UP with STEVE KORNACKI
February 16, 2014
Guests: John Wisniewski, Brian Murphy, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Michael
Patrick Carroll, Brian Thompson, Jamelle Bouie, Krystal Ball, Basil Smikle,
Joe Barkett, Selena Roberts, Wade Davis, Dave Matter
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: New evidence of another Christie friend on
the scene when the lanes were closed.
We have new information to report to you this morning about the George
Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. The connection that has not been
discovered or reported anywhere else before now. It involves a man who was
apparently present when those access lanes were shut down and whose family
has deep personal and political ties to Governor Chris Christie that go
back decades. We will explain all the details momentarily. But the best
place to start this story is with what we already know. What`s already in
the public record about what transpired on the morning of September 9,
2013. As the Monday when those lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, were without
any fanfare crunched from three to one resulting in epic paralyzing traffic
that gridlocked the town. And up until this point we`ve known that it was
David Wildstein, one of Christie`s former Port Authority appointees, who
ordered bridge officials to close the lanes and that Wildstein personally
showed up at the bridge at 6:00 a.m. that Monday morning to oversee the
closures along with Robert Durando, he`s the bridge`s general manager.
Durando testified before the New Jersey legislature back in December this
is how he described what Wildstein did that morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB DURANDO, GENERAL MANAGER, GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE: He came to the
facility on Monday morning. He stood at the communications desk for a
little while. It`s an area with cameras to look out at various roadways,
limited view, albeit stayed there for a little while. He then left the
facility, left the communications desk with a police lieutenant assigned to
the George Washington Bridge to ride around the facility for some period of
time to see the impact on traffic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: This is where a new reporting comes in. Because we have
evidence of the identity of that police lieutenant who apparently gave
Wildstein a tour of the area as traffic was piling up in Fort Lee. This is
a series of text messages Wildstein exchanged that morning while he was at
the bridge. The identity of the person he`s interacting with is redacted,
it was redacted by Wildstein`s attorney. But take a closer look. The
unidentified person texts Wildstein at 6:52 in the morning and asks to meet
in the parking lot. Wildstein says, no, the person should come inside to
the lobby where, quote, "I`m with Bob." Presumably that`s Bob Durando, the
general manager of the bridge, whose testimony we just played. The next
message from the unidentified person comes at 7:09 a.m. Want me to pick
you up? It`s messed up here, except that we can`t say the word that was
really used there. But he`s saying it`s messed up out here. Wildstein
responds, "Around 7:30." And now here is where the puzzle starts to come
together because there is something else that appears 200 pages earlier in
Wildstein`s subpoenaed documents. It`s an e-mail sent from Wildstein at
7:28 that morning to Durando informing Durando that he`s, quote, "going to
take a ride with Chip and see how it looks." So we wonder, is this person,
Chip, the same person Wildstein was texting with? The same police
lieutenant that Durando testified gave Wildstein a tour of the area? And
it appears likely that it is.
It`s a little tricky because there`s no one with the name of Chip listed in
official Port Authority materials as a police officer at the bridge. But,
when we called the police chief in Fort Lee, and we asked him which
officials at the Port Authority he had conversations with that week about
the lane closures and the traffic. He mentioned a Port Authority police
officer named Chip Michaels. And there is a Port Authority police
lieutenant assigned to the George Washington Bridge with the last name of
Michaels, his name is Thomas Michaels. And when we called the Port
Authority and asked to speak to Chip Michaels, it was to Thomas Michaels
that they transferred us. We also found this newsletter from the Port
Authority police officer`s union from February of 2011. And it mentions
Chip Michaels twice. First mention indicates that he has just left the
emergency services unit command and the second mention is an announcement
that Lieutenant Chip Michaels has joined the George Washington Bridge
command. A transfer, by the way, came in the same general period of time
that Wildstein and Bill Baroni were being installed as Chris Christie`s
point men at the Port Authority.
Now why is this so interesting? Why should you care if Lieutenant Thomas
"Chip" Michaels is the guy who gave David Wildstein a tour of the bridge
area as traffic hell was setting in on Fort Lee? Well, here`s one reason.
This is a January 2010 story in "The Newark Star Ledger" from when Christie
was just about to become governor. And in it, there`s a quote from one of
assumed to be governor`s friends, someone who has known him since their
childhood in their town of Livingston. "We break his chops a little bit,
just saying you`re the governor, looking at him, laughing, said Chip
Michaels who along with his brothers grew up with Christie. It`s crazy.
He grew up like everyone else in New Jersey. To see him as a celebrity
it`s just really odd, but he`s the same guy. He`s a grounded guy." "Chip
Michaels," that article goes on to say, "has since moved to the town of
Randolph, New Jersey, and as of 2010 he was coaching one of Christie`s kids
on a Randolph youth hockey team." And if you go to the Port Authority site
to look for information on its police officers you will find that Thomas
Michaels is listed as a resident of Randolph, New Jersey. So that`s the
first interesting thing we`ve learned. That when David Wildstein surveyed
the chaos caused by the lane closures, his tour guide was apparently a Port
Authority police lieutenant who had known Chris Christie since his
childhood, who had coached Chris Christie`s children in youth sports. The
friendship dating back to their youth that as the article described was
very much active at least through 2010.
Here is something else we discovered. Let`s go back to that "Star Ledger"
story where Chip Michaels talks about what he likes - about how he likes to
bust the governor`s chops. Look closely at that passage where it says that
Chip Michaels along with his brothers grew up with Christie. Along with
his brothers. Well, who are those brothers? One of them is named John
Michaels. You can see on his Facebook page here, he`s posted a picture
from the 2008 article in "The New York Post" of his brother Chip hard at
work as a Port Authority police officer. There`s another photo from John
Michaels` page, the album is Christmas 2008. And you can see John Michaels
there on the left. And there it looks like Chip, second from the right.
Then all the way to the right the last guy standing there, the name of
another brother pops up, Jeffrey Michaels. And it`s this this that really
caught our attention. Because the name Jeff Michaels may not mean much to
you, but if you live in a small and insular world of New Jersey politics,
then you definitely do know that name. Because he`s a major Republican
player. He was the chief of staff to Donald DiFrancesco. He was the
Republican who served as acting governor just over a decade ago, then he
became a lobbyist. He`s also very close to his childhood friend from
Livingston, the governor. It was, according to Bob Ingle Michael Symons
biography of Christie, Jeff Michaels who was the one who got to tell
Christie on election night 2009 that he`d won the race. When Jeff Michaels
appeared on a public TV show after that 2009 election, he was asked if he
was close to the governor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF MICHAELS: I`ve known him for a long time. We went to high school.
Our families knew each other from Livingston. And just stayed in close
contact with him over the years and was very pleased just to help his
campaign out with policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Those close ties to the governor have caused Jeff Michaels`
stock to soar in the Trenton lobbying world. The website Politickernj.com
has to say non-partisan insider New Jersey political news site that was
launched by David Wildstein years ago that I used to work for, and that
Jeff Michaels even wrote a periodic column for, that site,
politickernj.com, ranked Michaels number 27 on its list of the 100 most
powerful people in New Jersey the first year Christie was governor.
According to their write-up, quote, "the former chief of staff to Donald
DiFrancesco has his own top flight consulting firm in New Jersey`s power
nexus." Michaels, who grew up in Livingston has close ties to Governor
Chris Christie, and through his partner Phil Norcross, the South Georgia
power broker George Norcross III. The firm that Jeff Michaels and Phil
Norcross run is called Optimist Partners and that connection between them
is key. As Alec MacGillis meticulously documented in this week`s "New
Republic", Christie has cultivated an unusual alliance with George
Norcross. He is a Democrat who is widely regarded as the most powerful
political boss in the state.
So in the Christie/Norcross era in New Jersey, the teaming of Jeff Michaels
and Phil Norcross has been a lucrative one, something that "Philadelphia
Enquirer" explored in a 2011 article. "Deal with Norcross brother makes
lobbying prosper in today`s Trenton environment." Their firm, by the way,
cracked the top ten list for annual revenue in the New Jersey law journals
annual rankings for 2012. Jeff Michaels has also stepped up to the plate
financially for the governor in 2010. He gave $25,000 to a PAC that was
set up to push Christie`s agenda and since October of 2012, he has given
over $20,000 to the Republican Governors Association. It`s the group that
Christie now chairs as he prepares for a possible 2016 presidential bid.
So that`s who Jeff Michaels is, he is a powerful New Jersey Republican
whose family have long and close ties to Chris Christie. Someone who has
parlayed that connection into a wildly successful lobbying practice and has
invested tens of thousands of dollars of his own money in Christie`s
political future. And it is his brother, Jeff Michaels` brother, Port
Authority Police Lieutenant Thomas "Chip" Michaels who was apparently on
the scene when the Fort Lee lanes were shut down. And who drove David
Wildstein around as the traffic mounted who apparently kept in touch with
Wildstein through text messaging after that ride. This is a text to
Wildstein from 8:46 a.m. On that Monday morning, the first day of the lane
closings. "I may have idea to make this better," it reads. He continues
to update Wildstein on the state of traffic around the George Washington
Bridge throughout the day. And he continues doing so the next morning as
well, telling Wildstein, quote, "Local Fort Lee traffic disaster." And
what is Wildstein doing with all of this information? And take a look at
this. At 8:33 that Tuesday morning, Michaels apparently texts Wildstein
that traffic is cleared on the main thoroughfare to the bridge, the I-95
approach. At 8:43, Wildstein relays that same information to Bill Baroni.
And at 8:45 he relays it to Bridget Kelly, that`s the deputy chief of staff
in Christie`s office who writes back six minutes later by saying, "That is
good, no?" Wildstein replies to her, very good. And then at 9:01 Bridget
Kelly writes to David Wildstein, "small favors." And that`s the last
involvement of Chip Michaels that has so far come to light in these
So it appears we`ve solved a mystery here. We figured out who that police
lieutenant was with David Wildstein on September 9. There`s no evidence to
suggest that Lieutenant Michaels was involved in the planning of the
operation. But the evidence suggests that Chip Michaels was present on the
bridge at the hour the lanes were first closed, both driving David
Wildstein around that first morning and texting with him throughout at
least the first two days of the closures. And he seemed to have an inkling
it was coming, too. In an email to his superior on the police force the
night before the closures, Michaels inquires if, quote, "a new traffic
pattern is going into effect the next morning." And his text to Wildstein
on the first day of the closures offers, quote, offering to "make this
better," it could be read any number of ways. Is he an innocent bystander
shocked by the mess that`s unfolding and looking to help improve it, or is
he telling Wildstein that he has an idea to make things even worse for Fort
Lee or is it something else altogether? We don`t know.
There is also this subpoena document. A letter from Fort Lee Mayor Mark
Sokolich to Bill Baroni, that`s another Christie appointee at the Port
Authority that was written on September 12. This was at the height of the
lane closure mess. And in the letter, Sokolich tells Baroni that "Adding
insult to injury, many members of the public have indicated to me that the
Port Authority police officers are advising commuters in response to their
complaints that this recent traffic debacle is the result of a decision
that I, as the mayor, recently made." Were Port Authority police officers
actually saying that to commuters? And what kind of contact, if any, did
Chip Michaels have with his brother Jeff during all this, not just during
the lane closures that he witnessed, but in the weeks and in the months
after as the mystery percolated, as the story exploded into a full-fledged
national scandal that now threatens Christie`s political future? Jeff
Michaels is known in Trenton as a longtime friend and ally of the governor.
We have no reason to suspect that Jeff Michaels had anything to do with the
lane closures. There`s also no evidence that Chip Michaels ever discussed
the closure with the governor or with his brother, but it does make you
wonder. In all that time did Jeff Michaels and Chris Christie ever talk
about this? About how Jeff`s brother was the guy who drove David Wildstein
around during the closures?
Remember, Christie has adamantly maintained that he had no idea until a
month ago that this was anything other than a traffic study. That was the
cover story that was given by Bill Baroni in testimony in Trenton. And
he`s maintained that the secretive and vindictive nature of the closures
came as a total and complete shock to him. And more recently, Christie`s
offices tried to characterize the closures as a primarily - primarily a
rogue act masterminded by Wildstein. "David Wildstein schemed to close
lanes" as a recent Christie press release put it. But now it appears that
it wasn`t just David Wildstein who was on the scene when those lanes were
closed. That he was there with a police officer who knew the governor from
way back, and whose brother is a Trenton power broker who also has a deep
connection to Christie. So, those deep ties to the Republican Party in New
Now, we reached out to Chip Michaels. We reached out to the Port Authority
police department. We reached out to Jeff Michaels and to the Christie
administration on Friday and again over this weekend to let them know the
story was running this morning and to ask them to provide some context, and
to answer some of the questions raised by this information. We look
forward to their answers. We will talk next to the co-chairman of the
special committee investigating the bridge lane closures John Wisniewski
about this and other developments right after this.
KORNACKI: So, we had some new reporting this morning that the man on the
scene of those bridge lane closures, David Wildstein wasn`t by himself. He
was apparently there with a Port Authority police officer who knew the
governor from his childhood. And his brother is a New Jersey power broker
with deep connections to Chris Christie. Here to talk about this new
detail may mean for the investigation as it moves forward, I want to bring
in Democratic State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is co-chairing the
special joint committee investigation of the George Washington Bridge lane
And he`s telling me, I guess I`ll just start with that connection we just
established there with this Port Authority police officer, Thomas Michaels
and David Wildstein. Is this something you were aware of before - as you
committee encountered it in its investigation?
JOHN WISNIEWSKI, (D), NJ ASSEMBLY MEMBER: Well, not in the context that
you`ve laid out. I mean obviously, we`ve all seen the emails that
mentioned Chip and mentioned people observing the traffic. But the detail
to which you`ve put this is something that the committee had not been aware
of. But I think what this speaks of is the growing number of individuals
that seem to have had some knowledge either in this case Chip seemed to
have known the night before, other people knowing when it`s happening.
Other people knowing when it was done, and the cover-up that have some tie
to the governor`s office or to the governor himself. It really increases
the number of people that seem to have some knowledge and it certainly
fuels the skepticism that many have had about the governor`s time line on
when he knew.
KORNACKI: Yeah. Again, we have -- we reached out to all of them, you
know, and really wanted to try to get context from them on this news. No
reason for us to suspect that Jeff Michaels knew anything about this, that
Chip Michaels was in on the planning. Anything like that.
KORNACKI: Could you just - as somebody who is in Trenton and understands
how power works in Trenton, when we say a name like Jeff Michaels, what his
relationship with the governor is like and what his role in the Trenton
world is like.
WISNIEWSKI: Oh, every administration whether it`s a Democratic
administration or Republican administration, there are the lobbyists that
have some type of access to the governor through unofficial channels. I
mean there`s all the people that work in the governor`s office and you go
in and you talk to them and that`s the official channels, but there are the
people that either grew up with the governor or used to work with the
governor or are party stalwarts who have access in other ways to the
governor. And so that, as much as official channels, business and politics
in New Jersey is also done through the unofficial channels, through
lobbyists and other people. And that increasing circle of individuals that
now includes Chip Michaels, at least individually because he was there,
widens the number of people who have some close contact to the governor,
some relationship with the governor and, as I said, it just fuels that
skepticism that has existed about the timeline, which has been
inconsistent, by the way, as it`s been laid out over time.
KORNACKI: And that`s one of the things. We had this first batch of
subpoenaed documents that came out. Now a little over a month ago, I
guess. It raised all of these questions where, you know, we had the
Bridget Kelly email from August 13 that says "Time for some traffic
problems for Fort Lee." And everyone wants to know, OK, what came before
that? You know, Wildstein says, "Got it." What came after that? There`s
hints of a potential meeting between Chris Christie and David Sampson, the
chairman of the Port Authority the week before that. You`ve been getting
new subpoenaed information in now in the last week or two. Has any of the
information that`s come to your committee in that time shed any light on
those questions that we`ve been asking for the last month?
WISNIEWSKI: I think the best that can be said about the information that`s
coming in now is to say that it corroborates or validates some of the
existing information. There are no documents that match the - I guess, the
importance of the Bridget Kelly email that clearly there`s a connection to
the governor`s office with her email. And what we still don`t have answers
to is the question that we all have, is why did she send the email? It`s
clear that that email was the middle part of a conversation that started at
some point before that, that there clearly had to be other people involved
in that conversation. She -- I don`t think anybody believes that she woke
up that morning and said this would be a good thing to do. What we need to
understand is who else was involved in that decision making? Did somebody
tell her to send the email? Did somebody make her think it was OK to send
that email? Those are questions we have. And certainly, the information
that you`ve come up with certainly adds a degree of completeness to who
else may have known.
KORNACKI: And one of the big reasons for the question marks around all of
this, is the redactions in all of the stuff that David Wildstein has
provided, you have asked for fewer redactions from him. What is the status
WISNIEWSKI: Our attorney is working with Mr. Zegas who`s Mr. Wildstein`s
attorney. The argument put forth by Mr. Zegas is that those reductions
simply represent material outside the timeframe or outside the subject
matter. Our attorney is working with him because we think that there are
some things that should come to the committee, those negotiations are
ongoing. We hope to have an answer with that very quickly, though.
KORNACKI: OK. New Jersey assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chairing that
joint legislative committee. I want to thank you for joining us this
morning. I appreciate it. We want to talk about all of this with our
panel when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: Large organizations are dynamic and
incredibly creative because they`re inhabited by human beings. They`re
also inherently flawed because they`re inhabited by human beings. And some
people who work for me made some significant mistakes in judgment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That`s Chris Christie in Chicago earlier this week. I want to
bring in our panel to talk about all of this. We have Brian Murphy, he is
a reporter who has worked with us a great deal on today`s story, he`s also
a professor at Baruch College, we have State Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson
Coleman, a Democrat on the joint super committee investigating the bridge
scandal. She previously served as the state Democratic chairwoman in New
Jersey. We have Michael Patrick, he is a Republican member of the state
assembly. He`s also part of that joint legislative committee. And WNBC
television reporter Brian Thompson who has been covering New Jersey for the
station for the past 16 years.
So we`ll start just with this news we brought at the top of the show about
Chip Michaels apparently being the police lieutenant at the Port Authority
who drove David Wildstein around on the morning of the closures. And I
guess I can`t say this enough on the show. We did not make contact with
him. We don`t have any reason to suspect that he was in on the planning of
this or anything, but, Brian, it just strikes me, like, how David Wildstein
through Livingston, Chris Christie is from Livingston, this police
lieutenant is from Livingston, he`s driving him around -- the scandal ends
up becoming so local in a certain way.
BRIAN THOMPSON, WNBC REPORTER: The one thing I`ve seen in New Jersey in
the 16 or so years is there are always connections within connections with
connections, and it doesn`t necessarily make somebody guilty or not guilty
either way of any particular action by another person, but New Jersey, in
its own way, is a very insular state. Almost, I hate to use the term
inbreeding, but in political terms, yeah. It`s like inbreeding. So to
come up with this kind of relationship is absolutely not surprising. And
the only other thing I`ll say is, you know, it`s true in politics
everywhere. It`s not what you know, it`s who you know. And I`d say that
is truer in New Jersey than just about anywhere else on the face of this
KORNACKI: That`s a good way of putting it. Senator, what`s your reaction
to seeing the report this morning?
BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN, NJ ASSEMBLY MEMBER: That we keep peeling back this
bad lettuce you`ve got in your refrigerator and we keep peeling it back
looking for something that we can use to eat that`s good, and we can`t find
it yet. So we`re looking for the good in all of this. We`re looking for
that which can be used for a good purpose and we haven`t encountered it
yet. I agree with Brian that the relationship in New Jersey, New Jersey is
a very small state, even geographically. You can traverse the state, you
used to be able to, within three hours. So they have relationships all up
and down the state.
All north, south, east, west. You know, that - you don`t necessarily think
of until something comes up. And so, I want to commend you on the
investigative reporting and the exploration that you`re doing because
you`re allowing the information to take you to the next step. And that`s
what we`re trying to do on the committee, allow the information that`s
coming to us to take us to the next step, the next person. You`ve helped
us to identify some of the next persons. I thank you. So that`s what
KORNACKI: Another member of the committee here, I mean you`ve looked at
all the documents that we, you know, Brian and I and people on our team
have been poring over putting this little piece of it out there. What does
that - does that register with you at all?
MICHAEL PATRICK CARROLL (R) NJ ASSEMBLY MEMBER: I once worked in
Livingston. Does that count?
KORNACKI: I`ve driven through.
PATRICK CARROLL: I mean can we have your resignation? Again, anything is
possible. I mean the fact is all conspiracy theories look possible from
the outset. My dad just finished a book on the Kennedy assassination which
he helped cover. And there`s a lot of grassy knoll into that - in that
discussion. It`s entirely possible that there were massive connections and
massive discussions in things all times. But the idea that - it just seems
that this juncture a little bit too attenuated to me to take it very
seriously as a next step in a vast conspiracy.
KORNACKI: And I don`t mean to present it as a conspiracy, and I tried very
hard in how we presented it to leave open -- there`s all sorts of
possibilities here including just coincidence. But one of the things,
Brian, that jumps out at me is just the potential at least, the potential
proximity as sort of a communications pathway to the governor. If you have
somebody who is an eyewitness to these closures and who is driving
Wildstein around and his brother is very, very close to the governor --
everybody talked to you in Trenton and says, you know, this guy has
Christie`s ear, there`s at least the potential pathway for information to
be getting to Chris Christie and then you have Chris Christie out there
saying, absolutely no inkling before January 8 that there was anything
untoward about this at all.
BRIAN MURPHY, BARUCH COLLEGE: Right. I mean that the thing was, I had
been kind of obsessing about who Chip was and then you have a snow day and
do some baking and suddenly thinking he is clarified in this, and you can
put it together. But then when you figure out who his brother is and
people - and you tell people and they say, oh, my god, Jeff Michaels`
brother was at the bridge that day, then it`s got a certain veillance (ph),
that`s different - it`s a connection. But the thing that`s striking about
that, I think, the proximity of it is that if you look at the texts that
Wildstein gets from Chip, and first, we`re assuming it`s Chip, it`s
reasonable to assume it`s Chip, they`re familiar. They`re not -- in
contrast to the emails that we see within the Port Authority that are very
deferential, very professional.
KORNACKI: There`s emails from Chip the night before the first closure
where he`s running to - I believe it`s Captain Darcy Licorice (ph). His
KORNACKI: Licorice. Licorice. I`ve never figured out exact
pronunciation. But it`s very formal. It`s sir.
KORNACKI: And a very formal .
MURPHY: Right. And everything is very, you know, sir, ma`am, it`s very
professional. And then, you know, 12 hours later we are getting these
emails that are misspelled that have curses in them and this is not from
two people who are peers within the organization. This is a police
lieutenant writing to a director level official at the Port Authority. Now
how many of us would write emails to a superior that way? How many of us
would send -- maybe we would. I`m just speaking for myself, right? You
would at least check the spelling. You might be a little -- you might
police your language a little bit.
KORNACKI: Yeah, I mean texts you can always allow for spelling in texts.
MURPHY: Yeah. But it clearly - it`s like the auto correct is turned off
WATSON COLEMAN: But that speaks to the informal relationship we were
MURPHY: That`s right.
WATSON COLEMAN: It speaks to I knew you in a different capacity.
MURPHY: That`s right.
WATSON COLEMAN: I may be in this job now, by virtue of some other good
thing that happened in my life, but I have a relationship with you that
goes beyond this. And I think we seem to be seeing some of that
MURPHY: It`s suggestive.
KORNACKI: There`s a lot that`s suggestive. We`ll pick it up and talk a
little bit more about this and about where the investigation is going.
There were some developments this week. We will get to that right after
KORNACKI: So we`ll talk a little bit about where the investigation is
going, where the state legislative investigation is going. We have two
members of that panel here. And what jumped out at me this week was there
was a vote to authorize more subpoenas, more subpoenas are going out, but
the vote was sort of a - it was a party line vote. It was Democrats voting
for it and Republicans abstaining from it.
PATRICK CARROLL: No, that wasn`t during - no, we didn`t do the subpoenas
that way. That was .
KORNACKI: Yeah. You`re right.
PATRICK CARROLL: It was on the motion to bring in or to sort of hold them
in -- what are we looking for?
WATSON COLEMAN: It was to decide whether or not the subpoenas that were
KORNACKI: Right. I totally .
WATSON COLEMAN: Were necessary and germane.
KORNACKI: I totally messed it up. (inaudible) who was Bill Stepien and
Bridget Kelly .
WATSON COLEMAN: Right.
KORNACKI: Bill Stepien and Bridget Kelly have refused to comply with the
subpoenas. Not just to appear before the committee, but to provide
documents to the committee. And there was a party line vote on what the
action should be there.
PATRICK CARROLL: We abstained and again, the argument was from my
colleagues mostly, was that, we didn`t have a chance to look at these
things. They were prepared in days in advance. We didn`t get them until
the day of the meeting. Which - I`m not going to suggest it`s a sin of
commission, but, again, that`s been a thing that we`ve had a problem with
on this committee is oftentimes the communication is not as it should be.
And I think as the chairman have said beforehand, we are in terra
incognita, we have never done this before.
WATSON COLEMAN: Yeah, but I think that there was nothing new that was
coming before us as it related to those subpoenas. We knew what the
subpoenas covered. We knew what those subpoenas covered. We knew what
those - who were subpoenas were directed towards. We knew what we were
asking for. We were simply determining what to do having had those
individuals plead the Fifth. And what we did was say that the subpoenas
were valid, that the information requested was germane, that the
individuals that were subject of the subpoenas were important to the
inquiry. So, I don`t know how long it takes someone to know whether or not
those few items were needed to hold bunch of debate and discussion and for
knowledge to make a decision as to whether or not we should say yes or no.
When we were also advised by our special attorney.
PATRICK CARROLL: Again, I wholly disagree. I mean by the fact of the
matter is, I`d like to have this stuff resolved immediately. And again, we
can`t discuss what we did behind closed doors and we won`t, but the fact of
the matter is from my personal perspective, the quicker we get a resolution
of that particular aspect of this case, the better off, I think, it will be
for us and for the state of New Jersey.
KORNACKI: Well, the question here, and I think the concern that`s being
raised is that this began, if you go back a month or so, this seemed to
begin as a genuinely bipartisan exercise. And when you have the vote with
the four Republicans abstaining and then you have the New Jersey State
Republican Committee this week send out an email that was attacking the
investigation, to quote from it here, "People of New Jersey deserve better
than the partisan witch hunt they are currently witnessing on television
every night. Thank you for standing with Governor Christie as he begins
his second term while New Jersey bails on the progress we`ve made over the
past four years." Other comments like this. Brian, I just look at this
and I say, are the Republicans trying to set this up to almost discredit
this as a partisan ad?
MURPHY: You know what struck me this week was when the Republicans on the
committee and, Michael, I`m not sure if you were part of this or not,
questioned the investigation moving beyond the bridge and into other areas
of abuse of power. And the thing that really stuck out at me was the fact
that the subpoenas that were issued going back to the transportation
committee before it became the special committee on investigation, from the
get go said looking into other abuse of power, demanding documents that
would deal with the G.W. Bridge or -- they didn`t even specify anything.
It was - I mean, I remember reporting on that day. Wow, look at that. Any
abuse of power, they want documents. I mean that`s like -- I don`t want to
use the term witch-hunt because, you know, that has such connotations to
it. But that`s a huge net. And it was back then, but it was stated right
there. And now the Republicans are saying, whoa, whoa, whoa.
PATRICK CARROLL: You have to understand we didn`t get -- again, I`m not -
but we didn`t get copies of those things when we were asked to approve
them. We were surprised by what came out later on because we didn`t know
what was in them. And that`s one of the problems we have with the
communication. Is that, again, I said that last time I was on here that we
felt oft times that were more audience than participants.
WATSON COLEMAN: OK, I can`t.
PATRICK CARROLL: And I think it`s important.
WATSON COLEMAN: I`m not sure that`s completely accurate. It may have
happened that way when it was simply the transportation committee that the
substance of the subpoenas hadn`t been thoroughly explored by everybody.
I`m not sure, Michael. But before the joint committee dealt with the
subpoenas, we knew what the substance looked like.
PATRICK CARROLL: Well, you may have. But I mean I`ll tell you, I didn`t -
- just not to go too far afield.
WATSON COLEMAN: Let`s not get into the meetings.
PATRICK CARROLL: One of my points is that they`ve already released the
subpoenas so we know what in them. I mean that you guys in the press have
already - by the way, that witch-hunt, I think was directed at you, not us.
PATRICK CARROLL: But suffice it to say that we did not get copies of the
documents that we were asked to approve until the meeting itself. And it`s
a lot to read when you have got 18 subpoenas with 18 riders on them. And
again, it`s - I`m not suggesting to you in any way, shape or form, that it
was a sin of commission that we were deliberately kept in the dark, but we
did not get them in advance of being asked to approve them.
KORNACKI: Well, we`ll talk a little bit about that witch-hunt accusation,
whether it`s me or somebody else they are talking about there. But we`ll
get at that right after this break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY: Prior to yesterday I believed that
if I looked someone in the eye who I worked with and trusted and asked
them, that I would get an honest answer. Maybe that was naive. But that`s
what I believed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That is Chris Christie at that now famous press conference just
over a month ago where he was saying not until January 8, 2014 did he have
any inkling of the vindictive nature of these lane closures. Now we`re in
the middle of February, Brian. I just wonder listening to this discussion
today, looking at the documents that are out there, we heard from Chairman
Wisniewski earlier about, you know, he says the documents that come back so
far have not really answered any of the million dollar questions out there.
Where do you think this is going and what do you think the timeline is
we`re looking for - looking at in terms of getting answers on this?
MURPHY: Oh, gosh. It all depends on what you guys do next, on who you go
to, and what kind of documents it can turn up. I mean it seems like this
is going on two tracks, right, the Sandy track is the one that`s being
pursued by the U.S. attorney, the Bridgegate track is the one that you are
on now. I`m not sure what will turn up. I mean, it`s just hard to say.
It seems like, you know, the thinking was if you just keep, you know, from
our standpoint, if we just keep mining these documents we`ll find
something. And we did. Where that leads - I mean it does open the door to
a number of different avenues to pursue for you guys.
KORNACKI: How essential is it to get right now Stepien and Kelly, two
seemingly central players in this, are preparing to probably have a court
fight over whether they should, you know, disclose the documents. Can you
get to the bottom of this, do you think, without those documents?
WATSON-COLEMAN: We are trying, but with all the paper trails that does
exist and all the people who have been engaged to respond, you might see
some information in one that`s not in another and let you go there. I`m
going to tell you that an essential question that needs to be answered
here, and an email goes out, let`s start some traffic problems. And it
goes to Wildstein. He says, got it. Got what? If someone sent me an
email, "Bonnie, time for some traffic problems on Route 31," I would have
sent back an email, what are you talking about?
WATSON-COLEMAN: So we have got to find out what preceded this. And so we
just need to keep moving back, moving back, moving back until we get to the
point of understanding the beginning of this.
MURPHY: What`s a small favor? I mean the small favor - I think if I was a
member of the committee, I would spend my 24 hours a day trying to figure
out what small favors means.
KORNACKI: And in the context, we were just showing - that was the text
message exchange that apparently was taking place between Chip Michaels and
David Wildstein where Chip Michaels is sending information about here is
the traffic on 95. Here is the traffic over here. And Wildstein is
relaying that information to Bridget Kelly. And says, oh, it broke a
little earlier, traffic broke a little early today on the I-95 approach.
And Bridget Kelly goes, that`s good, right? David Wildstein says that it
is. And she writes back, small favors. For what though?
THOMPSON: A small favor for what? I think what you`re going to see,
though, when you talk about Stepien and Bridget Kelly and how they`ve
withheld all of their information based on their attorneys` advice. And
I`m no attorney, I don`t play one on TV, but the attorneys that I`ve talked
to, some of the experts in the field, are telling me that, you know, this
is -- it`s a little muddy in legal law, but essentially they, a committee,
probably has a court upheld -- will have a court upheld right to get this
material. And .
KORNACKI: Do we know how long it takes, though, to go through the process?
THOMPSON: The attorneys I`ve talked to don`t think it will take that long.
THOMPSON: As soon as we get to court, they think they`ll get an almost
instantaneous answer from the lower court charge. Now, then you can appeal
it. But an appeals court also has to understand, you would think -- courts
do live in the real world. Sometimes. And you would think .
MURPHY: In New Jersey?
MURPHY: That`s a whole different world.
THOMPSON: You would think that they would know that there is this
committee that these two individuals are on and that this is trying to find
the truth of the matter and that this needs an immediate decision or as
immediate as a court deliberate decision can make. So, the legal judgment
that I`m getting on this is that once this gets into the judge`s hands,
single judge or multiple judges in the appeals court, that it shouldn`t
take that long. I don`t think we`re talking a year from now.
PATRICK CARROLL: My understanding, I think we`re going through this again,
without telling any tales, I understood that our attorney has been
instructed to try to negotiate avoiding to go to court. My thought had
been, OK, it`s exactly what you`re saying. We need that stuff. Let`s get
it. And there`s a court rule directly on point. And so, we have the right
to declare people - people in contempt but that`s worth a doughnut. I mean
it doesn`t matter. We can`t do anything better once we declare them in
contempt. A court can. So, if a court finds you in contempt for failure
to provide papers, it can throw you in the callaboose (ph). We can`t do
that. We don`t have a dungeon to the state house. So, given the, I think,
again, given the necessity for an expeditious determination on this matter,
I favor going forward as quickly as possible and then they can negotiate
while they`re doing that.
KORNACKI: And the other - the other question, though, these are all of the
mysteries that David Wildstein and his lawyer, it seems, almost
intentionally created with all of the redactions, how crucial is it and how
confident are you that you will get those redactions eliminated and you
will see the full .
PATRICK CARROLL: As I understand again, they were discussing that very
subject that council was doing it.
WATSON-COLEMAN: Yeah. Yeah.
PATRICK CARROLL: Beyond that I don`t think it`s appropriate to - but I
mean my understanding was, is that there have been some requests for
unredacted copies and that it was being negotiated.
WATSON-COLEMAN: Yeah, yeah.
PATRICK CARROLL: And who would make the judgment, though? Who would make
KORNACKI: Right. I mean is that David Wildstein`s attorney saying OK,
we`ll give you .
PATRICK CARROLL: If Reid and his - can`t come to an agreement, obviously,
this is going to have to go to the court.
THOMPSON: But I mean - if I can say it. When you say that provide
unredacted copies, provide them to whom?
PATRICK CARROLL: Well, I assume to counsel.
WATSON-COLEMAN: To the committee. To the committee through the counsel.
KORNACKI: But the counsel would see the unredacted copies.
WATSON-COLEMAN: But we`ve been longing very much on our counsel having
conversations and doing things that would help to expedite and to maintain
the sense of fairness and objectivity and I don`t know how long it will
take. I hope it doesn`t take very, very long because I think that we need
to get on with governing in the state of New Jersey and I don`t know about
my colleague here, but I feel like nothing is happening coming out of the
governor`s office. And he was elected to govern. We were elected to
legislate. We should be running - you know, doing things that get the
people`s business taken care of.
KORNACKI: And I`m in this chair to keep time, too. And I know we ran a
little short this hour because of curling. So, we have got to get out.
But I want to thank you for joining us. We`ll pick it back up in a few
STEVE KORNACKI: Almost exactly one year from now the 2016 presidential
race will have officially started. Yes, it will still be a full year then
away from the primaries. But by early 2015 candidates will start formally
declaring that they`re running, they`ll start in on raising money and barn
storming the key early states. And the debates, maybe dozens of them,
before it`s all over, they won`t be that far behind either. That`s what
we`re a year away from. There`ll be open contests on both sides in 2016.
But the Democratic race comes with a twist. It may not even be much of a
race. It`s early, but Hillary Clinton is racking up numbers that no early
frontrunner has ever, ever, racked up before. It raises the question of
whether she could become the first non-incumbent in the modern era to claim
a major party`s nomination without facing serious primary opposition.
Those kinds of expectations lead to this, the cover of the latest issue of
the news weekly, "The Week" asking whether Clinton really will be the
inevitable nominee. And that portrayal of Clinton as a 17TH century
monarch wearing a green pant suit under her robe comes on the heels of, no
pun intended, another controversial cover about Clinton, this one from
"Time" magazine showing the man about to be crushed by an outside high
"Time`s" question was the same, can anyone stop Hillary? It`s the question
that`s on everyone`s mind right now, as support for the former secretary of
state continues to surge. A new McClatchy-Marist poll out this week shows
Hillary Clinton for the first time breaking 50 percent against every
potential 2016 Republican challenger tested. Clinton has the backing of
the majority of registered voters no matter who her Republican opponent is.
And the recent "Washing Post"- ABC News poll shows her support among
Democrats is unprecedented in modern politics. She is 64 points ahead of
her nearest potential challenger, Vice President Joe Biden, and she is 70
points ahead of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. And if you`re
asking yourself, wasn`t Hillary Clinton in the lead at this point eight
years ago? These recent numbers dwarf the lead Clinton had in 2006 when she
was up by only 24 points in polls back then. Of course, at that point a
certain senator from Illinois had not yet entered the race. But her lead
the last time, the lead that many said made her nomination inevitable, that
lead was nothing compared to the support she has right now amassed. Key
Democratic operatives are also lining up behind Clinton. The 2012 campaign
manager Jim Messina recently signed on with Priorities USA, that`s the
super PAC that supported Obama in 2012 and is now backing Clinton. And
there`s been a steady drumbeat from party leaders encouraging the veteran
presidential candidate to throw her hat in the ring.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Claire McCaskill today announced that she supports
Hillary Clinton. She`s onboard. This didn`t take long.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ABC News can confirm that every Democratic woman in
the U.S. Senate has signed on to a letter delivered earlier this year
encouraging Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Run, Hillary. Run! If you run, you`ll
win and we`ll all win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KORNACKI: Chuck Schumer, always subtle there. But while the cause
for the renewed Clinton did continue to grow, as the millions continue to
flow into the ready for Hillary super PAC, some liberal commentators have
argued that Hillary Clinton with her close relationships with Wall Street
and Washington insiders is vulnerable to a populous challenger on her left.
Challenger like Elizabeth Warren who stands up to the big banks and voices
a progressive, a proudly progressive economic vision. Senator Warren has
insisted, she will not be running in 2016. But those arguments came from
the voice familiar to our audience here at MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: I come to a difficult realization. I don`t
want Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016. I do not think that she
is the right person for this moment. In a time when corporations have
hijacked our politics, enabling them to reap all the profit without feeling
any compunction to do right by their workers. Is someone who has sat on
the rabidly anti-union board of Walmart for six years the right person to
restore workers` rights? In a time when we`re still reeling from a global
financial disaster brought on by foolhardy bank deregulation, is someone
who recently took $400,000 to give two speeches at Goldman Sachs, the
person we named to wrest control of the assailant back from the banking
inmates. To be clear that I would back Hillary with all my heart against
any Republican, and I would even support Hillary over most Democrats. But
her entry into the race would likely keep out Elizabeth Warren or another
real middle-class champion. So though I admire and respect Secretary
Clinton deeply, I must say, don`t run, Hillary. Don`t run.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KORNACKI: Well, here to discuss that provocative non-endorsement is
the co-host of MSNBC`s "The Cycle," Krystal Ball. We also have Basil
Smikle, a top aide to Senator Clinton. He`s now a professor at Columbia
University and a Democratic strategist, and we have Jamelle Bouie, he is
the staff writer with "The Daily Beast." Krystal, I`ll start with you
since we played a little clip of you there. So, it sounds like you`re
saying you`re not so much against Hillary Clinton as you are against the
idea of a primary process that never gets off the ground.
KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes. That is very well said. I think that if
Hillary is not challenged at all in the primary and if she`s not challenged
from the base, progressives are not going to much like what they get in a
Hillary Clinton presidency and I do think that Elizabeth Warren is the
person who most captures where the Democratic base is, but, more
importantly, what the country needs right now. We`re in this place, we`re
in this moment where we`re slowly recovering from a recession. I think
people are starting to pick up and look around and ask themselves not just
how do we recover, but what kind of an economy do we want and what kind of
a country do we want and what kind of middle class jobs are we going to
have, and what is our future going to look like and how are rewards going
to be divided amongst people in the country? Hillary Clinton, if she`s
unopposed, is going to feel free to cater to the people who are backing her
And as we all know she has deep ties in Wall Street, deep corporate ties.
I think her instinct is to be the sort of centrist that her husband was,
more triangulating, more moving to the center wherever that happens to be,
than really challenging those on Wall Street, you know, facing economic
inequality, facing income inequality so those are my concerns and I don`t
think that it`s particularly likely that Elizabeth Warren would enter with
Hillary in the race or really another strong challenger.
STEVE KORNACKI: I think it was a letter that a group of female senators
STEVE KORNACKI: I think it was that Warren signed that saying she won`t
BALL: Right. And I expect that Hillary will run despite my request that
BALL: But I think it`s really important that we challenge her on these
issues. Because if she does run, essentially unopposed, I don`t think
we`re going to like what we get.
STEVE KORNACKI: Basil, when you hear that, what do you make of it?
BASIL SMIKLE, FMR. SEN. HILLARY CLINTON AIDE: Well, first of all, I don`t
think that the Democratic Party is going through the same kind of soul-
searching that the Republican Party is going through right now. I think we
have a - we always hear about the Democrats having a big, open tent, and I
think we do. So, I think all of the issues that you`re raising, I don`t
believe that Hillary Clinton is going to have a tin ear and not be
receptive to that. And I think you can move the agenda with Hillary should
she decide to run. You know, just traveling with her the years that I did,
she always said something that always stuck out at me, which was dare to
compete. And to me what that says is that if - whether it`s her, whether
it`s Elizabeth Warren or any other person, perhaps, to her left that wants
to run in a primary against her should do that, and I think they would be
very impactful. And again, I think it doesn`t necessarily disqualify her
from being able to address a lot of the issues that you are concerned about
in two very quick pieces. In the state of New York when she was senator
before the STEM curriculum was very popular, she was creating these biotech
co-advisor and partnering with universities and schools in New York. The
president just announced this Brothers` Keeper program to support young men
of color. She helped start an all-boys public school dedicated to young
men of color, now opening their sixth school. So, she was talking about a
lot of these issues long before they became really popular because she
understood the difference between not just income inequality, but wealth
inequality and trying to improve the pipeline for folks to move into the
middle class. So I do think that she has been good on those issues. She
just needs an opportunity to compete.
BALL: Well, and just very quickly, I mean, the piece that I`m really
concerned about here is the independents. And even with this president,
you know, we`ve seen -- we`ve been disappointed in some ways in his
willingness to push back on Wall Street because even though he had a great
grassroots base, he also was the candidate of Wall Street in a lot of ways
in 2008 in particular. I think even with the best of intentions, people
are reciprocators. So, if you are getting a ton of money from Wall Street,
which I think Hillary Clinton is likely to do, I think it`s very hard to be
independent enough to do the hard things that really need to be done right
STEVE KORNACKI: You know, when I - my take on the Obama presidency has
been for all of the drama of the 2008 Obama/Clinton primaries, I`ve often
thought the Obama presidency has played out roughly as the Hillary Clinton
presidency probably would have played out. There would have been some
different reactions from hysterical commentators opposed to each of them,
but basically, I think, from a policy standpoint they`ve played out exactly
the same. And when I look at these polls I look at where President Obama`s
approval stands among Democrats right now, very high. Where his approval
stands among liberals, very high. Hillary Clinton`s lead, I think we have
this -- this is an incredible graphic we can show. Harry Enter, actually,
a numbers guy with "The Guardian" supplied us with this. This is support
at this point in the cycle in past presidential elections, within a party,
look at some of these past nominees. I mean, you know, Bob Dole was at 29
percent around this time. Al Gore was at 45 percent. Clinton in `08 was
at 40. Today she`s at 67 percent in her own party. So, when I ask about -
what I hear about all those sort of liberal critiques of Hillary Clinton
and about this new liberal energy in the Democratic Party, when I see
members like that, I`m saying where is it really coming from? How big is
JAMELLE BOUIE, THE DAILY BEAST: I don`t think it`s that big. Rather, I
don`t think - I think it`s very loud. I think that people who are captured
by it are an intellectual class, probably it`s activist class, but as far
as the actual voters, and remember, the majority of Democratic voters are
not liberal. They are moderates, and many conservatives. Among the actual
voter base of the Democratic Party, they`re probably very happy with the
Obama presidency and perfectly happy with the sort of Democratic ideology,
Democratic policy that Hillary Clinton represents. I agree with Krystal.
I think that it would be good for the party and it would be good for
everyone in the Democratic Party if Hillary Clinton runs to get a strong
challenger. I think that challenger will lose.
BOUIE: But I think it`s a very constructive thing that happened. But I
also think it`s important to remember the extent to which the Wall Street
connections Obama has, the Wall Street connections Clinton will have, are
basically structural. Right, like you have to get money from somewhere.
"Wall Street" has money. There`s not .
BALL: That`s a sad outlook.
BOUIE: Oh, well .
STEVE KORNACKI: But I think the hope of the progressives, though, would be
like Elizabeth Warren, was not - to the Wall Street anyway to raise that
ton of money.
BALL: Yeah. And that`s a piece that I think really is in her favor. Not
to mention the fact that this is a woman clearly on a mission. You know
exactly what she stands for. You know what she wakes up in the morning to
do and what she goes to bed at night thinking about. And with Hillary
Clinton, one thing that`s remarkable is as long as she`s been in public
life, and as many great things that she champions, I supported her in 2008
largely because I thought she really got health care. I don`t know what a
Hillary Clinton platform looks like from a domestic policy perspective.
She is essentially a brank slate on domestic policy, which is really
strange, again, for someone who has been in public life so much. So, yeah,
I think it`s a huge challenge to fund a race without backing of Wall
Street, without backing of big business, but I think that`s exactly what
would be best for the country if we could have a candidate who had that
kind of independence.
STEVE KORNACKI: Well, that`s probably where some of those big numbers come
from that we`re showing, is the fact that she has been able to remove
herself from the day-to-day .
STEVE KORNACKI: political fighting. But with this - you know, national
We`ll pick it up. We`re a little off - this segment. But we will come in
right back in a couple of minutes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON: One of the best pieces of advice that I`ve ever heard
from anyone is Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1920s who said that, you know,
women in politics or in public roles should grow skin like a rhinoceros.
It`s important to learn how to take criticism seriously, but not
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KORNACKI: As Hillary Clinton speaking this week at a joint event
between the Clinton Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So,
we were - you know, Krystal was raising the point in the last segment
about, you know, what would Hillary Clinton`s platform even be, do we even
know what the Clinton platform would be? But it does - it does strike me
that that is sort of - that`s the story of the Clintons.
STEVE KORNACKI: That`s the story of the Clintons going back to when Bill
Clinton first ran. I mean I remember right as he was about to enter the
1992 presidential race, the Gulf War, the first Gulf War, you know, broke
out. And Clinton refused to take a position on it. He ducked every
reporter`s question on it. There`d been a vote in Congress to authorize
it, and he was finally cornered literally on the night of the event. This
is a huge question for presidential candidate. He said, well, I think I
would have voted with the majority, but I agree with the arguments of the
STEVE KORNACKI: That was Bill Clinton`s position on the war that started
STEVE KORNACKI: And you can look back - and people remember the Clintons,
the Bill Clinton `90s for the triangulation. And this sort of things.
Bill Clinton also ran in 1992 on a pledge to increase taxes on the wealthy
and he ran against the idea that the rich had gotten richer, you know, in
the Reagan/Bush years, and he ran on the idea that it was time for the
wealthy to pay their fair share. And a lot of inequality rhetoric. There
was a lot of - in action. I mean he actually did raise taxes on the
wealthiest. So, my impression of the Clintons is sort of like, OK, if the
party is starting to move a little bit more to the left, that`s the Hillary
BOUIE: And that`s sort of the point I was going to make earlier which is
that Hillary Clinton`s platform is going to be whatever mainstream
Democrats are concerned about. And so, that`s likely going to be sort of
improving the Affordable Care Act and let`s say, there ends up being a real
liberal push against the Affordable Care Act`s current structure and single
pair, single pair, single pair. I wouldn`t be surprised if Hillary Clinton
makes, you know, noises in that direction. Climate change, inequality,
these are the things that will animate Hillary Clinton campaign, because
generally speaking if you`re running for a major party nomination, your
platform is going to reflect the priorities of the party you`re running
for. I think sort of in goal for liberals really is to sort of like make
her campaign talk in the language they want to hear. Because it`s what`s
really underestimated is the extent to which presidents do try to match the
rhetoric of their campaign. It`s Barack Obama spent two years trying to be
a conciliatory candidate. As president - conciliatory president because of
his campaign rhetoric. George W. Bush in his first year really did try to
be a compassionate conservative. Like you mentioned Bill Clinton who
really did try to tackle inequality. Sort of simply getting a candidate to
use the language you want to use can go a long way towards meeting some of
SMIKLE: I`m sorry, and I think language is very, very important here, but
so is implementation and I think some of the positive response to Hillary
is that there was all this promise with Barack Obama, and there were a lot
of people that feel that they have somewhat of a buyer`s remorse because
they don`t think he fulfilled that promise, and whether it`s because he
didn`t believe in what he was saying or because he just didn`t find a way
to work with the legislature to get his platform implemented. And I think
in many ways people are looking at Hillary Clinton saying, you know what,
that thing about experience that she was talking about, maybe that matters,
and are looking at her and say, well, maybe she can actually implement a
lot of what she`s talking about.
STEVE KORNACKI: So, let`s get to the question. I think as we have left,
Krystal would like an open Democratic field, would like Hillary Clinton not
to run. What would it take for Hillary Clinton to decide I don`t want to
run? I want to play -- this is Reince Priebus who is responding to a
question of Andrea Mitchell about this - the whole Monica Lewinsky thing
that Rand Paul sort of brought back a few weeks ago. This is Reince
Priebus earlier this week. Just play this for a second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that a legitimate issue rehashing the `90s if
Hillary Clinton becomes a candidate for president?
REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: I think everything is on the table. I mean
I don`t see how someone just gets a pass on anything. I mean especially in
today`s politics. So I mean I think we`re going to have a truckload of
opposition and research on Hillary Clinton and then some things may be old
and some things might be new. Hillary Clinton provides a lot of
opportunity for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KORNACKI: So, here is the question, I guess that I have. Now, we
had that clip from her a minute ago talking about having the skin of a
rhinoceros and the Clintons have tried to prove that about themselves. But
look, she`s in her late 60s. She has - she lived through the 1990s. The
Ken Starr investigation, the impeachment, all the stuff that they are now
sort of bringing up now. And to me, I wonder if there`s a moment or it`s
not like, she`s afraid of reliving the `90s, but she is afraid of that -
everything that she and her husband faced in the 1990s, they then have to
face again for eight years, for a decade basically. It comes in a new
form. And, you know, we`ve been through this before. Barack Obama just
went through a version of it on his own. This happens to every Democratic
president - this - I wonder if that thinking at some point makes her say,
do I really want to spend ten years doing this.
BALL: I think people underestimate to what extent politics is a very
personal decision. You know, they think just about the poll numbers and
the sort of political calculus and that`s part of it. But it`s also a
deeply personal decision. And so, you know, I certainly don`t know where
her head is, but nobody knows better than Hillary Clinton what exactly a
presidential campaign looks like, feels like, the toll it takes on you, the
toll it takes on you, the toll it takes on your family. So, I think that
people who say she`s definitely running, I don`t think anyone can say that
at this point because it really is a very personal weighing of what is this
going to mean for me and my family?
STEVE KORNACKI: It is just - it seems like there`s almost been this - I
saw a quote this week. Somebody was - there was a story about Nancy
Pelosi. Right? So Nancy Pelosi was the speaker. And Democrats lost big
seats. They didn`t kick her out as speaker. They didn`t get it back in
2012. They still didn`t kick her out as speaker. And they interview one
of the member of the House, they say, why is there no, you know, suggestion
that Nancy Pelosi ought to step aside? And the response is basically like,
we`ve sort of figured out politics. There`s sort of this entrenched
opposition that`s kind of immovable and there`s this entrenched group
that`s kind of on our side. And I`m paraphrasing here. But - and
everything has kind of sorted out. And there are just certain things - so,
one of the things that seems to be expected if you look at the Bill Clinton
years, if you look at the Barack Obama years and you look at - if there`s a
Democratic president coming in after 2016 is, this sort of reflexive
unyielding opposition, often in .
STEVE KORNACKI: He did in intensely personal terms. Any Democratic
president is going to face.
BOUIE: Yeah. I think that`s exactly right. And I think - so, Hillary
Clinton strikes me as someone who really wants to be president in a way
that is typical of people who end up running for president. And I think
she completely understands that if she wins, if she just runs, she is going
to face it all over again. I think that - what`s in her favor, I don`t --
obviously I don`t know where her mind is, but what`s in her favor, as far
as her politics are concerned, is that a large plurality if not a majority
of voters by 2016 will have either a small memory of the `90s or no memory
of the `90s at all. I, for one, have no memory of the `90s at all.
BALL: I have a little. Steve remembers the `90s.
BALL: We`ll tell you.
STEVE KORNACKI: I have (inaudible)
STEVE KORNACKI: all the time. But that`s for another show. I want to say
thanks for Jamelle Bouie of "The Daily Beast," MSNBC`s Krystal Ball, and
Democratic strategist Basil Smikle for joining us. Still ahead, should
Michael Sam have to fit into the locker room culture of the NFL or is it
time the NFL will change its culture to make way for Michael Sam? That`s
STEVE KORNACKI: And President Obama held a state dinner this week for the
president of France. Edie Windsor was on the guest list. President even
met with her in the Oval Office that afternoon for a chat. The Supreme
Court struck down the Defensive Marriage Act last summer, and a case that
she brought, the case that had Edie Windsor`s name on it, the United States
versus Windsor, was hailed as a game changer. In the months since, states
have been recognizing same sex marriage rights with what feels like
lightning speed. Federal judges have struck down gay marriage bans in Utah
and Oklahoma. The state of Nevada says it will no longer defend the state
ban. And in Virginia on Thursday, a federal judge struck down that state`s
ban on same sex marriage. 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow
same-sex unions. The country is changing at a rapid pace and the question
now is whether that change can be measured by the yard. Is the NFL ready
to embrace what would be its first openly gay player? That story is next.
STEVE KORNACKI: One of the most remarkable things about Michael Sam`s
coming out last weekend is it wasn`t the first time. And the lead to the
interview of the Missouri defensive end to "The New York Times" was the
story of how he had told his Missouri teammates during a preseason team
building exercise last year that he`s gay. The tale of how his teammates
responded by confirming that they pretty much knew already. Quote, "I
looked in their eyes and they just started shaking their heads like,
finally he came out." He decided to come out publicly now because he
sensed that rumors were circulating. "I just want to make sure I could
tell my story the way I want to tell it," he said. "I just want to own my
And then the Missouri Tigers preceded to have a simply amazing season last
year. 12 -2 record, a division title, a trip to the SEC title game in
Atlanta. A shot until they lost that game playing for a national
championship. That conference championship game didn`t quite work out, but
they did enough winning the Cotton Bowl when the SEC announced its co-
defensive players of the year. Michael Sam was one of them. If there were
any problems in that Missouri locker room after Michael Sam`s disclosure to
his teammates, it`s clear that he and his teammate found a way to work
through them, to overcome them, and to produce what became one of the most
successful seasons in school history. Michael Sam was set to be chosen in
the early rounds of the NFL draft. That was the plan, and he`s coming out
before the draft has put him on a course to become the first publicly gay
player in the NFL.
The question, even in 2014, is whether the NFL is ready. No sooner did
"The New York Times" publish its interview over the weekend than "Sports
Illustrated" came out with its own article, quote "Anonymous Lead
Officials." This has been coach, scouts, the NFL player personnel
assistant, one former NFL general manager, none of them speaking on the
record. All of them saying that Michael Sam would fall in the draft
because of this. Claimed that his numbers are inflated. They argued that
an openly gay player could chemically imbalance NFL locker room because
football is still a men`s man`s game. Not a smart move for Sam to come out
before the draft. That was the consensus of the anonymous voices. The
league isn`t ready, they claimed, and it won`t be for another decade or
Then on Friday the NFL released an independent report confirming the
charges of Miami Dolphins Jonathan Martin who left the team in October
alleging that he was bullied by his teammates. 144-page report confirms
that three offensive linemen on the Dolphins, Richie Incognito, John Jerry,
and Mike Pouncey, "engaged in a pattern of harassment toward not just
Martin, but also another young offensive lineman and an assistant trainer."
Harassment that included racist and homophobic language and improper
touching. Incognito is said to have been the ringleader in dictating the
locker room culture. NFL hired defense lawyer Ted Wells to conduct the
investigation that led to this report. But what will it do now in the wake
of its findings? Will the league and its owners and team management say
this is just the way the NFL locker rooms can be and accept it? Or will
someone in a position of power have the vision and bravery to declare that
the time has come to change the culture over what`s acceptable locker room
The Missouri Tigers have already proven that a team can win, that football
can still be played at the highest levels after a team has learned one of
its star players gay. After Michael Sam came out to his teammates he still
led his team to victory after victory after victory, after all. That
preseason team building exercise succeeded in the ways that Missouri
coaches probably never imagined. Anyway, the NFL draft is on May 8, it`s
11 weeks from now. Which team is going to have the courage to decide that
drafting a player of Michael Sam`s caliber and character is an excellent
next step towards changing the culture of the NFL locker room from within?
To answer that we want to bring in former professional football player Wade
Davis who spent multiple preseasons with the Tennessee Titans and the
Seattle Seahawks before coming out after his retirement. He`s now the
executive director of the You Can Play project, the group that works to
promote equality in sports for the LGBT athletes. We have Selena Roberts.
She is a former sportswriter for "The New York Times" and "Sports
Illustrated" and now founder and CEO of Roopstigo.com, a digital sports
network. And Dave Matter covers the University of Missouri sports for the
St. Louis "Post-Dispatch." And out in Los Angeles, we have a man who knows
Michael Sam pretty well, that would be his agent, Joe Barkett. He is a
partner with Empire Athletes.
And Dave, I want to start with you. Because the part of the story that
interested me the most was the fact that the Missouri players knew about
this. All last season. We were always having discussions about is
football - is the NFL ready for an openly gay player, and we just found out
that one of the best teams in college football in 2012 had one, knew about
it the whole time. I wonder, is it something you covering the team knew
about and just tell us about what that season was like and how that sort of
- how that knowledge - if the players know it. How it affected them or
didn`t affect them?
DAVE MATTER, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH: You know, Steve, I first started
hearing, I`d say, in August, right around the time that Michael did come
out to the entire team, many teammates had known for years -- not many, a
handful did, that knew him well. Others had suspected. Then I heard in
August and I think other reporters that covered the team at all kind of
heard around the same time. I think a lot of us, me, myself, really
wrestled with the idea what is the journalist`s role here. We know
something that this is - would be a huge story, obviously. Everyone would
like to have that story. But we`re talking about a college kid. We`re
talking about his personal life, something he obviously wants to keep
private from the public. Otherwise he - he would have done this sooner.
And I think we all just kind of decided that - and I decided personally
this is something we have to respect. The only person that can really
break this story is not my newspaper, not a TV network. It`s Michael Sam.
And he did so, and I thought he did with a lot of grace and dignity and
courage last week.
STEVE KORNACKI: It`s amazing to me, though, because you`re talking about a
team of like 85 people, you`re talking about this huge support staff,
you`re talking about campus of tens of thousands of people who care deeply
about the football team. And that word of something like that never
managed to get out. First of all, it`s amazing to me. I`m really curious
how that happened, and second of all, it suggests how many other stories
like this are out there that we just didn`t know about?
STEVE KORNACKI: We don`t about.
MATTER: Part of it, too, and I think - I think Michael commanded a lot of
respect in that locker room. So players respected and admired him so much.
That they realize that hey, if he`s OK with this and OK with us knowing,
we`re going to respect that back and not go blabbing about his personal
life and a time will come when he wants to be public about this. And I
think they respected and I think it speaks a lot to leadership in the
locker room on that team and the coaching staff. And they didn`t, you
know, they didn`t sign a blood oath, hey, we`re not going to talk about
Michael Sam. It was just kind of understood and that`s how it just kind of
evolved over time.
STEVE KORNACKI: And, Joe, it sounds like there was some concern, more
recently about maybe losing control of the story. Michael not being able
to tell it on his own timetable. Can you tell us just about the process of
decision making to come out at this point?
JOE BARKETT, MICHAEL SAM`S AGENT: Yes, well, you know, it was always
Michael`s decision to tell his choice whenever he wanted to. And as his
agents, we laid out a few different scenarios for him, as to pros and cons
as to when he could do this, and if he even really wanted to do this. When
we were at the senior bowl in Alabama, let`s say, about two weeks ago now
there was a lot of stir from journalists around Mike. A few approached him
directly and said you`re the only reason why I`m here. Didn`t directly ask
him if he was gay, but with the questions that they were asking him, it was
very much inferred where it seemed like in our mind they had stories ready
to go and we`re looking for a comment from Mike one way or the other. And
Mike decided that if he wanted to take control of the situation, it was
best to just get his announcement out of the way.
STEVE KORNACKI: And I wonder your conversations with NFL executives, with,
you know, player personnel types, you know, before this and then after
this, you know, we talked about all those anonymous quotes in the "Sports
Illustrated" story, is that something that you are hearing?
BARKETT: No. From the front offices that we`ve spoken with, everyone is
very happy for Mike. Everything that we`ve heard from the NFL and the
teams has all been very positive. You know, I think it`s very easy to hide
behind anonymous quotes and say what you might think is on your mind, but,
you know, without having the strength to put your name by it, like Mike did
with his announcement, I really don`t put too much credence in any of it
STEVE KORNACKI: And Wade, I know you did a number of interviews this week,
but you were with Michael Sam Saturday night before this story came out?
So you got to know him personally. Just tell us a little bit about the
experience of being with him right before this went public.
WADE DAVIS, YOU CAN PLAY PROJECT: You know, well, I would say that his
agents and his team had a really good group of people together, you know,
from Chris Kluwe who (inaudible) and it was really just a celebration. You
know, Mike is just a - he`s such a stand-up guy. You know, and the moment
really didn`t overwhelm them. You know, like he understood the gravity of
what he was about to do. But he was like, look, I`ve gone through so much
tragedy in my life, that this isn`t bigger than all of that. And he`s
really just such a humble football guy. You know, and he`s just ready to
STEVE KORNACKI: That`s the other question here, is Selena. I think
somebody was telling me last night, you can take bets on anything and some
things that - that the over/under on some betting site of where he`ll be
picked in the draft is 125TH. And I was doing the math, I said that`s
probably a late fourth round. What`s your expectation about it? And do
you think this does affect his draft stock at all?
SELENA ROBERTS, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Yeah, I actually, I think that it
affects the teams that aren`t mature. I think it affects those pockets --
and we`ve seen that with the Richie Incognito news this week, and the Wells
report. That there are some teams that have some immature leadership. And
that`s not a place for Michael. I don`t` think. I think that - but there
are plenty of other teams, there are teams such as the New England
Patriots, that draft talent. They draft a guy because he`s good and they
don`t worry about the code words like distraction, which really means that
you`re not comfortable with his sexuality. That`s what it really means.
And I think that - that those teams that can - can have that experience,
can take somebody who they think is going to be an asset to the team
because of his talent, because of his leadership, because of his character,
I think those teams will do really well with Michael. I don`t think that a
team that had fostered the atmosphere that the Miami Dolphins did and I
think that goes to the leadership question that Dave was talking about,
that was a team with poor leadership. So, I don`t think that is the place
for him. But I do think that there are plenty of other teams that will
welcome and embrace him because he`s a great player and he`s a great
STEVE KORNACKI: Well, yeah, I want to pick that up because the timing is
so interesting to have Michael Sam coming out and then to have this report
about the Miami culture coming out in the same week. So, we`ll talk a
little bit more about that Miami report, how widespread that is and how
somebody like Michael Sam might change that culture. We`ll pick it up
right after this.
STEVE KORNACKI: So, we`re starting to talk about that report that came out
from Ted Wells, the lawyer who was hired to look into the situation with
the Miami Dolphins this year. His report came out this week that
established that it really wasn`t just about Richie Incognito and Jonathan
Martin, it was more systemic, there were more people involved. Just to
give you a sense of it, this is some of the stuff that we actually could
read on the air. Player "A" was Dolphins offensive lineman. Like Martin.
He`s quiet and unassuming. During his time with the team Incognito, Jerry
and Pouncey frequently taunted player "A" with homophobic insults. Player
"A," although not actually believed to be gay, was spoken to in this manner
repeatedly and persistently. He got it "every day from everybody, high
frequency." In addition, Incognito and others acknowledged that player A
was routinely touched by Incognito, Jerry, and Pouncey in a mockingly
suggestive manner. Dolphins offense and line coach Jim Turner was aware of
the running joke that player "A" was gay and in at least one occasion he
participated in the taunting. Dave, wondering what the coaching staff,
what your experience -- your observations were - Gary Pinkel, the coach at
Missouri, his assistants, it sounds like a completely different culture at
Missouri than this.
STEVE KORNACKI: What was that? How were they handling this?
MATTER: Well, you know, he`s an old school coach, he`s 61 years old, he`s
been doing this for a long time. You can say sometimes maybe set in his
ways. But I think the way he approached this and with his staff, a lot of
his staff has been with him for ten-plus years, some 20 years. They have a
culture within that team, an environment, that I think is all based on
respect. Now they have incidents like every other college football team
does, but I think it was almost went unsaid that they were going to protect
their teammate. They were going to respect him and not let some of these
things happen that you`re seeing in Miami, other teams or franchises,
around the country. And we`re talking about kids that are between 18 and
23 years old that I think showed a lot of maturity in the way that they
handled this and Mike was able to be himself. I think the teammates were
relieved when - we saw the quote earlier when he did come out back in
August because a lot of them kind of had suspected it and now they were
relieved that he was relieved. So I think it`s just an environment that
the coaching staff and Gary deserve credit for for establishing.
STEVE KORNACKI: So, Joe, we`re talking about his experience - Mike
experience at Missouri, we`re talking about the horrible situation in
Miami. I imagine part of your job right now is to be doing your homework
and to find out what those different cultures are in the NFL that are maybe
better for Michael Sam in this situation, like to avoid putting him in
Miami and maybe to put him in a New England as Selena was suggesting. Are
there certain teams you`ve already looked at and identified and said, hey,
this is just - this is not the place for him to start?
BARKETT: You know, there are, I think, good fits for Mike. But at the end
of the day, wherever he gets drafted is where he`s going to go. So, if a
team picks him, Mike really doesn`t have a say, if he wants to play for
them or not. And I find that any team - that who is going to pick Mike,
whichever team it is, it`s going to be a great fit on the football field
and I think that that will translate into Mike being in a great locker room
player and teammate as well.
STEVE KORNACKI: Well, I guess - the question, Selena. I mean just talking
about getting, you know, the right locker room setting. Would sudden the
presence of somebody like Michael Sam maybe change a locker room that
otherwise - that sort of stuff we`re seeing .
ROBERTS: Well, that`s a lot to ask of a rookie to come in and change the
dynamic of a locker room. I think with the more - the veteran players -
that are there going to be really - whether that`s going to happen or not,
but I will say that the timing of the Wells report maybe works in Mike`s
favor in this respect. Obviously, it was vulgar. It was vile, everything
that happened in Miami should not be tolerated in any workplace, much less,
you know, NFL locker room. But in a sense it calls everybody out. It
says, we`re not going to tolerate the kind of behavior to demean somebody
that dehumanizes somebody. And I think in that respect, every team is on
notice now. That if this is going on in your locker room cut it out. If
you`re a head coach and you don`t know what`s going on, find out what`s
So in respect, I think maybe this report does Michael some good, and that
everybody now is on notice that none of this behavior is going to be
tolerated and maybe that`s more of a welcoming atmosphere. Because I will
tell you this, if Michael comes in, and Michael plays well, they will
protect him like he`s the brother. And that is all that matters at the end
of the day in NFL locker room. If you`re good, they`ll protect you,
they`ll love you like a brother. And it won`t matter whether he`s gay or
STEVE KORNACKI: Also, Wade, the first big test that in terms of where he`s
going to go, what team he`s going to be is the NFL combine, is a week away.
Tell us a little bit about that and what he`s going to be facing there.
DAVIS: You know, I think that people have to realize that the combine is
pressure packed on every player. You know, so the fact that Michael is gay
is not going to add extra pressure to him. You know, like this is going to
be hundreds of scouts there and owners and front office people. So there
isn`t more pressure on him, you know, like, as a person myself who`s gone
through that. I couldn`t have added more pressure than was there. But I
think like Michael`s ready. Like, you`re not the SEC defensive player of
the year if you can`t flat-out ball, you know what I mean? I think that we
have to realize that. And also that most NFL teams are like the Missouris
of the world. Like, what happened in Miami is the exception, it`s not the
rule. And I think that we have to understand that most players like, are
much more worldly and sophisticated and welcoming. And there are plenty of
players right now who are gay on teams who just aren`t out, similar to way
Michael was in Missouri.
STEVE KORNACKI: Right. That`s my question. How many other teams are
there in the country, college, maybe even pro, while they already know, and
just the rest of us who don`t know. That was one of the questions that was
raised. But - I want to thank sports agent Joe Barkett for joining us this
BARKETT: Thank you.
STEVE KORNACKI: We`ll be right back with some final thoughts after this.
STEVE KORNACKI: I want to thank all of my guests today, because we did not
get to mention earlier on their way out, New Jersey State Assemblywoman
Bonnie Watson-Coleman, Michael Patrick Carroll, as well as Brian Thompson
from WNBC and Brian Murphy from Baruch College. Here on set, I want to
thank Dave Matter with the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," Wade Davis of the You
Can Play project, and sports journalist Selena Roberts with Roopstigo.com.
Thanks for getting up. And thank you, at home, for getting up and joining
us. We will be back for a full weekend next Saturday and Sunday at 8:00
a.m. Eastern time.
But coming up next is Melissa Harris-Perry with guest host Joy Reid on her
program today. A look at what happens when the president talks about race.
Stick around, Joy is here next.
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'Up with Steve Kornacki' for Sunday, February 16th, 2014
UP with STEVE KORNACKI