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Christie: I Apologize

Aired January 9, 2014 - 18:28   ET





ANNOUNCER; Did Governor Chris Christie's extraordinary nearly two- hour news conference keep alive his chances to be president?

CHRISTIE: I am embarrassed and humiliated, heartbroken, blindsided, but I am not a bully.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Bill Richardson, a former Democratic governor and presidential candidate, and John Brabender, a Republican political strategist.

CHRISTIE: I'm a sad guy standing here today.

ANNOUNCER: Has Governor Chris Christie saved his political future or lost it? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, one guest who's been a governor and another who helps run political campaigns.

Today Governor Chris Christie totally denied having any knowledge of or involvement in the lane closure payback scandal known as Bridgegate. While many of us, including me, were incredulous yesterday that that could be true, his performance at today's almost two-hour-long news conference made me a Christie believer. Take a look.


CHRISTIE: I am responsible for what happened. I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short. We fell short of the expectations that we've created over the last four years for the type of excellence in government that they should expect from this office. But I have repeatedly said to them that, while I promise them the best governor's office I can give them, I can never promise them a perfect governor's office. And so when I find those imperfections, those mistakes, those lies, my obligation as the chief executive of this state is to act.

I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution. And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover.

This was handled in a callous and indifferent way. And it is not the way this administration has conducted itself over the last four years and not the way it will conduct itself over the next four.

I will do everything within my power to assure the people of New Jersey of that, and I thank them for their willingness to consider my apology on behalf of this government.

And you're darn right, what they did hurt the people of New Jersey and hurt the people of Ft. Lee. And the person who needs to apologize for that is me. And I have. And I am sorry to all the people of this state that they have to be, you know, occupied with this matter. It's embarrassing. And as I said before, the whole matter is humiliating to me.

But all you can do as a person, when you know this, is to stand up and be genuine and sincerely apologize and hope that people accept your apology. I think I've built up enough good will over time with the people of New Jersey that I'm very hopeful they will accept my apology.


CUPP: Governor Christie came across as honest, forthright, contrite, sad, accountable and, I think, authentic. While there are still plenty of questions to be asked, I think today's effort went a long way in putting this behind him. I just hope he's telling the truth.

CUTTER: Well, you know what? We're finally going to find out.

CUPP: Yes.

CUTTER: Because of the way he has handled this and ignored this issue for the last four months, the FBI is now involved; the case has been referred to the Department of Justice. His staff was implicated just because of something the press discovered instead of him being responsible and taking action and getting to the bottom of it. You know, this goes at a very damaging narrative for him. And I don't think it's going to go away any time soon.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, former new Mexico governor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson and Republican strategist John Brabender.

John, what about that? Chris Christie seemed to feed into his own bullying narrative today. Let's take a look at this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I think you asked me a question the day after the election: are you willing to change your style in order to appeal to a broader audience? And I think I said no. Because I am who I am. But I am not a bully.


CUTTER: "I'm not a bully."


CUTTER: That's right.

But, you know, the evidence doesn't hold up there. Let's take a look at one more thing that I want you to take a look at.


CHRISTIE: Did I say on topic? Are you stupid? On topic, on topic. Next question.

You have numbnuts like Reed Kashora (ph). Get the hell off the beach.

You know what? First off, it's none of your business. I don't ask you where you send your kids to school. Don't bother me about where I send mine.

Thank you all very much, and I'm sorry for the idiot over there.

You know what? It's people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country.


CUTTER: That's a fraction of what's out there of him confronting his own constituents. It doesn't even include him calling a Navy SEAL an idiot, for instance.

You helped run Rick Santorum's campaign in Iowa. You were a key aide.

BRABENDER: Correct. And all the other states he won.

CUTTER: Right. And he won Iowa. How is this going to play in Iowa?

BRABENDER: Well, first of all, let me be a little bit more general, and I do a lot of crisis management. I do message training. And I believe Chris Christie knocked it out of the park. He did a couple things that were brilliant.

First of all, they didn't make the mistake of trying to rush out something yesterday. They waited for today, when they could get the narrative. They knew what the real story was. That's No. 1.

No. 2 is that they were able to announce they took action. They fired somebody. So it wasn't like "We're going to investigate this." He looked decisive.

No. 3, I think he should get bonus points that he said that he learned about this after doing his workout yesterday. So he's also laying the groundwork that he's becoming physically fit.

With that said, he also does have a reputation as a bully, which is not as negative as people think. Today we did see some humanity. He used the word "embarrassed." He looked like a real person.

But frankly, I will tell you, there are a lot of Republicans that would rather have a bully be negotiating with Iran on nuclear power, negotiate with the Russians on missile defense than somebody like Obama, who's going to whisper in their ear that he's going to be more flexible after the election.

CUTTER: You want somebody like this with their finger on the nuclear weapons of this country?

BRABENDER: I want someone who can be both a tough guy when he needs to be a tough guy but, like we saw today, he showed humility. He showed that he can also have a heart. And I thought he came across very likeable.

CUPP: It's been a long -- long way to go before he's negotiating with Russia. But I like your optimism.

Governor Richardson, I know Democrats are going to try and hang Chris Christie on this. I don't blame them. He's our top -- one of our top contenders for president. But what more do they want?

He came out today; he apologized. He spent two hours talking and taking questions from all kinds of reporters. He looked patient. He's going to investigate this.

Do Democrats run the risk of overreaching on this and looking a little desperate in the process?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW MEXICO: Well, look, let's put this in perspective. This has not been a plus for him.


RICHARDSON: Even though he might have had a decent day today. This is -- this is a tarnish on his image.

And my confession to you is that, of all the Republicans out there, the one I fear the most in 2016 is Christie. So I'm going to put that on the table.

But this has -- this has been damaging. You know, the tough guy stuff that John said, I think I agree with John. However, I mean, there are other issues here. There's potential illegality here.

CUPP: Right.

RICHARDSON: There's little kids on the bridge that can't get through. The possibility that vindictiveness, pettiness, that bipartisanship. I mean, I liked it when he and Obama were working together on that huge tragedy in his home state.

CUPP: Does this discredit that image of him?

RICHARDSON: Yes. It hurts that image, because you know, we're talking about a Democratic mayor who, by the way, is pretty colorful.

CUPP: Yes. He is good TV.

RICHARDSON: You know, they call him the Serbian. And I think this guy has handled it well. So this is not a plus for him.

CUPP: Yes.

RICHARDSON: And it's not over.

So I think what needs to happen, as Stephanie said, is you know, this is not ending. He probably had a good day today, but again in the whole context, it's hurt his image, whether -- whether he's the leader in the party or not.

CUTTER: Right, and let's remember, you know, he's getting lots of kudos for coming out and giving this press conference today, but he was forced to do this.

You know, he said unequivocally that he wasn't involved, John, but his own deputy chief of staff, his campaign manager, his top political aide, were all implicated in this. Let me read you some of the offensive texts.

This is a text that was revealed yesterday in the paper from a redacted name. We don't know who it is. "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?"

Wildstein, his top political aide: "I feel badly about the kids."

Redacted name, "I guess."

Wildstein, who's also his high-school friend, They are the children of Buono voters," his opponent in the gubernatorial race.

Now first of all, why are they redacting names? Who is that person? Who is it that's so high up there that it needs redacting? This is not about national security implications or anything that would be damaging to the ability of the government to do its job.

I mean, all of the questions that he tried to answer today, this is a big looming question. Who is this person that was redacted?

BRABENDER: Well, yes. Obviously, this isn't going away for a couple of reasons. One is you have a lot of Democrats who aren't going to let this go away, in the sense that even Democrats in New Jersey who had a deal with Chris Christie for a long time, now they're going to try to incur favor with Hillary Clinton more than anything else. And so they're going to keep this alive. The second thing, though, that you have to understand is this was not necessarily a Chris Christie scandal. This was a Christie administration scandal. It could have been isolated people. They did lie to him, and he fired them.

And I got to be honest with you, there will be a lot of people in the middle of the country, in places like Iowa, that will compare how did he do there with this crisis, how did President Obama do with the IRS scandal, and how did Hillary Clinton do with the Benghazi scandal.

CUPP: That's what I want to get Governor Richardson in on. I mean...


CUPP: A lot of Republican voters are not going to be making that connection.

We're meant to believe that Chris Christie had no knowledge of this. Right? And people not in politics don't understand how that's possible. Although President Obama has said on multiple occasions he didn't know what was going on at the NSA or with the Obama care Web site or the IRS.

You were governor. Is that plausible that he really didn't know what was going on underneath him?

RICHARDSON: New Jersey's a lot bigger than New Mexico, size wise. I had a very good staff, but I'll also be honest, I didn't know what all of my staff was doing. So you know, maybe I have a little sympathy for what the governor is saying, but at the same time it is your administration. Here I disagree a little bit with John. Ultimately the buck stops with you.

CUPP: Well, and Christie said that.

RICHARDSON: Well, and if he has people that are reacting that way, important people like head of the Port Authority or deputy chief of staff, that the guy won with 65 percent. I don't know why you need retribution...

CUPP: Right.

RICHARDSON: ... on one mayor in a small community.

CUPP: That he's never heard of, reportedly.

RICHARDSON: Right. And if that's the mentality of the staff, the danger is, if he has staff like that that are so partisan, that are so hardline...

CUPP: Yes.

RICHARDSON: ... that are vindictive, it might be a problem for him in the future.

BRABENDER: But I do think the pettiness does give a symptom of why he probably personally wasn't involved. This isn't the type of thing a governor's going to do. It just isn't.

CUTTER: Well, we'll see about that.

Governor can spend all the time he wants denying he's a bully, but there's a -- there is a pattern of behavior here. And it's not just about yelling at people. It's a real abuse of power. I'll show you some examples next.


CUTTER: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Bill Richardson and John Brabender.

At his news conference today, Governor Christie went out of his way to make us feel sorry for him.


CUTTER: Welcome back.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Bill Richardson and John Brabender.

At his news conference today, Governor Christie went out of his way to make us feel sorry for him. Yes, he spoke for almost two hour, but he mostly talked about himself, for two hours.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I am embarrassed and humiliated.

I am heartbroken.

I am sad.

I probably will get angry at some point, but I got to tell you the truth, I'm sad. I'm a sad guy standing here today and very disappointed.


CUTTER: Enough about you, Governor, the real victims are the people of New Jersey.

And there's a reason why this scandal is really settling in. It's Chris Christie's pattern of political retribution when he doesn't get his way.

Here's a sampling courtesy of "The New York Times." Christie punished a former governor by canceling his security detail. He eliminated a state senator's district after the senator criticized Christie for staying in Disneyworld during a snowstorm. And he personally canceled funding for a Rutgers University program when the professor voted against his redistricting plan.

So, John, I want to take this to you. There's a reason why this narrative is settling in and it's not because of Democrats. It's because there is a track record here.

Here's what Lindsey Graham, conservative senator from South Carolina, Republican senator, said just before the press conference. He said, "I just don't see how people that close to him could have felt comfortable enough to do this if they thought their boss wasn't of this mindset."

Now, you and I both worked for a lot of politicians. We've worked for senators, presidential candidates and we both know that the boss sets the culture. It flows down.

So, isn't Christie responsible here? He was -- he made this permissible.


CUTTER: Regardless of whether he knew about it, which we're going to get to the bottom of, he made this permissible.

BRABENDER: I will tell you, because we've worked on a lot of campaigns and I've worked closely with administrations, is that there is this political environment where sometimes there's not a lot of adults in the room. And what -- I've created many an ad at 2:00 in the morning that thank goodness I have a filter at 8:00 in the morning to say I can't run that.

The governor can't be there for everything. And if you really listen to what Christie said, it wasn't that somebody in his administration made a mistake. It was that he lied to him and he can no longer trust them.

And I can tell you, as a consultant, I can make mistakes, I can never lie to a client. And I did, they'd fire and they should.

CUTTER: So, your campaign manager is not the adult, your deputy chief of staff is not the adult. One of your high school friends who you put in charge of the Port Authority is not the adult.

And whoever is responsible for everything else that I listed are not the adults. Who are the adults?

BRABENDER: I'm not going to -- I am not going to defend what any of them did. What they did was idiotic. It should have been caught.

But that's a far cry difference saying that the governor himself was overseeing this and personally responsible. He's personally responsible because he was governor. But it doesn't mean he made the decision.

CUTTER: And for the culture.

BRABENDER: And we're going to find out if that's the case.

But let's remember something. There's a reason that a Republican who rarely wins in New Jersey not only becomes governor but gets re- elected. People there like what he accomplished and they like his style or he wouldn't be as much as he did in New Jersey.

CUPP: Governor, I thought he did great in this speech. And actually referencing himself so much struck me as very humble and trying to make a personal commentary. And actually, seemed like a page you took out of the president's handbook.

But I think he was naive on one point. He was asked whether this scandal will carry over to his job at the RGA, the Republican Governors Association, where he's just been placed as chairman. And he said no.

I find that hard to believe -- you were head of the Democratic version of that -- I find it hard to believe that Republicans running for races in 2014 are going to want to stand beside Chris Christie in the short term while this is all looming around him.

RICHARDSON: Governors are the most important players in a presidential race because governors control the political machinery in the states. So, this is an audience that Governor Christie, if he wants to be the presidential candidate has -- he has to not just please them, but they have to have confidence in him.

CUPP: Yes.

RICHARDSON: I think this confidence has been shaken by this incident. Because all of these individuals in the Republican -- they're all governors. So they know the levers of power. They know their staffs. And there seems to have been a breakdown in his staff.

And you're a good president, you're a good senator, a good governor, a lot will depend on the people around you.

And the only thing, John, that I disagree with --

BRABENDER: You already had a disagreement. This is your second.

RICHARDSON: All right. You know, Benghazi. The administration was cleared on this.

BRABENDER: By "The New York Times"?

RICHARDSON: Al Qaeda -- well, this was an internal State Department investigation.

On the IRS, the administration fired some of the culprits.

On Obamacare, I think the president had a similar press conference where he acknowledged at least with the -- with that machinery that didn't work that there was a problem. So, look --

CUPP: OK, but, John, do you agree that Chris Christie can go right back to the RGA, business as usual and get the kind of support and infrastructure --

BRABENDER: There's going to be a -- everybody's going to hold their breath --

CUPP: And wait for this to go away.

BRABENDER: -- and wait and see what happens in the next coming weeks.

CUPP: Yes.

BRABENDER: And I will say this. I think Governor Christie is a smart guy. He's not going to throw all the information he did out today if he knows that it's going to be, you know, disproven tomorrow.

CUPP: Let's hope not. My God, he left no room for --

CUTTER: He did left no wiggle room.

CUPP: Yes.

CUTTER: But the information that he put out today was simply the information that press uncovered. He wasn't transparent about this. It took him 120 days to get to the bottom of this and only because he was forced to by the media.

It's not like he took this investigation seriously. He mocked it, he ridiculed it, for 120 days. So, he could've nipped this in the bud months ago, but he didn't.

BRABENDER: He was also told by people that he trusted --

CUTTER: Just recently.

BRABENDER: -- that absolutely there was nothing that happened in this case. And he had no reason not to trust.

CUTTER: Just recently he --


CUPP: He didn't think anything was there.

CUTTER: Well, you know, he had two people resign from the Port Authority. He only recently asked his staff and pressed them on whether anybody was responsible here. And he only came out and spoke about this in a responsible way after the press broke the story.

BRABENDER: Yes. But every administration, whether it be a governor, a president -- I mean, is President Obama responsible for everything the Secret Service has done? And some of the problems they've dealt with? You want to hold that?

CUTTER: It doesn't take him 120 days. It doesn't ridicule --


BRABENDER: You look at every administration and as a governor, I'm sure, Governor, at times people in your administration did things they shouldn't, you didn't know about it, but you had to deal with it. And what we're going to find out real soon here is did Chris Christie find the culprits, get rid of them, make the right decision, show the leadership, and prove to us that there isn't anything --

CUPP: Well, and, Governor, as someone who understands how problems at home can affect national aspirations, as does Mitt Romney, as did John McCain, what advise would you give to Chris Christie in this moment?

RICHARDSON: Well, the first is that hopefully there's nothing else. And you've thrown very little -- you have no wiggle room. I would also say to him that he's got to be -- he's got to show another leaf. I mean, the American people want presidents that are bipartisan, that are conciliatory, that are issue-oriented. They don't want people with -- that have staffs that are running amuck.

CUPP: Rogue.

RICHARDSON: And here, there was an arrogance of power. And I think what the -- what I would be most concerned with Governor Christie and his administration would be was there any damage by having shut down the bridge, was the little kid going to a doctor? Is there permanent damage there? Or some transportation issues and other human issues.


RICHARDSON: That's the essence of government. How you attract and deal with people.

CUPP: OK. Well, stay here.

Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in today's "Fireback" question. Do you think Chris Christie told the truth today? We'll have the results after the break.


CUTTER: We're back with Bill Richardson and John Brabender.

Now, it's time for the final question.

S.E., you have the floor.

CUPP: Yes. Governor, I think -- I think if Chris Christie told even a small, tiny fib today, he is toast. Because he stood there for two hours basically saying, again, leaving no wiggle room to get out of this.

But if he's telling the truth, is this survivable for his 2016 presidential bid?

RICHARDSON: He's lucky that it happened so early in the presidential bid if there is going to be one. I'd give him a little bit of a benefit of the doubt here. However -- however, I think this is showing a pattern of his behavior, his style, which may really grate on people. But most importantly, the staff -- you have to have a top staff, you have to have people that tell you when you're wrong as much as you dislike it. You have to tell people that are issue-oriented that it's not just politics. That it's serving the people. I think that's his bigger, long-term --

CUTTER: Yes. And 2016, you have lots of experience in this -- which Republican was helped the most by this scandal? Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum?

BRABENDER: Yes, I don't think you can look at that way for this reason. Right now, who is probably the most popular Democrat in the country? Bill Clinton. You can get through a lot of scandals and still be very popular.

And, look, I think that Santorum goes up. I think that, you know, and other than that --

CUTTER: Rick Santorum --

BRABENDER: And other than that, I think they've all dropped.

CUTTER: OK. Very safe answer.

Thanks to Bill Richardson and John Brabender.

CUPP: Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in our "Fireback" question. Do you think Chris Christie told the truth today?

Right now 28 percent of you say yes, yikes; 72 percent say no.

CUTTER: The debate continues online at, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.