Meet the Press   |  January 19, 2014

Christie Scandal Stays in Spotlight

Pundits and politicians visit Meet the Press to discuss the latest in the bridge scandal plaguing N.J. Gov. Chris Christie.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

from nbc news in washington, the world's longest-running television program , this is "meet the press" with david gregory .

>> given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say trust us , we won't abuse the data we collect. for history has too many examples when that trust has been breached.

>> good sunday major. no matter what you think of edward snowden and his decision to spill secrets about how the government conducts domestic surveillance, he started one big debate. without him and what he did, it is hard to imagine the president giving the speech he gave this week, bottom line , the spying programs are here to stay, it appears. but the president says he would like to protect your privacy better. so i'm going to have reaction from top voices in congress and the digital world this morning as we grapple with the future of privacy in america. plus, as chris christie raises money in florida this weekend, he's also trying to get his presidential ambitions back on track. this morning new allegations of strong arming by his administration from a new jersey mayor. is the bridge scandal widening or is this politically motivated pilon? we'll talk about it. joining me here andrea mitchell nia-malika henderson from "the washington post ," harold ford and newt gingrich . to all of you, isn't it significant that after all the hue and cry , after all these revelations by snowden , the president has in effect ended this debate by saying, these programs are going to stick around. i need them to keep the country safe, newt gingrich .

>> well, that's a very significant speech in the sense that here's a guy whose bias will be for civil libertarians but after five years of daily briefings in if the white house as said, you, you know, the world is really dangerous and we need these tools to be safe. it's very hard to imagine fundamental changes in the program against president obama 's wishes.

>> yeah, i mean, that's a question, reformers are they going to say no, we're going to challenge these programs and stop this bulk collection of data?

>> they're already saying they want to stop the bulk collection. the biggest change he made was the government would no longer store the elected metadata, all the phone records but hasn't said how that's going to happen. the phone companies are not equip theed to do the kinds of instant searches. they don't have that data mining . he's putting it on congress and the other thing that nobody's really talking about here is that in june 2015 , this whole thing goes away unless congress reauthorizes it. it was sunseted.

>> all the more reason for congress to step up and have a real debate. look, be cat's out of the bag on a lot of stuff. go down there and say what you're for.

>> that's right. they're calling for him to do that. it sounds like a big about speech, small changes more to come with a congress that is so far hasn't been very productive with much of anything. there is a movement i had i in the house for ending this entire program, right? it got a lot of votes actually in the house side. but a lot of division in terms of where to go on this. you had the leaders of the top two committees feinstein and rogers come out and say basically rubber stamp what the president said, but it definitely feels like the devil is in the details.

>> i was in congress when 9/11 happened. there was a lot of angst. we need to remind ourselves or be reminded people were worried we were not connecting dots. people were worried there was intelligence and evidence not being shared amongst various agencies that the government was not lis nick to the people it should have been listening to. so we need to put all of this in context. i hope when they will have the debate someone will make clear we kill more terrorists using drones. people may mot like drones but it's a substitute for american soldiers being on the ground. two, learning more and more about terrorist plots. i live in new york city . i'm thank fal we have programs that do this. i'm not a snowden fan. he should come back home and face the music here like -- because i believe what he did was break the law. but at the same time, are if we can answer the one question that andrea laid out, where do you store the data or who should store it.

>> talking to privacy advocates, critics of these programs say the reason this is so significant is if you continue to allow the government to collect all this data and basically create a single database, there is the potential for abuse. you know? this country's been through watergate, been through hoover at the fbi. we know the kinds of excesses that canning happen. you don't want that potential there.

>> first of all, if you look at the irs scandal, we had plenty of opportunity for abuse with paper. i mean, the power of the government is enormous. that's why as a conservative i like smaller government. but the question is, are if you draw a sharp line and say for the purpose of defending america, you can learn these things, none of them it can migrate over to the criminal justice system and you should make it a felony. this is why snowden has to be tried. it should be a tourmaline.

>> meaning if they used information for purposes of going after, i agree 100%, 100%.

>> we'll continue this. you all will be back and i'm going to talk to the intelligence chairs you mentioned feinstein and rogers as well as getting some reaction from the digital world , as well. but i want to turn to another big story in politics this morning and get to the latest on the new allegations of bullying by the administration of new jersey governor chris christie . a new development over the weekend, ho boekdon mayor dawn zimmer claimed christie 's lieutenant governor threatened to told hurricane sandy relief funds if they did not support a development project project backed by governor christie . this is part of what she said on the program "up" with stephen corn knack can i.

>> the fact is the lieutenant government came to hoboken and pulled me an aside in the parking lot and said i know it's not right, if you tell anyone, i'll deny it, and so these -- the bottom line is, it's not fair for the governor to hold sandy funds hostage for the city of hoboken because he wants me to give back to one private developer.

>> joining me now the man leading the investigation into the bridge scandal, assembly blman govern rudy giuliani . mayor giuliani. let me start with assembly mann wisniewski. how much weight do you give this charge at this point?

>> mayor zimmer is a serious voice, a well respected mayor of new jersey . i think we have to give the allegation serious thought because it is a an pattern that we've heard time and time again throughout new jersey . she is perhaps one of the first mayors to actually come forward and say this specific thing happened. i think the committee needs to look at the facts, hear her story, look at the e-mails and consider where we go next.

>> here's the response from governor christie that i want to put up on the screen. governor christie and his entire administration have been helping hoken get the help they need after sandy but the city already having been approved for nearly $70 million in aid and targeted to get more when the obama administration approves the next round of funding the governor and mayor zimmer have had a productive relationship in fact her saying she's very glad he's been the governor. they come out of the woodwork to try to get their faces on television. you just described it as a pattern you're hearing more and more of. the only pattern that's been in evidence with the governor re-elected is how much support he's had from elected democrats in your state.

>> the mayor zimmer was one of those elected democrats early on and said that have governor christie --

>> they held back till he looked weak?

>> i'm not sure what caused mayor zimmer to wait till now. clearly the allegation she was askeded to support a redevelopment project where there was funding from the port authority which we're investigating in turn for her getting money for her municipality raises serious allegations. we don't know where it goes. we don't know if there's more to it. but i think it's something the committee has to consider as part of the overall investigation.

>> so here's one of the criticisms of you thus far.

>> sure.

>> is that there's a rush to judgment here. you're a democrat. you used to run the state party.

>> that's true.

>> you've got the national democratic party piggy backing on aspects of this investigation. you've issued very broad subpoenas and you've said it's hard forred you to believe that will governor christie didn't know his top staff was ordering those lanes to be closed on the george washington bridge . isn't this kind i have stacked against him here?

>> no, it's not. first of all, this investigation started out because of a toll increase on the george washington bridge and other port authority crossings. we're looking at the finances and operations of the authority. somebody closed lanes from fort lee during that. we started asking questions about the lane closures and suddenly we're looking at e-mails where somebody in the governor's inner circle sent an e-mail to close those lanes for clearly what are not governmental purposes. this story, are interestingly enough, didn't start with the democrats. it started with the " wall street journal ." hardly a liberal paper. they started questioning what happened with the george washington bridge lane closures. there's been no ruch to judgment.

>> respectfully, you've talked about the specter of impeachment before you've gathered all this information.

>> what i said is there's absolutely no document that connects the governor to this. his office is sected, not him. i've said that, talking about impeachment is premature. there's no connection that he knew or that he directed. what we do know is that someone senior in his staff sent an e-mail to close the lanes. we know that will senior people in his staff were involved in trying to doing damage control and come up with a cover story for it. so we will have lots of questions. and i have said that with all of his senior people in the midst of a re-election year, it's hard to believe that he knew nothing until january 8th .

>> its what the end game then? a very broad subpoena for the office of the governor, presumably you want any communication that would indicate he had direct knowledge to shut down those lanes. is that what you're after?

>> no, what we want to know, first of all it's a legislative inquiry. we're not a prosecutorial agency. the fact that four people have lost their jobs over it doesn't stop this kind of abuse from happening again. so we have to change the laws. the only way we can doing that is to find out how it could happen in the first place. the subpoenas help us get to the root cause of who told bridget kelly she could send this e-mail? why would she send it? it seemed to be a preordained conversation. reading that you don't get any other conclusion that there was a communication before then.

>> here's what i really want to know.

>> sure.

>> is chris christie a bully who abused power or are you seekinging to criminalize the rough and tumble of new jersey politics.

>> new jersey politics is rough and 2u78able but abusing power should not be condoned. everybody mitt trusts government. when things liking this happen it gives them another reason to say there they go again. we have to make sure it can't happen again. that's the way we restore trust in government. we have no connection to governor christie . we're going to look to see who else in his office knew and follow the trail where it leads step by step .

>> assembly man, thank you very much for your time. let me turn now to the former mayor of new york city , republican presidential candidate , as well rudy giuliani who is with us from palm beach this morning. mr. mayor, welcome.

>> good morning. thank you for having me.

>> you've just heard from the assemblyman.

>> i did.

>> is this an even handed approach as an investigation or do you think it's a political witch hunt ?

>> david , when you announce before you even investigate you don't believe the subject of the investigation or the person who's the ultimate focus of the investigation it would seem to me he has an ethical obligation to step down. he's no longer an impartial arbiter of the facts. he's announced he doesn't believe governor christie . i don't know how he could come to that conclusion. there are no facts on the table that contradict the governor. every fact seems to indicate governor christie is telling 9 truth. whether he is he isn't, that's what the investigation is for. the person leading the investigation has now announced the conclusion of the investigation he believes he's not telling the truth. he should not be handling the investigation. no sense of credit be the and clearly is a partisan witch hunt . my goodness, the head of the congressional re- election committee for the dras was down here protesting governor christie . a national democrat protesting in front of a fund-raiser when governor christie is down here. clearly, this is a very, very well orchestrated democratic kind of organizational effort to try to hurt governor christie who after all was the only republican, was the only republican who was beating hillary clinton in any poll at any time.

>> i certainly under the potential motivation of the democrats. at the same time, isn't that the classic deflection? what about the merits? you heard the hoboken mayor. had you have seen some of the evidence trail. these are senior aide who's ordered this closure. how concerned are you about, let me start with, this new charge of bullying. how much weight do you give that?

>> well, i don't know. mayor zimder just shortly before she made this revelation said that she didn't believe that any holdup in the funds had anything to do with any kind of retribution for not endorsing the governor. i'm informed she said that. she also said she liked working with governor christie . so i this i you have to look at her current statement in light of her former statementses before this became al orchestrated pilon. look, the allegations are serious about the closure of the bridge. no question about it. but on the other hand, the governor faced up to the allegations in a very serious way.

>> you're a former prosecutor.

>> an hour and a half press conference.

>> i'm sorry, i didn't mean to interrupt you.

>> he held an hour and a half press conference. he held the people accountable who were responsible for it, something the president has failed to do with benghazi, failed to do with the irs . he's given an example of a leader taking responsibility for something that was no question about it, david , wrong, this shouldn't have happened. beyond stupid to try to get back at a guy for not endorsing the governor by hurting the people of new jersey . totally crazy.

>> mayor, you raise again the specter of the irs and other republicans have done that. i think it's fair to point out that for those who is have raised that issue, what they said is the culture was created by president obama for this kind of abuse to have occurred. that link has never been proven or established. but if that's your standard, then isn't governor christie accountable for creating a culture where this kind of abuse cos have occurred and been ordered by top lieutenants?

>> that happens four or five times in every administration , every governor, every mayor, every president has his people do something wrong and then all of you rightly ask, did the culture create it, didn't it. if the culture did the create it, you've got to change the culture. that's different than saying you're responsible for abusing power, you're a bully, you're terrible, you're awful. the president says he didn't know what happened with the irs . i believe that's true. the issue gets resolved if the president straightens it out and it doesn't happen again. that's the way you evaluate one of those things. that's a very, very ambiguous and amorphous charge that the culture created it things go wrong in every administration so then the person in charge has to take accountability for it and make it clear i didn't want you to do that. i can't tell you how often i had to do that. people would do things they thought i wanted it, i didn't, i'd have to say i don't want it and it didn't happen again.

>> final question for you. as to whether christie 's political prospects in 2016 should he decide to run, if they've been scrambled when you look at these questions and this investigation about the bridge and other issues when you look at hillary clinton and questions about the benghazi fallouten an questions for her, at the end of the day , you've run for president and you watched this closely, do you think it's still christie versus clinton?

>> could be. could be. i can see this working out to chris's favor. i don't mean the underlying facts. they were wrong but the fact is, things go wrong, thingsing will go wrong if he or hillary clinton become president. the question is how are they going to handle if. he's given a textbook case in how to handle it, stand up, answer the questions, hold people accountable. make sure it doesn't happen again. i think the test of time will tell you who the candidates are going to be. i don't want to remind you who the candidates were back when i was running at this point.

>> all right. mayor giuliani.

>> it changes, it changes.

>> it does change. thanks very much for your time this morning. i appreciate it.

>> thank you.

>>> let me continue with this idea of the political prospects, the bridge scandal has scram bed christie 's 2016 prospects at some point in this period of kind of the invisible praernlts. "the new york times" quotes top republican donors saying christie has to be careful who he surrounds himself with as advisers. an early test is coming over the course of this weekend with a fund-raising swing through florida . kelly o'donnell has been tracking it christie 'su moves in palm beaching

>> good morning, david . christie 's halfway through a busy schedule of events here in florida and meeting with that important group within the republican party , the donors. i'm told some donors did not want him to come. other insiders say he was received very well by hundreds in attendance and he's here to help florida governor rick scott , his friend and his party. despite troubles at home, christie takes hold of his national place in politics this weekend. mixing with big donors at private fund-raisers for florida governor rick scott . but no plans for christie and scott to appear together publicly. christie has kept his fund-raising schedule including a thursday night event for a new jersey senate candidate.

>> the florida events were scheduled a long time ago and to duck out of them now would only invite controversy and criticism. he's doing the right thing by going down and doing these.

>> reporter: but it's tricky trying to balance business with on going damage control over the scandal.

>> if i were him i would hold back on the donor politics for a little while because he's going fuel the fire about his political ambitions.

>> this florida trip is a test of christie 's star status, becoming chair of the republican governor's association just eight weeks ago.

>> are you getting encouragement?

>> oh, everybody's excited that you know, i'm going to take over the chairmanship and i'm getting great response from donors and from my fellow governors.

>> the rga hopes to raise as much as $100 million this year with christie at the helm. and has more than $45 million in the bank.

>> my focus is going to be raising the funds that are necessary to be able to get the stories of these governors out.

>> democrats say christie is now damaged.

>> the pattern is continuing to develop. i think it's going to start to spiral out of control for chris christie because this is a clear case of where there's smoke, there's even more fire.

>> reporter: for now, fellow republican governors are standing behind christie .

>> i think the bottom line is he stepped up. i think any of us as governors, democrat or republican alike, if there's a challenge in your administration , you step up, acknowledge it, deal with it.

>> and surveys including our own nbc/maris poll suggests he may have weathered the storm short term.

>> what he needs to do is what he did at the state of the state speech, get back to being governor and back to issues people care about. i would stay out of politics for a while while this kind of cools off.

>> reporter: a somewhat different test today. an event to attract new donors new contributors to the party held at the home of billionaire home depot home founder ken langon. christie is scheduled to go to texas and illinois next month.

>> the kelly o'donnell in sunny florida this morning. appreciate it.