Meet the Press | January 12, 2014
>>> from nbc news in washington, the world's longest-running television program , this is "meet the press" with david gregory .
>> i am extraordinarily disappointed by this. but this is the exception. it is not the rule of what's happened over the last four years in this administration.
>> what a week of politics. playing defense, new jersey governor chris christie right there responding to the bridge scandal rocking his administration, raising questions about the impact on a possible presidential run in 2016 . good sunday morning. special program for you this sunday. two big stories to talk about, the nastiness of politics and the rough-and-tumble of government as well. the new jersey scandal and also the tell-all book by former defense secretary robert gates . our key issues, politics and punishment. is bridgegate as it's being called simply an example of the everyday retribution in the nasty world of government? or did governor chris christie set the tone and create the culture that led to the scandal? truth or betrayal? some tough questions in washington as well. robert gates ' book is raising doubts about president obama and vice president biden's foreign policy leadership at a crucial time for the united states in the world. is the former defense secretary right in speaking out while they are still in power? and the toll of poverty. millions of women struggling with their dual roles as breadwinners and caregivers. my colleague maria shriver is here with her exclusive report on why so many women are on the economic brink. groundbreaking work that she's done. and what are the unique pressures that women face and some possible solutions. we'll get to that later in the program.
>>> first i'm here with our chief white house correspondent and political director chuck todd , "time" magazine's mark halperin , who wrote about the 2008 campaign and of course "double down," the 2012 campaign as well, writes about christie . democratic mayor of baltimore , stephanie rawlings-blake, is also here. she's the secretary of the democratic national committee as as well. and kim strassel, a columnist at "the wall street journal ," and a member of their editorial board . so here is the latest on what we know this sunday morning about the bridge scandal. there's been no smoking gun . that's important. no smoking gun found yet. no e-mails or correspondence that link governor christie directly to the scandal. the documents released, however, do show knowledge of the closures by christie 's closest aides. the motive for all of these lane closures, by the way, on the bridge remain a bit unclear. and investigations do continue both at the federal and the state levels. let me bring in everybody. chuck todd , the questions still on sunday morning.
>> how much did chris christie know?
>> well, or why didn't he know more? right? there is sort of like -- there really isn't a good answer for him either way because his defense right now is i'm a hands-off manager. i did a lot of delegation. well, then that raises the question of the culture. that actually becomes the bigger impact on him as a potential presidential leader, as you're testing him as a presidential candidate .
>> so far you read all these e-mails. there clearly is not a direct connection to the governor. so in the near term this is a survivalable, quote, unquote, scandal as far as his governance of the state of new jersey is concerned. but everything that this raises, it does make you question what his -- whether he has the judgment, whether he's got the culture that he can bring in, leadership ability to be president of the united states .
>> let's remind everybody, key e-mail, lot of players, lot of e-mails, this is the key one and it comes from his deputy chief of staff, governor christie 's deputy chief of staff, to an official at the port authority . and it's cryptic in its nature. august 13th . "time for some traffic problems in fort lee ." here's what's amazing, is that both parties know exactly what they're talking about and the response is immediate. but chris christie on thursday in this epic press conference , kim strassel, responds unequivocally. he says this.
>> i had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution. and i am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.
>> better be telling the truth because when you come out and you are that definitive, if anything goes surface going forward that suggests that he does know, that is a game changer. look, i think to what chuck said, this is not -- this has to be put in perspective. this is not watergate. this is not even the irs targeting of last year. in fact, it's not even, if you think about this as a raw display of political power , it's not even this white house using the sequester and the shutdown to inconvenience millions of americans to make a political point. what this is is a teachable moment for governor christie , because going forward this is a level of scrutiny he's going to be getting from here on out. if he decides to continue running for the presidency. so he's going to have to up the level of staff that surround him and make sure that some of things that came out, these questions, is he a bully, does he have competent management, those are the things -- he can't afford to have another example of those happen. so he's going to have to ree re-evaluate who he's got working for him.
>> mayor, you are a mayor. you know as well as anybody that traffic matters a lot to people. when you start messing with it, it's more than just petty. it has a real impact on people's lives. what is this and what is it not at this point for governor christie ?
>> going to start by saying i'm loathe to criticize governor christie , who was so helpful to our president after sandy in the election. i'm loathe to criticize him, but when you set up --
>> you just hurt him with republicans by praising him.
>> well, when you set up this culture of callousness and when you have a history of telling people to go, you know, blank themselves and calling reporters idiots and things like that, you can't play it both ways. he set himself up as this gruff person that sort of, you know, plays by his own rules when it comes to being rough and tumble and the way that he treats people. so when you see the e-mail by one of his closest staff, it's hard to believe that someone after months and months of everybody else talking about it, that he doesn't know anything about it? he doesn't know because he didn't want to know. and at this level under this scrutiny that doesn't work anymore.
>> he does say when this thing comes out, when the e-mails come out, he says, mark halperin , everybody's got an hour to tell me whether we were involved. what he doesn't say, by his own admission, is tell me everything at every level. i'm a former u.s. attorney . i want everything on this thing. before i go out there.
>> that december press conference is in some ways more important than the press conference from last week because he was not only remarkly incurious at that time about what happened, he was dismissive of it. he tried telling reporters stop talking about it.
>> can we play a tape from that press conference ? he is dismissive. he's making jokes.
>> i worked the cones. unbeknownst to everybody, i was the guy out there. i was in overalls and a hat, but i was actually the guy working the cones out there.
>> let's talk about the investigation. we don't know if there will be a federal investigation of any significance. we look at this legislative committee and think it's like the congressional committee with lots of subpoena power and depositions, a big staff. this is a very small operation basically being run by the assemblyman who heads the transportation committee. they've subpoenaed documents from the port authority side but not from the governor's side. the governor pledged in this week's press conference full cooperation. he said we want to get to the bottom of this. i think we're headed far new jersey constitutional crisis . very little precedence, maybe none, as i can tell so far, of trying to subpoena a governor. will he provide testimony? will his top ailds? will he exert executive privilege ? i think that will be a real moment of crisis for him not only in terms of governance but in terms of 2016 , because we've seen presidents have this problem. you say you want to cooperate fully, but when the subpoena comes and they say chris christie , we want everything you have. kim suggested he better be right. i have been stunned watching people on twitter, the "new york post," "the wall street journal ," owned by rupert murdoch , big supporters of christie , everyone says he's better be telling the truth. no one is taking him at his word, as best i can tell. even republicans who are huge supporters of him saying if he's telling the truth, he's fine. that is a striking situation.
>> so i think there's a part of this for me that is so interesting is understanding the dna of chris christie as a politician, as a leader. by the way, these were top aides. these were -- you pointed out in "first read" this is the equivalent of a david plouffe .
>> these are people that are very tight. in many ways bridget's running operationally parts of the state.
>> right. so to that point he's asked about what does it say about him during this press conference . and i want to show that response, because this is what sticks out to me.
>> what does it make me ask about me? it makes me ask about me what did i do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me. and there's a lot of soul searching that goes around with this.
>> can i take a step back? if he were not a potential presidential candidate , we didn't view him this way and this whole thing happened, we'd all say, well, that's jersey . that's the culture of jersey . jersey politics, there are a lot of fiefdoms. it's always been this way. so when we keep talking about culture and everybody says what's the culture that he set, honestly, and it's going to offend some people in new jersey in politics, but there has been a past, a culture of this, of, you know, you rule with an iron fist . sort of old-school politics.
>> this is the way he ran things, too, and it's what everybody does in jersey .
>> chris christie , should he run for president, one of his biggest selling points is is going to be i am a competent executive of a big state. okay, and that's why this is a particularly big question for him, is because who did he have around him, are they actually managing, is he ready for prime time . that's the big thing. to go back to what mark said, and the fact everything is saying is he telling the truth, and this is why this issue is a problem as well, is that we are living in a time when americans have a lot of fear about government and whether or not government can be trusted. talking act the irs thing, the nsa flak that's been going on, the justice department looking at journalists, people abusing their power and their authority. and so there has to be a level of confidence among americans that chris christie isn't among that type of person.
>> and at this level people want to know you're doing the right thing whether people are looking or not. that's where i think he falls into trouble, because i think when people weren't looking he was full of denials until the light got shined on him and all of a sudden now he's contrite and looking inward. that's what people expect of their executives, their public officials when no one's looking.
>> you may not support him politically. do you look at that two hours as taking every question? do you think that level of crisis management was effective as a leader, as a mayor?
>> i think he did the best thing on that day monopo.y in december he should have been asking more questions than he did. that was the joke. to think with all that scrutiny, he says i don't know -- now he he says i didn't know anything. he chose to turn a blind eye to what his close e advisers were doing and he has to live with that.
>> he plays by his own rules. we wrote in "double down" he was being vetted to be on the ticket for mitt romney , didn't hand in everything on a timely basis. gives the keynote speech at the convention, gets some bad reviews, brings the romney campaign to a halt at that moment complaining he thought they were leaking. you look at the way he runs his office. the reason people think he might not be telling the full truth is because anyone who's seen him as a republican governors meeting or anywhere, he plays by his own rules. that can be appealing, but in the context of new jersey sometimes things go wrong.
>> more from all of you in jam. i'm joined exclusively by the mayor of fort lee , mark sokolich. it was his town that suffered four days of traffic gridlock from the lane closures on the george washington bridge . the mayor met personally with governor christie on thursday. this is what he said after that meeting.
>> we view his appearance here as very productive. it was a very productive meeting. it was a cordial meeting. really the most important concern that we had or that i have on behalf of fort lee along with the council and the folks that are behind me are to make sure this never, ever happens again in the future. we are unconditionally, unequivocally provided with that assurance.
>> mr. mayor, welcome to "meet the press."
>> thank you, david .
>> i want to ask you about that meeting specifically. did you put pressure on governor christie ? was there a question about all of this that you asked him about what he knew, when he knew it, that he didn't answer satisfactorily for you?
>> i think the beginning of the meeting was basically a recant of -- or a mini version of the press conference where he unconditionally expressed that he had absolutely no knowledge or no involvement whatsoever in this plot. we then went on to request that he provide us with adequate insurance that fort lee and the area will never, ever experience this again.
>> do you believe him?
>> i take him at his word. i've said that now repeatedly. you know, initially he wanted to come up. i was discouraging of that because i thought that, in light of the ongoing investigations, allow them to ripen a little bit more and then come up. but you know what, fort lee always will open their arms to a sitting governor. he came. he was candid. it was i thought a productive conversation. so, again, i take him at his word. there's just a lot of stuff out there, though.
>> this weekend, talk about a lot of stuff out there, this weekend more e-mails have come to light. and i want to show one in just a second here that's a key one. it is from a port authority official, a crihristie appointee, to one of governor christie 's top advicers for all of the authorities, port authority , other authorities within the state. and it's about the lane closures. and he is saying, "i will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for." this is a port authority official who is making it very clear that he thinks this is an abusive decision and that conclusion as the lanes are reopened back in september of last year is getting to top cristy advisers. so my question to you, do you think he knew then that he knew more than he was saying just a couple days ago that he knew?
>> the issue is whether he knew, but if he didn't know he certainly should have known, and i think that's the catch-22 here. that e-mail, what you just read, came from executive director pat foye. look, i've always understood that the governor ran a very, very tight ship, very tight ship in the sense that he was in control of a lot of things and he would review everything and he made sure that anything his name was even remotely involved in he was involved in. so, you know, look, it's a difficult pill to swallow. i will tell you. but you know what, i'm a jersey guy. i don't appreciate the political jokes . i signed up to build little league fields and lower taxes. and, you know, i don't want to be the brunt of a joke. so, again, i'm taking him at his word, david . i really am.
>> taking him at his word.
>> i may sound naive here, but --
>> he insists as he looks at the support, 32% support among democrats, including 20 democratic mayors in new jersey , he insists he's not a bully. do you agree with that?
>> based on what i heard, i would take issue with that. i would. i mean, now what we're hearing and the other unrelated stories to the george washington bridge closure, i would probably -- you know, he's certainly tough. he's certainly hard. he's certainly strict. whether it rises to bully i leave that to your judgment. but he's tough and outspoken. and, you know, i think a lot of this he brought upon himself. i'm not so sure much of the issue and the attention that this is garnering would actually be the case if he hadn't conducted himself the way that his office has been conducting itself.
>> all right. mr. mayor, i'm going to leave it there. i certainly appreciate your time this morning.
>> thank you, david .
>> i want to turn now to the large esche irshoe of 2016 , governor christie 's prospects for a possible presidential run. after a resounding victory in november, re-election, the national press labored him a presidential front-runner. cover of "time" magazine you might remember called him the elephant in the room . will the scandal impact future republican support? here with me is the chairman of republican party , and that is reince priebus. you might be a little cautious about weighing in on this, and i want to ask this question as a close political observer. is this a test of leadership? here's what a friend of his, a mentor, former governor of new jersey tom caine told t"the washington post ". he's known christie since the current governor was a teenager faulted christie for establish agriculture in his tight inner circumstance until which no one will ever say no to him, and that is dangerous. he also said that christie 's approach to governing is overly aggressive and his agenda is personal. is this a leadership problem for the governor?
>> no. i think what you saw the other day was leadership, was something that showed that, look, everyone is fallible, david . i'm fallible. you are. everyone on these panels. we all make mistakes. but the real question is what do you do when mistakes happen? there's no question he admitted mistakes happened. he admitted he trusted people that lied to him. america's a forgiving people. but they're forgiving when you take ownership, you admit mistakes, you take corrective action, and that's what chris christie showed. he stood there for 111 minutes in an open dialogue with the press. now, only if barack obama and hillary clinton would give us 111 seconds of that would we find out some things we want to find out about obamacare, benghazi, the irs . i mean, chris christie has been totally open here.
>> let me pick up on that point, chairman. you have said about the president and the irs scandal there's been no direct tie of course from what happened with the irs to the president just as there has not been a direct tie to governor christie with what happened here. but you said he set a tone for these things to happen, about the president. is that true here? did governor christie set a tone where the people who exacted this act of petty political retribution thought the boss would acquiesce, say it was okay?
>> here's what he did, and here's what he admitted. he admitted that he trusted people that lied to him, and he's asking a lot of questions about himself as far as why that happened.
>> the question i asked, did he set a tone --
>> wait a minute.
>> did he set the tone ? that's what you said the president did.
>> no. he trusted people that lied to him and he fired those people. the president doubles down on eric holder . he doubles down on hillary clinton and low is learner and susan rice . it's the opposite effect.
>> hold on. there's some deflection going on here, and i respect your position. you said in may of -- you're the one who brought up the president and the irs . you said there, there's no denying he, the president, created a culture in his administration that encouraged the targeting of these groups. there's not evidence to prove that linkage. that's your assertion.
>> but if that's your assertion about tone there, why isn't true of governor chris christie setting a tone?
>> here's why. because chris christie gave us almost two hours of open dialogue and open cross-examination with the press. because you can judge a person. a person's character. we had an opportunity to do that. that's what chris christie offered not only to the people of new jersey but to people across the country. the president never offered that open dialogue so people could determine the character of the president.
>> you've given him a close look. you're chairman of the party. you dig in on these things. how would a rogue operation like this spring up underneath his feet without him knowing about it at all or without those people close to him for a long time thinking it would be okay if we did this?
>> well, look, new jersey is a huge, complicated government and so is the port authority . people made decisions at the port authority that they shouldn't have made, and those people are gone. the person that oversaw at least in part some of the decisions of the port authority seemed to have apparent knowledge of what was going on. she's gone. after the fact, the campaign manager made comments that were callous, and chris christie didn't like it. he's gone.
>> there's been no direct link made to governor christie . do you think there will be one?
>> no, i don't think there will be one because i think we've got a really smart person in chris christie who's a former u.s. attorney , who understands what's out there, and thousands and thousands of documents have been revealed and not one single link to chris christie has been found.
>> let me ask you about your potential opponents for the republican party in 2016 , and that's hillary clinton . we'll talk more about the robert gates book. he writes this in part over the debate on afghanistan. hillary clinton , the secretary of state, told the president that her opposition to the 2007 surge in iraq had been political because she was facing him in the iowa primary . the president conceded vaguely that opposition to the iraq surge had been political. to hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying. certainly liberal democrats may have an issue with her taking a position as reported by robert gates . how do you view it?
>> i think she's a political person, and i think what this country is stampbing for are real, authentic people that want to serve this country with a pure heart . when they read these things about hillary clinton and examine her life, they question it. and i think this is something that is going to be potentially on the ballot coming 2016 and surrounds hillary clinton wherever she goes. is she real? is she authentic? is she genuine? does she want to serve this country with a pure heart ? i think she's political and the book shows that.
>> is chris christie still a front-runner or does he face a personality problem?
>> we have a lot of good candidates that are at least percolating right now, and we've got a cup from my own state of wisconsin . so i think we've got a great bench. we're a young, fresh party, and we'll see what happens.
>> chairman reince priebus, thanks as always. appreciate it.
>> thank you, david .
>> we'll take a break.
>>> coming up, more on the fallout from the bridge scandal and chris christie 's response.
>> i hope that the public isn't influenced to discard the guy over something like that.
>> presidential ambition. one of the first tests in the 2016 campaign will be iowa. how is the new jersey governor playing with voters there? we went to the hawkeye state to find out.
>>> plus, a bombshell tell-all casting doubt on president obama 's leadership from a member of his inner circle . our roundtable debates the impact of the new memory.
>>> and struggling to escape the throes of poverty. why tens of millions of women are on the brink. maria shriver joins me with details of