Thomas Roberts   |  January 10, 2014

Will Christie survive 'Bridgegate?'

New Jersey’s state legislature will release thousands of pages of new documents today, including additional emails that could make things worse for Gov. Chris Christie. Will his political future be able to survive this scandal?

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

>>> i am embarrassed and humiliated. i also need to apologize. i am heart broken. i am responsible for what happened. ultimately, i am responsible for what happens under my watch, the good and the bad.

>> all right, so you watched it all right here on msnbc 24 hours ago. governor chris christie and his nearly two-hour-long marathon mea culpa . i'm thomas roberts . new jersey 's boss in deep damage control mode, but just wait, because today we're expecting even more political hits for chris christie , the latest this hour, the state legislature will release hundreds of pages of new documents at any moment and they include additional e-mails. there's now a state and federal inquiry and a class action suit has been filed by new jersey residents who say they were trapped like rats in that traffic jam on the george washington bridge and lost pay. since the news broke, christie has fired two aides at the center of the investigation and maintains he didn't know what was happening, so how are his fellow republicans responding?

>> here's a guy that acted like a chief executive, held a press conference, answered all the questions you had of him, and he actually, something washington could learn from, he actually held people accountable and people close to him, that had to be hard.

>> christie 's apology tour took him to the town at the center of the scandal, ft. lee, for a meeting with that town's mayor.

>> i'm here today to also apologize to the people of ft. lee, and -- terrible thing. we're going to work to regain their trust.

>> he came and we had a very sincere, candid, and productive conversation, so we're glad he came.

>> all right, take a look at this, with headlines like these in papers across the country, what is the lesson from this for christie as he contemplates his political future and possible presidential run 2016 ?

>> can't imagine people doing that in my office over four terms. i just can't.

>> i talked to him yesterday for 15 minutes . he's having a hard time . he's really sad.

>> joining me now from trenton, new jersey , this morning is msnbc's craig melvin. craig , let's first talk about these new documents that we're getting today. what is everybody expecting to find in them? what is the detail of these documents?

>> thomas, we're expecting somewhere north of 900 pages of documents to be released here in trenton . that's why we're here. i was just inside a few moments ago. i asked about those documents. we're told that they are going to be released some time late morning, so that would mean we should get them within the hour, but they are not saying that's necessarily going to happen. the question of what can we expect to find, we don't really know. what we do know is that all of this sort of started, if you will, because of the initial document dump , and it was in those documents that we saw the e-mails, we saw the text messages that prompted that two-hour apology yesterday. and also, of course, it was in these documents we saw david wildstein, the top port authority executive, who has since resigned, where he referred to the mayor, where he referred to the mayor of ft. lee as a little serbian, so we expect that there will be some additional information in these documents that's going to help shed light on the situation, but we won't know until those things are released. additionally, as you mentioned, the lawsuit that had been filed, so far six folks are suing. these are six folks who were, as a result of that massive traffic jam , they were late to work, so they were docked pay. they are suing to recoup some of the losses in terms of their pay and also some punitive damages, as well.

>> and that remains, as we know, open right now, because they don't have an exact number of members that want to join that lawsuit, so this is still going to grow. it stems from the inconvenience people faced from september 9th to september 13th trying to get on the george washington bridge . craig melvin, thanks so much. keep us posted if within the hour you get those documents. joined now by new jersey democratic state senator barbara buono , who ran for governor against chris christie last year. senator, it's nice to have you with me to talk about this. obviously, there's more to come and we have craig waiting on those documents, he said over 900 or so, maybe more, that could come out. this does make us think back to the race you had to run against chris christie , and as we look at these dates, september the 9th through the 13th, do you have hindsight being 20/20, did you have an inkling that something like this was going on?

>> i knew. this is classic chris christie . he has used the levers of power to promote himself and his political agenda time and time again. what did surprise me is the tone and the tenor of these e-mails. they were almost gleeful when they talked about don't worry about the children, the children of buono voters. i mean, such an arrogance. that, i did find, somewhat shocking.

>> if you knew something like this was happening and it was some sort of a retaliatory strike potentially, why not do something more? you had the eyes of the new jersey media on you, running for governor, he did win over you, but how come you didn't try to use the spotlight you had at that time to expose this?

>> believe me, i did. there is a culture of fear in trenton and the senate president was working hand-in-hand with the governor. i got very little help with the democratic party , and the senate president is the lieutenant of one of the unelected political bosses in new jersey , george norcross .

>> why didn't you try to approach governor cuomo then? this is a bridge that is shared by both new york and new jersey . governor cuomo is a democrat. the appointment there of patrick foye is the person who lifted the lane closures.

>> thank god for patrick foye.

>> did you think to contact governor cuomo to bring him up to speed on this, since this is a -- the most popular, most traveled bridge, up of the most traveled bridges in the world. did that don on you to contact governor cuomo ?

>> we tried all avenues. the fact of the matter is in new jersey , as i said, there is a culture of fear . i tried to contact certain mayors, actually, endorsed this governor, and, you know, one of them, mayor from long branch, had a relationship of sorts, and i remember he called me one day and he said, you know, senator, i have to tell you, i'm going to endorse the governor, and i said, you know, why don't you wait. let's talk about it. no, no, i have to do it this week. and i remember asking him, you know, he sounded a little nervous. i said, are you being pressured? and he said, no. and so people, you know, there was this culture, there are incidents that have happened to underscore, so hopefully, this investigation will reveal if there were other incidents like this across new jersey and calls all of his endorsements into question.

>> but as we talk about the key players in this, baroni and bridget anne kelly, who was fired yesterday, david wildstein, who was trying to give testimony, but pleading the fifth almost in concurrent time as the governor was giving his press statement and also bill stepie in n, who was the campaign manager . these four people have been thrown out, and they are political loose ends to the governor, potentially. do you really believe that it's just in that circle and it didn't rise up higher than that?

>> absolutely not. it's absurd to suggest that my chief of staff or bill baroni , former senator, and now the chief appointee at the port authority , very close with governor christie . look, it's one of two things. either the governor's lying or he's incompetent, but my prediction is this, he will be leaving the governor's office before his term is up, but it won't be to run for president.

>> barbara buono , thanks for your insights, i appreciate it.

>>> christie may be down, but he's certainly not out, at least to his fellow republicans, many of whom have been careful not to judge the popular politico so far. here's house speaker john boehner yesterday on the issue.

>> just wondering if you think this response is sufficient, that he could continue to remain a top 2016 republican candidate?

>> i think so. i think so.

>> does he bear any responsibility even though he said he didn't know anything, because this happened on his watch?

>> you'll have to ask him.

>> what is next for chris christie ? joining me now, msnbc political analyst and former democratic pennsylvania governor ed rendell and michael steele . roll call has a story that says politicians are largely nervous about getting involved in this story. that can only last for so long, though. they go on to say the longer unanswered questions linger, the more likely it is that senators and representatives will want to get involved or call hearings. so christie has been wildly popular with the voters there. he got re-elected, beating our last guest, barbara buono , however, she says there's this fear in trenton . do you think this opens up governor christie to a complete set of new problems that reaffirms the narrative that he's a bully?

>> sure. there's no question. i think you're going to see people coming out of the woodwork, and a lot depends on what's uncovered. if, in fact, there's no other evidence that the governor knew about this or ordered it, then i think the governor can ride this out. he's certainly suffered damage, but it may not be terminal damage. if it comes out that he knew something about it or he ordered it, and to me that's the more likely result. thomas, i was governor for eight years and was a hands-on governor, like governor christie . my deputy chief of staff, whose desk was 25 feet from mine, would never have done something like this without my clearance, asking me for prior approval, in a month of sundays, would never have contemplated doing something like this and i can't imagine anyone would have done it either.

>> he said yesterday i'm not a micromanager.

>> he said i can't be responsible for 65,000 people, but this is your deputy chief of staff, arguably, second or third most important in your office. no way this person takes action without some prior approval.

>> michael , let me talk to you about this, because christie has garnered some support from prominent republicans and democrats, as well. here's david axelrod on " morning joe " and sean spicer appearing in the last hour with chris jansing .

>> all right.

>> if it looks like he was forthright, i thought he looked good in that press conference. if you were uninitiated watching that press conference, you'd say here's a guy standing up, taking responsibility, admitting faults. i think that he can survive this.

>> governor christie took responsibility and showed what a leader does, and i think that's refreshing, and i think it's important that you see that that's what happens when republicans deal with situations.

>> all right, our nbc news "first read" team writes christie 's enemies, democrats and republicans, are ready to pounce. michael , do you think the crisis is going to get worse before it gets better? and i understand what sean spicer is saying, the governor did take responsibility, but that's taking responsibility because he's been exposed, because his top aides have been exposed. this is something that he laughed off and basically also demeaned reporters when asked about the severity of this issue, and just said, what do you think, i was out there laying down the cones myself? get real. stuff like that.

>> well, keep in the right context, because at that time the governor had been told presumably by these same staffers that this was a road closure based on a traffic monitoring program that they were implementing, and that's what was causing the delay, so if that's the information he got, knowing christie as we all do, reporters asking me about a traffic jam , yeah, what do you think i was out here laying the cones? this is part of the natural course of doing business in the state. now the revelations tell us something different, and i think yesterday, to, you know, christie took that responsibility and that burden. i agree with governor rendell that should there be additional revelations that show a deeper set of knowledge or involvement by christie , that becomes a huge problem for him, but i think he rides this out a lot better than people right now may be looking at it on the face of it, simply because there is no evidence that says he knew more or did more than already been revealed.

>> like i said before, there are four political loose ends here, especially with bridget anne kel kelly, once she gets the tire marks rubbed out of herself, maybe she will get immunity, and if she does, that's going to be a big problem. then there's baroni, wildstein, and stepien, who's going to be minted in a king-like fashion there at his side, now he's been thrown off. governor, let me ask you, as you know in pennsylvania, and you were talking about your top aides, do you think that these people are going to have an axe to grind moving forward, and if they know more, they are going to tell more now?

>> it's possible. it's also possible there are forces, not governor christie , per se , but forces in the republican hierarchy trying to take care of him for the future. so it will be interesting to see what happens to them individually in their own lives. that's a possibility, particularly if immunity is granted, that's a real possibility. but i want to quarrel with one thing that mr. spicer said that the governor did well. number one, traffic study is ludicrous. if you want to study traffic flow , you've got the tolls. just figure out how many people went through the tolls in a given period of time. as one of the reporters said, traffic study, strange. secondly, the governor, i think, made a mistake when he was talking about people were fired because they lied to me. people should have been fired because they endangered public safety . that's what he should have been emphasizing. he made it all about himself.

>> woman in cardiac arrest did die because they don't know whether or not she made it to the hospital on time. there is a problem there. the study has been wildly disproven, that that was not really the case here. that was an excuse used and there was a cover-up excuse used.

>> brought it up again yesterday.

>> it's certainly not going to be something he wants to continue using as a cover story , because it's been wildly disproved. michael , when it comes to christie , though, and, you know, not only wanting to win re-election, but maybe larger potential, although yesterday he said he really has his eye on the job of what he's doing there in new jersey , but trying to get all these democratic endorsements and look like the super governor of a blue state as a republican, that had to be part of the campaign mentality here as he's looking at the future.

>> well, i'm sure it was, but i don't think that campaign mentality lent itself in that moment to doing something like this. i think that what has grown out of that is this idea that, you know, we can't be touched, and we got a guy who's, you know, he's a buster, he goes through the door, he knocks things down, he makes waves, and so that attitude, that culture, if you will, i think, kind of grew up around christie .

>> it's time for traffic problems in ft. lee, bridget woke up on the wrong side of the bed?

>> well, no.

>> where does that come from?

>> whatever political machinations they drew from the campaign to impose this on this mayor, who at the end of the day , if he didn't endorse you, no big deal . i mean, you still won by 30 points or 20-some points. you had 60-some other democrats endorsing you across the state, so what was it about this mayor and this particular part of the state that fixated this team? i think that needs to be revealed. our colleague rachel maddow raised that question last night. it's a question that has unfolding to do.

>> seems too obvious that it's not the right answer.

>> pardon me?

>> michael , i'm sorry, go ahead.

>> what was the last part you said was not the right answer?

>> almost seems so obvious that it can't be the right answer.

>> yeah, yeah.

>> it's like saying why would richard nixon authorized a burglary at democratic headquarters at watergate when everyone knew he was going to win 50 states , 48 states , how stupid could a bright man like richard nixon be to do something like that? it's an arrogance of power.

>> thanks so much. we're going to have to leave it there. great to see both of you.

>>> this leads our discussion to the big question to you today, you heard the press conference, governor christie saying he had no involvement. do you believe him? you can chime in on twitter and facebook.

>>> we have breaking news to pass on from west virginia where a chemical spill has led to some 300,000 people not to use their tap water and the spill happened at a storage facility near charleston. water supplies are contaminated for nine counties. people can't bathe, cook, wash clothes. we're going to keep you posted on that story, bring you updates as we get them.