I had to say. Everybody was on their phones. People were talking.
So I feel like they didn`t give him a fair grand jury either. They put the
video on. People was on their phones. People were having conversations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?

ORTA: It was a regular day to them. Like it was no big-time case to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: It`s a startling claim. Playing on their cell phones!

Otto also claims the prosecutor asked more questions about Eric Garner`s
conduct than the officers. He says grand jurors already had their minds
made up and that after just ten minutes, prosecutors stopped his testimony
and sent him home. We called the DA`s office about these allegations and
they declined to comment.

All of this raising troubling new questions about how this grand jury
operated and whether broader changes are needed nationwide.

Today in cities across the country, yet more demonstrations over the Eric
Garner case. But it`s not the only one.

In Phoenix, protesters hit the streets after police shot and killed an
unarmed black man earlier this week.

In Ohio today, the family of 12-year-old Tamir Rice followed a wrongful
death against two officers.

And in Brooklyn we learned today a grand jury will convene in the case of
(INAUDIBLE), the unarmed man shot fatally by an officer in a stairwell.

But is that the right venue? Will this family get justice? The grand jury
system for police shootings need to change and that change is going to
come.

Joining me now, former prosecutor Faith Jenkins, criminal defense attorney
Seema Iyer, and retired ATF agent Jim Cavanaugh. Thank you all for being
here.

SEEMA IYER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Thanks, Rev.

FAITH JENKINS, FORMER CRIMINAL PROSECUTOR: Thank you.

JIM CAVANAUGH, MSNBC ANALYST: Thanks, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Faith, this key witness says he was only questioned for ten
minutes. He said the jurors were talking, playing on their cell phones.
What`s your reaction to that?

JENKINS: Listen, if this is true what he`s saying, it`s very problematic
and the responsibility really falls on one person`s shoulders and that is
the prosecutor. Because the grand jury is his show. That`s the tool that
prosecutors use to get indictments and they run the show when it comes to
grand jury. So if there`s a problem with jurors not paying attention to
evidence. If there`s a problem, and a prosecutor doesn`t think jurors are
taking a witness seriously, and not listening, that`s their job to come in
because there`s no judge. This is not a trial.

SHARPTON: But Seema, if the jurors are not listening, and I agree that`s
important. But how do you only question the one who shot the video for
only ten minutes?

IYER: I agree. And judge Faith, former prosecutor, we`ve had plenty of
cases up against each other. I was a former prosecutor. If this is your
star witness, and you have your star witness up there for days. If you
want an indictment, you know how to get one. It`s not that difficult. But
everyone seems to keep forgetting that Staten Island -- and we`re all New
Yorkers. Staten island is almost 70 percent white. The population of
blacks is less than 10 percent. The population of Latinos is in single
digits as well. So I think when someone like Mr. Orta comes in, they just
don`t care. It is like that whole black don`t matter.

SHARPTON: But I don`t even know if it`s as simple as that. I think
prosecutors do what they want with grand juries.

IYER: But you know it`s racist.

JENKINS: It`s so racist.

Seema, I`m not going to -- listen, here`s the thing. When you go into a
grand jury, there are two things you need to get an indictment. You need
the evidence and you need the desire of the prosecutors to get an
indictment. In this case, with this video, you have the evidence. That is
clear. What I think you didn`t have was the desire to get an indictment --

SHARPTON: By the prosecutor.

JENKINS: By the prosecutor. Because the other indict everyone in Staten
Island. Because everyone in Staten Island is not a racist.

IYER: It`s pretty racist, Rev.

JENKINS: Seema, stop.

SHARPTON: But I think we let people off the hook when we just say it is
just a whole community. This prosecutor, if he only asks ten minutes of
questions and allowed the jurors to do that, this is prosecutorial
misconduct, possibly. And it shows where many of us feel the grand jury
system the way it is on the state level, must be changed.

IYER: Must be changed in order to appoint a special prosecutor any time a
police officer is being investigated. That`s important.

In this case, Rev., there are at least six additional charges that should
have been presented, including, there`s two counts of gang assault. I
looked up gang assault in the second-degree and gang assault in the first-
degree. Assault in the first-degree should have been presented. Assault
in the second-degree should have been presented. Reckless endangerment,
the misdemeanor reckless endangerment, the felony, strangulation in the
first degree, strangulation in the first degree. Why weren`t these charges
presented?

JENKINS: Well, we don`t know all of the charges that were presented to the
grand jury.

IYER: Yes, it actually came out this morning.

SHARPTON: What we know, we know that they that the prosecutor asked grand
jury to consider manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. But you
question why he didn`t bring up strangulation assault, reckless endanger
and gang assault.

IYER: I question big time.

SHARPTON: That`s not there.

IYER: They make up the charges. Strangulation, assault, every single
charge.

SHARPTON: Let me go to this and then I must go to Jim because I want to
ask you something, Jim, about the training issue here.

But Orta also, and Orta is a young man that videotaped the tape that`s gone
all over the world. Orta said the prosecutor said more questions about
Eric Garner`s conduct than about the officer`s. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ORTA: They put the video on, and they was asking me piece by piece, where
I was, where I was standing at, if I was the one that shot the video. But
he wasn`t asking no questions about no police officer, he was asking
everything towards Eric, what was Eric doing, why was Eric there? The
whole grand jury had nothing to do with why the cop choke him about, what
happen with the chokehold thing. It was just more of why was Eric standing
there?.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: What was your read on that?

JENKINS: Well, I think --

SHARPTON: Go ahead, Jim.

CAVANAUGH: I was going to say -- excuse me, Faith. I`m sorry. I was just
going to say that even in an investigator, you would talk to that witness
for a very long time. Certainly, if you`re a prosecutor and you brought
that witness to a grand jury, as Faith and Seema said, you`d interview that
witness ad nauseum (ph), a minute by minute breakdown of everything they
saw.

Also, you`d be gentle with the witness. Remember that the grand jury is
not targeting this person. This person is a witness who made a video. So
the whole system is turned upside down by this. You know, I`ve testified
before many grand juries, state and federal, and this whole way this is
being conducted is very, very unusual.

Grand juries are a check on overzealous prosecutors, prosecutors who want
to charge people who shouldn`t be charged. They bring their, you know,
that`s what they sort of exist for. But prosecutors first have to believe
like Faith and Seema both said, in probably cause and prosecution
themselves to press the case with the grand jury.

The prosecutor presses the case. This is what happened. This is what we
believe happened. Here`s the witness that backs that up. You know, if a
ham sandwich has a bunch of defense witnesses appear on their behalf.
Well, you know you`re not going to indict the ham sandwich.

SHARPTON: There`s also a lot of focus, Jim, on training. The "Wall Street
Journal" reports police departments around the country are racing to
development new training rules on the use of force. Police officials in
New York, Los Angeles, and other major cities are moving to develop new
training rules, as well as beginning to adopt equipment such as body
cameras. How big a difference can this make, the change in training, Jim?

CAVANAUGH: Well, it can. It makes a difference and it is positive step by
the big cities who often lead the way in change. But they need change in
command attitude. Change in the sergeant`s actions on the street. They
need to embrace the thought of negotiating with people more on minor
offenses, let`s embrace some technology where you can take the man`s
picture, get his fingerprint. Why does he have to be dragged to the
precinct and many minor offenses.

You know, the criminal justice system is skewed against minorities. Let`s
fix it. You know, we need the officers to be free to be on the street to
deal with violent crime and not guys like Mr. Gardner.

But I`ll just say this, Reverend Al. And this is the important question I
think for the civil rights division. If there`s six officers around an
unarmed man who has not committed a violent crime, and he does not attack
the officers. He never attacks or swings his fists at the officers. In
fact, once the officer is behind him, he kind of puts his hands up like,
OK, OK. Is it OK, with six officers present, to choke him? That`s the
question. That`s before the prosecutor.

And I say, it`s excessive, if there`s six officers there. They should be
able to handle him without choking him. And that is the essence of what`s
happened. And you know, America sees it.

SHARPTON: That`s right.

CAVANAUGH: This is what the civil rights division has to see.

JENKINS: Can I just add one thing about the training? Because I know the
mayor and the police commissioner have come out and talked about how NYPD,
they are going through, all the officers are going to through this training
again.

You know, in this situation, it does not take a lot of training to know,
you can diffuse a situation like Eric Garner being annoyed and upset and
not wanting to be taken into custody. It doesn`t take a significant amount
of training to de-escalate a situation like that.

SHARPTON: But I think it`s even beyond that. He was trained not to use a
chokehold.

JENKINS: That`s what I was going to say.

SHARPTON: So the issue, I think, of training is an appropriate issue. But
let`s not deal with the fact, let`s not ignore the fact that part of his
training now is that he was not to use a chokehold, and he did.

JENKINS: That was my second point.

IYER: I spoke to a former police officer who is now a lawyer, who was a
police officer during the time the chokehold was allowed,. And he said
that even when it was allowed, nobody used it. So 30 years ago, when it
was allowed, nobody used it.

SHARPTON: And it`s not part of their training now.

JENKINS: That was my second point. They`re trained not to use the
chokehold. And it was done anyway. And by the way, in front of all the
other police officers, in front of his supervisor. You know what that
tells me? They use that kind of force and, you know, brutality because he
thought he could.

IYER: Exactly.

SHARPTON: But it also tells me that, Jim, even with new training -- and I
agree there needs to be new training -- they also have to show that there
will be penalties or there will be some kind of retribution if they don`t
follow the training. Because obviously in this case, it appears that this
officer and the other officers did not go by the training. So they even
have new training, if people don`t feel it`s going to be enforced, it won`t
help.

CAVANAUGH: That`s exactly right. You know, the commissioner has the
authority. He could fire the officer and the department election (ph) as
well. But I agree with you. If he didn`t follow the policy, he could be
terminated.

When you see these cases across the country, I think, what`s so upsetting,
Reverend Al, is that, you know, when you look at the case in Cleveland a
couple years ago with these 62 radio cars chasing this couple and they get
shot 137 times. How does anybody not get prosecuted for that?

You know, I mean, we need to rethink what we`re doing here. You got
unarmed people shot 137 times, and there`s no prosecution, or one person,
really one office was charge, I`m sorry. I think one officer was charged
in that. But there was 137 shots.

So we have to rethink how we administer our justice. It has to be fair.
Our police who are brave, do a great job, but there are bad cases. There
are excessive cases use of force. There`s too much force and that`s got to
be reined in.

SHARPTON: Let me -- and definitely I agree with that 100 percent, Jim.
But let me also raise this from "Washington Journal" also reports it`s hard
to find simple records about police shootings. Quote "there are no
authoritative tally of police shootings or findings of excessive force.
Federal statistics on justifiable homicide by police, or sanctioned
killings, are incomplete. States aren`t required to report such
information to the FBI. And some, including New York, report none at all."
There aren`t even records?

JENKINS: Right. And that`s one of the things that after we`ve had a
series of these shootings now, and cases now with Eric Garner, where you
know something has to change. Because if police officers, not all of them,
and we always say that, because we`re talking about a few here, if they
believe -- and it`s not a belief anymore. It happens. How difficult is it
to hold a police officer accountable for the death of an unarmed civilian?

IYER: It`s not happening.

JENKINS: And if a case like this happens, with it being on video, what is
the message that you send? What evidence do you need at this point to
prove excessive force? And what good will body cameras do if a case like
this is on video and you can`t even meet the threshold level of probable
cause to move forward with a trial? What message are we sending?

SHARPTON: Faith Jenkins, Jim Cavanaugh and Seema Iyer, thank you for your
time tonight. Have a good weekend.

IYER: Thanks, Rev.

JENKINS: Thanks, Rev.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Will federal charges be filed in the death of Eric Garner?
We`re looking at a case with striking similarities to find out how a
federal investigation could play out.

And we`ll be watching peaceful protests around the country tonight. Stay
with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: There has within national attention, even international
attention to the Garner case this week. Now the powerful words from Stevie
Wonder at his concert in Seattle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVIE WONDER, SINGER: Can you believe that within one month two grand
juries, secret grand juries, declined to indict two policemen for the
killing of two black men? I just don`t understand that.

Let me just say this also. I don`t understand why our legal system would
choose secrecy when there`s so much mistrust. I don`t understand that. I
don`t understand why there could not have been a public trial where we
would be able to hear all sides to the story. I just don`t understand that
I`ll tell you what I do understand, I heard Eric Garner say with my own
ears, "I can`t breathe."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Stevie, I did too. Please keep this conversation going on our
facebook page or tweet us, @politicsnation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Will the officer who used a chokehold on Eric Garner face
federal charges? It could play out like a similar case from 20 years ago.
Anthony Baez died after a police chokehold in 1994. Here`s part of a
"Today" show profile on that story from 1995 that ran on the "Today" show.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: As Tony and his brothers tossed the ball,
two police cars pulled up with four officers inside. When the ball hit one
of the cars, the Baez brothers say they apologized, moved up the street and
continued to play.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They waved it off as to say, they accept our apology.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: The trouble began when the ball bounced off
a police car again. At that point, the officer Francis Livoti got out and
confronted him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He went over to my younger brother, he grab him by the
jacket and put him, said you`re under arrest.

Anthony was telling him, he knows his rights. He knows what he was doing
is wrong. He said, I know what you`re doing is wrong. And the officer, he
grabbed Tony --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Henry, demonstrate for me what you saw the officer do
to your brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I saw him do on the opposite side over there
because I was on the sidewalk. I saw the officer come around and bring him
back like this, taking him down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Tony eventually was taken to the hospital.
The city`s medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, saying Tony died
from asphyxia due to compression of his neck and chest and acute asthma.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHARPTON: The similarities between the Anthony Baez case and the Eric
Garner case are almost overwhelming. Both men were put in police
chokeholds. Both died from compression to the neck and chest and suffered
from asthma. And both deaths were ruled homicides.

In the Baez case, the officer was indicted and went to trial. But here`s
how that first trial ended up in 1996.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: In a tense courtroom, officer Francis Livoti
showed no emotion as the judge reluctantly cleared the veteran New York
city policeman of homicide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not find that the defendant is innocent. I do
find, based on the quality of the evidence presented that the people have
failed to establish the defendant`s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The
defendant is found not guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: There was big protests. Charges that officers lied under oath.
And federal prosecutors filed similar rights charges. More than three
years after the assault, the officer was convicted and sentenced to seven-
and-a-half years in prison. So will we see similar charges in Garner`s
case? And how could a federal case be made?

Joining me now is Zachary Carter, corporation counsel of the city of New
York and former U.S. attorney. Thank you for being here.

ZACHARY CARTER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Sure.

SHARPTON: Zachary, your office investigated if there was a pattern of
misconduct in the NYPD after the Anthony Baez and Abner Louima cases and
you prosecuted the police officers in the Abner Louima case, a case THAT I
was involved in too as you can see. It`s your old office that would bring
charges in the Eric Garner case. What would they be looking at now?

CARTER: Well, they will be evaluating the record of the evidence that was
gathered by the state authorities. They`ll be reviewing that and
determining what additional investigation has to be done in order to
support federal charges and when they`re prepared to do so, they`ll submit
a case to the grand jury.

SHARPTON: Now, in the case of Abner Louima and Baez, it was excessive
force that was established, is that correct?

CARTER: Correct.

SHARPTON: Now, do you need race involved to establish excessive force?
Because I think that`s a misconception a lot of people have.

CARTER: That is a misconception. Race is not necessarily an issue when it
comes to police officers acting on what`s called under color of official
right. That is, that they are acting in their police capacity.

SHARPTON: Now, when the Baez case when to federal court, prosecutors
weren`t trying to prove murder either. Instead they told jurors, quote,
"the charge is that Francis Livoti deprived Anthony Baez of a federal
constitutional right. The right to be secure in your persons, the right to
have unreasonable force used against us by someone who is making an
arrest."

How difficult is this to prove, this kind of violation?

CARTER: Well, what makes it somewhat difficult and more difficult in
proving to say reckless conduct or negligent conduct is that you have to
prove that the police officer acted with the intent to use excessive force,
not just to use any force, because a police officer under certain
circumstances is authorized to use necessary force, but that he
intentionally used more force than was necessary to accomplish his purpose.
Because in using more force than necessary, you are in doing that,
depriving someone of their right to be free from the use of unnecessary
force.

SHARPTON: Now, one issue that came up in the Baez case was the officer`s
previous record. He`d had nine prior complaints of excessive force. A
commanding officer recommending transferring because of complaints. And he
was convicted of slapping and choking a teenager in 1993.

The officer in the Garner case was accused in 2012 of making false arrest
and incarceration. That suit is still open. And in 2012, he was accused
of an illegal strip search. The NYPD settled that case. Could those
complaints factor into a federal investigation?

CARTER: Well, the complaints you describe in the Baez case felt similar in
kind and character to the offense for which he was charged. And so a
court, in determining whether or not that information is more relevant than
prejudicial will be more likely, in that situation, to permit past conduct
of the admitted. But if the past misconduct of an officer is dissimilar
from the offenses that are charged, it becomes less likely that they`ll be
admitted.

SHARPTON: Now, I mentioned your office handled that in the Louima
brutality case that I was involved in. One of the officers is still in
prison. We`re talking 15, 16 years later. He`s still in prison. And one
served four years. Do you see any similarities between these two cases?

CARTER: No, no. The Abner Louima case was about officers literally
subjecting a prisoner to torture. This was not a spur of the moment thing.
This was something that, in which there was a level of malice and
forethought that separates that from --

SHARPTON: But you don`t have to prove murder, and you don`t have to prove
race to reach the federal bar.

CARTER: No, you do not.

SHARPTON: Zachary Carter, thank you for your time, have a nice weekend.

CARTER: You too.

SHARPTON: Tonight, new peaceful protests in cities across the country,
marching for justice and police reform. More on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Breaking news on that George Washington Bridge scandal. It`s
been a topsy-turvy day for Governor Chris Christie. This morning, news of
an interim report from New Jersey lawmakers. It shows no conclusive
evidence the governor was involved in the lane-closing plan. Let`s be
clear. This was the committee going hard after the governor. This is an
unofficial and interim report, but if that panel`s final report shows the
same thing, this is big for the governor, big for Governor Christie who
maintained the whole time he didn`t know about the lane closures
beforehand. But, important questions remain, and right before we went on
the air, more breaking news. And it`s big.

WNBC`s Brian Thompson reporting that indictments in the federal probe could
come as soon as January. Multiple sources familiar with the investigation
into last year`s traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge say at
least half a dozen potential federal indictments in connection with the
scandal may be handed down as early as January. The source is telling
WNBC`s Brian Thompson, potential targets of indictment could include former
staffers to the governor and Port Authority officials.

Joining me now on the phone is WNBC reporter Brian Thompson, who is in Ft.
Lee, New Jersey, and broke this story. Brian, tell us about what happened.
Brian, you reported at least a half dozen top aides. Tell us more about
what you found.

BRIAN THOMPSON, WNBC REPORTER: Al, this is like putting together a jigsaw
puzzle over the past several weeks, taking one piece of information here.
One piece of information there from one contact, to another contact and
putting the whole mosaic together to be able to get to this point where we
felt confidence in saying, yes. As far as the situation right now, always
subject to change, you know the qualifiers, but always, as of right now, it
appears that the U.S. attorney is planning on making his final decision
with the grand jury, of course, in January. Whether he wants to speed it
up, whether he wants to delay it, that is totally his decision, and the
grand jury`s decision. Certainly, he is conducting this investigation as
though it is something that he wants to result in indictments, or you know,
maybe that`s going a little too strong to say he wants to. But there`s
certainly the possibility of indictments and we`re being told there are
somewhere, six, seven, maybe as many as eight people who could be in
jeopardy here in so far as this goes.

SHARPTON: Now, this does not include the governor? We`re not talking
about a possible indictment of Governor Christie, but it could include some
aides and some Port Authority people, is that right?

THOMPSON: It could include --

SHARPTON: Maybe former aides.

THOMPSON: Yes. Former aides is correct. It could include some people who
have already resigned from the Port Authority under a cloud and it also
could include some people, for the most part -- appointees of the governor,
but not exclusively, who are working at the Port Authority to this day.
Yes.

SHARPTON: Is the investigation still going on? Is it ongoing as far as
you know?

THOMPSON: Well, to put it in these terms, an investigation is always
ongoing until they come down with the final indictment. We have gotten
conflicting information on who is talking. The vernacular term might be
"singing" to the U.S. Attorney. But we feel confident in saying that
certainly at least one person, probably more, based on our information, is
trying to work out, or has been trying to work out deals. We don`t know
the status of that musical stanza, if you will. But we do know that just a
couple of weeks ago, several people were being interviewed. That`s why it
makes it so unlikely in the minds of some anyway, that we would have a
finality to this case this month, the month of December, not to mention the
holiday coming up. But making January, along with some other information
we developed, seem more and more likely.

SHARPTON: Now, there`s going to be a lot of interest in your story, Brian.
You say multiple sources. Can you tell us how high up? I mean, give us
some kind of where this kind of information may be coming from.

THOMPSON: Pretty high up in my book. But Al, you know that game.

SHARPTON: I`ve got to try, Brian, I`ve got to try.

THOMPSON: I was admiring you actually for that. It`s a pretty good
effort. But let`s just say they`re all extremely good sources, and I feel
confident in the information that they`re telling me. Otherwise, I never
would have stuck my neck out like this.

SHARPTON: And again, I can`t get you to say, do you know any potential
names, anyone that worked in the governor`s office?

THOMPSON: Let`s put it this way, Al. I know the names of several people
and they are the names that have been out there. I think for legal
purposes, you know, it`s just not my place to name names.

SHARPTON: So you`re not going to name names, but they are names that have
been out there?

THOMPSON: They are names that have been out there. Some are familiar to
folks, and some are not quite so familiar. Quite frankly, not familiar at
all even to people who give some following to this story. They`re fairly
obscure in the pecking order, but they have been in the public record.
Every one of these names that I`m aware of, has been in the public record.

SHARPTON: Now, we put up a graph of a lot of the names that have been
around this. We`re not saying that we know these are the names. But these
are names and faces of people that have popped up all the way through this.
Brian, stand by. Because I want to bring in New Jersey democratic
Assemblyman John Wisniewski who has been leading the investigation in the
state house. Assemblyman, what`s your response to the news about possible
indictments?

ASSEMBLYMAN JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, certainly it`s one of
the events that anyone who`s been following this investigation, or Mr.
Fishman`s investigation has always said, when the U.S. attorney returns
indictments, and so this may be an episode that changes the dynamic here.
The question that we all have to ask ourselves, is we`ve heard stories
before about impending actions and those haven`t panned out. So all we can
do is wait and see what ultimately comes of this.

SHARPTON: Now, your own investigation, assemblyman, did not find any
direct link to the governor?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, I want to be clear. What our investigation determined
is that we don`t have enough information to determine whether the governor
knew or did not know. We don`t have enough information to determine
whether the governor was or was not involved. And so your opening
statement about this report, in some ways, clears the governor is
premature. What we`ve said is because we haven`t been able to interview a
number of key players, we really can`t make that decision.

SHARPTON: Why have you been unable? Because they`re under subpoena to the
U.S. attorney or something else?

WISNIEWSKI: Our concern has always been that if we bring them in front of
our committee, it might have some effect on the work that the U.S.
attorney`s office is doing. And we did not want to be in that posture of
having any negative impact on their work. We`ll let the U.S. attorney do
their law enforcement investigation. To the extent that we can conduct our
work simultaneously, we did that. But for a couple of key witnesses, they
have made the request of our committee, which we`re honored, that we not
intrude on their territory until they`ve completed their work. So
obviously, if the story that Brian`s talking about, turns out to happen in
January, that probably would signal, at least a point in time when the
committee could then once again start looking at asking some of these
individuals questions.

SHARPTON: But at this point you have found nothing that could directly
link the governor by those that you`ve talked to. Let me ask you this. In
light of the reports we have of indictments possibly in January, have you
come up with any illegal or criminal activities by any of the former aides
or any of the Port Authority employees?

Well, you know, our focus has been about how this could happen, not about
whether laws were broken. That`s the province of the U.S. attorney`s
office and potentially the attorney general. And so we`ve really tried to
focus on how we can structurally fix the Port Authority. How they could
abuse it. How this abuse of power could happen. Then obviously we know
that Bridgette Kelly sought to have an e-mail erased. That raises some
questions. But that`s a question for law enforcement to deal with, not for
the legislature.

SHARPTON: All right. Assemblyman John Wisniewski and WNBC`s Brian
Thompson, thank you so much for your time tonight.

WISNIEWSKI: Thank you.

THOMPSON: Thanks.

SHARPTON: Now, let`s bring back Faith Jenkins and Seema Iyer. Faith, what
is your reaction to this report?

FAITH JENKINS, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, according to Brian`s report,
possible charges could relate to an apparent conspiracy to cover up. And
what that generally involves is an attempt to conceal evidence or
wrongdoing. So if this does pan out and there are actual indictments
issued in January, you could be looking at obstruction of justice charges
or perjury charges.

SHARPTON: On a federal level?

SEEMA IYER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right.

SHARPTON: And that`s pretty serious.

IYER: And it is serious. And the difference between state and federal, is
that when someone gets arrested or even investigated by the Feds, you start
singing. In state conspiracy cases, it`s very different. Often people
will go to trial. In these cases, it sounds like the multiple sources that
Brian`s referring to, that are not well known are probably the Port
Authority officials and the ones that may be well known may be the aides.
But it is fair to assume --

SHARPTON: Or former aides.

IYER: Former aides, sorry.

SHARPTON: But let`s not speculate because that`s --

IYER: Rev, everybody snitches with the Feds, you have to, or you just take
a plea and go to jail. Nobody can go to trial with this type of evidence
but --

SHARPTON: So you think the purpose of indicting them is to get them to
talk?

IYER: Or, they have already spoke, they have to go through the process of
indictment to get their plea. That happens all the time as well. Before
they`re formally indicted, they are brought in, there`s proffer sessions
where they offer information and they work a deal.

SHARPTON: And they indict you before you talk.

IYER: Or they can indict you afterwards. Pursuant to a deal. It happens
all the time. And I think also, the key, I`m sorry, they key with Christie
--

SHARPTON: Well, they accused some people of talking, they fabricate some
talking. So it doesn`t happen all the time.

JENKINS: Sometimes, Rev, if the federal government moves forward with
indictments that means that they have pretty significant evidence against
the individuals involved, if this pans out. And you know, I think you have
to be careful about speculating further than that as to what that evidence
is. But if they move forward with indictments, that means that they feel
very confident about their cases --

SHARPTON: Or that they`ve made a deal, you go through the indictment --

IYER: Right, and go through the process.

SHARPTON: Very interesting. Very interesting. Faith and Seema, thank you
for your time tonight. We`ll of course be staying on this story. We`ll be
right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: We`re back with "Conversation Nation." Joining me tonight,
democratic strategist Tara Dowdell, HuffPost Live host Josh Zepps and
Mic.com`s Liz Plank. Thank you for being here tonight.

JOSH ZEPPS, HUFFPOST LIVE: Thanks, Rev.

TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thank you.

SHARPTON: And you see we got our brand new conversation --

LIZ PLANK, MIC.COM: Like it.

ZEPPS: Looks fancy.

SHARPTON: It`s a cover-up.

(LAUGHTER)

Our big topic tonight, the breaking news from the Bridgegate scandal. WNBC
reporting former aides of Governor Chris Christie could face indictments as
soon as next month. The governor himself is not a target, but could this
breaking news affect his presidential ambitions? Terry, you worked for the
previous governor of New Jersey Jim McGreevey, so you know the area as well
as you know politics. Could this hurt the governor Christie, even though
he`s not directly a target?

DOWDELL: Well, I think with this new information, it very well could hurt
him. Because with these indictments that are coming down, as was mentioned
earlier in your earlier segment, people could in fact say that he knew.
They could try to cut a deal and reveal information to save themselves.

SHARPTON: The state committee is saying the same day today that they have
no evidence that he did know.

DOWDELL: But that`s because there`s no real pressure from the state
committee. Because the attorney general`s office in New Jersey, the
attorney general, which is the head prosecutor for the state of New Jersey,
is appointed by the governor. So there`s not a lot of teeth in what the
state committee was doing. But what the federal government is doing,
they`re going to be indicting people. Now things are getting real. And
the other dynamic, I think, for Governor Christie in this situation is the
headline risk. So the more this story comes out as a constant reminder and
these investigations, these indictments, these charges, they take a long
time to develop. So if things start to unfold around the sort of hype of
the presidential election, then that could have an impact because his
opponents will use that against him.

SHARPTON: Josh, big picture, it brings the story back. He`s done a lot of
work to put the story behind him. It brings the story back into the
picture, I should say. Will it hurt him?

ZEPPS: Well, remember, it`s a long way off from November 2016. Right? I
mean, he still has little bit of time. I think the evidence is
circumstantial, but it`s overwhelming. I mean, it`s implausible to imagine
that these three amigos underneath him Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien who
was sleeping with Bridget Kelly, and David Wildstein who he handpicked to
be his guy the Port Authority, that these people who were so close to him
did this without his knowledge. He had no idea, not a clue. He didn`t see
a thing, he knew nothing about it. It doesn`t pass the bs test. That
being said --

SHARPTON: We say smell test on the show.

ZEPPS: You want me to spell it out? I can spell out the actual word.
But, you know, I don`t think we`ll going to find any more evidence that
links him to it because he`s too shrewd. So the question is, how long will
it`s be drawn out? How long will the indictments take? How dirty will it
get?

SHARPTON: But maybe he didn`t do it, Liz. I mean, maybe he really didn`t
know. Or maybe one of these witnesses turn. I mean, we don`t know.

PLANK: Right. But what do we know about Chris Christie? You know, when
is he is the news? When there`s news about Bridgegate, which is bad. When
he`s yelling at a heckler, which is also bad. And on every other sort of
big issue, he hasn`t said anything. He`s not pronounced his opinions on
this. So from what we do know about Chris Christie, it looks bad.

SHARPTON: But, wait a minute --

ZEPPS: It already did look bad.

SHARPTON: Whoa whoa whoa whoa -- but on the other hand, yes, he does get a
lot of bad publicity. Look at the polls. The latest polling averages
Christie against the GOP field for 2016. Jeb Bush leads with 14.3 percent.
Paul Ryan, 11.2, then Chris Christie and Rand Paul, tied at 10.8 percent.
He`s right in there in the top three category.

DOWDELL: But I would argue that`s because he hasn`t been attacked yet.

SHARPTON: All that Bridgegate stuff for months --

DOWDELL: No, I mean, he hasn`t truly been attacked in the context of the
2016 presidential election. When people are paying attention, when people
are focused. And there is no way people want this bad, this is the plum,
these guys have been fighting for this their whole life. So the notion
that they`re not going to digging up more dirt on him and they`re not going
to leaking things that they find out through opposition research, when this
stuff gets tight, that`s going to happen. And this investigation, these
indictments are just giving them such low-think hanging fruit.

ZEPPS: And also Tara, I think Tara is right because I think it also
matters who is doing the attacking. It`s all with one thing when the left
wing attacks it.

DOWDELL: Right.

ZEPPS: It`s another thing when actual republican, political opponents
attacking him. And that`s going start as the best they start positioning
himself for the presidential race. Remember, the very best interpretation
for him, the best argument that he can make is, I`m such an incompetent
leader, I had no idea that any of this was going on. That`s the best case
scenario. Worst case scenario is he`s corrupt.

DOWDELL: He`s a liar.

SHARPTON: So he could be politically damaged even if he`s not criminally -
-

ZEPPS: I think so, but I also think it`s just too early to say. Honestly,
I really think this could blow over this year and he could get out of it or
I think it could entirely go the other way out, I`m agnostic on this one.

SHARPTON: Now, his favorability ratings have been up and down in the last
year in national polling. Because listen, October 2013, 33 percent viewed
him positively and 17 percent negatively. Then January of this year, after
the Bridgegate news, his positive rating dropped to 22 percent and his
negative climbed to 29. Liz, but in November, his positive rating went
back up to 29, negative held steady at 29. So he`s on the rise, at least
until Brian came with the story.

PLANK: Right. And I mean, this is before there were any indictments. So
I would love to see what his approval ratings will be over the weekend or
even Monday when all of this is coming out in the news cycle again. I
think that these numbers are going to be very different.

SHARPTON: Well, I`ve got to leave it there. I want to thank this great
panel. You`re the first ones to inaugurate my "hide the socks" table.
We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Protests are going on around the country. New York,
Massachusetts, Washington. People peacefully coming out, standing up,
saying that we want to see change in the criminal justice system. This
Eric Garner grand jury decision, right after the Michael Brown decision,
has put a lot of people into the streets, in a peaceful way, concerned
about the country. And they continue to plan all through the weekend. A
national march next Saturday. People saying, we can and we must do better.
That passion, and that concern and that rising to the occasion is something
that has always led America toward positive change. Let`s not forget,
there wouldn`t have been new laws for women without a women`s movement.
There wouldn`t have been new laws for civil rights, without a civil rights
movement.

Change comes when people stand up and stand up like we`re seeing tonight,
and we`ve seen over the last several days, across racial lines, across age
and generational differences, across economic lines, and say, we have seen
enough, we want to see change. But the real challenge is to turn passion
of the rallies into lasting change. And one year ago today, we lost a man
who knew better than anybody how to make it happen. Nelson Mandela was a
freedom fighter and a man of peace, who helped free South Africa from
apartheid. And inspired billions of people all across the world. But it
didn`t happen overnight. Mandela spent nearly a third of his life, 27
years, as a prisoner of apartheid. But he never gave up. And when he
finally was released from prison, he knew it was the beginning of the
fight, not the end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICA PRESIDENT: Our struggle has reached a
decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the
process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. To relax our efforts
now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to
forgive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Mandela never relaxed in his fight, and neither can we. He
talked about a long journey, a long road to freedom. It`s not a short
expeditious trip. It`s a long road, but the end is where we all need to
get.

Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

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

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