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THE SITUATION ROOM
Christie: "I Am Not A Bully"; Hospital Trip "Seemed To Take Forever"; Obama Considers New NSA Referrals; 2013 One of Safest Years to Fly; Rodman Apologizes for Explosive Interview; Buzzing about Bridgegate
Aired January 9, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Jake, thanks very much.
Happening now, breaking news -- Chris Christie drops the swagger, saying he's humiliated and embarrassed, spending nearly two hours apologizing for an apparent political vendetta that put a New Jersey city in gridlock.
Now, Christie apologizes in person to the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. And in his first interview since meeting with Governor Christie, Mayor Mark Sokolich will join us live for a SITUATION ROOM interview.
Plus, there was another big apology today, a rather bizarre end to what was a very bizarre trip to North Korea. The former NBA star, Dennis Rodman, says he's sorry for his behavior in a CNN interview and explains why he was so rude.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He may dream about a 2016 White House run, but right now, Chris Christie is in the middle of a political nightmare. And he woke up this morning to newspaper headlines like these, a day after e-mail surfaced indicating that aides plotted a massive traffic jam to punish a political rival and his entire town, Christie today apologized over and over again.
For nearly two hours, he stood taking the heat and the responsibility, but insisting he knew nothing and had no involvement.
Right afterward, a fired Christie appointee refused to testify before New Jersey lawmakers, who are holding him now in contempt. And federal prosecutors are also looking into this entire mess.
Christie has just left the City of Fort Lee after personally offering his regrets.
And we're waiting for Mayor Sokolich, who will join us for his first meeting since that meeting with Governor Christie.
We'll have full coverage of this extraordinary story this hour. John King is in Trenton, New Jersey.
John Carroll is in Fort Lee.
But we begin with our chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, who's been watching all of this with riveting attention.
JAKE TAPPER, HOST, "THE LEAD": It's an incredible story. And for those of us who have been following Governor Christie for some time, we've seen candid Christie, we've seen feisty Christie, we've seen blunt Christie. Today, we saw a new character, chastened Christie.
TAPPER (voice-over): Famously blunt but caught flat-footed by scandal, Governor Chris Christie finally entered the fray himself this morning, apologetic and, he said, heartbroken.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.
TAPPER: Echoing the words of yesterday's written statement, Christie asserted his ignorance of the e-mails and text messages that showed some of his top staffers conspiring to shut down the George Washington Bridge in an act of political payback.
CHRISTIE: 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.
TAPPER: He said heads have already rolled, including his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, whose name is all over the e-mail and text message chain.
CHRISTIE: And I've terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly effective immediately. She was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied, because it was so obvious that she had.
TAPPER: Two-time Christie campaign manager, Bill Stepien, was also fired, less than a week after being nominated by the governor to be the next Republican chairman for the state.
CHRISTIE: If I cannot not trust someone's judgment, I cannot ask others to do so and I would not place him at the head of my political operation.
TAPPER: It remains unclear if Christie's press conference today, 108 minutes long, can remove the stain of yesterday's explosive release of e-mails and text messages, just two months after he won his second term in a landslide victory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM NOVEMBER 2013)
CHRISTIE: When they walked into the voting booth today, they didn't say, hey, I don't know who this guy is and what he stands for, what he's willing to fight for, what he's willing to do when the chips are down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The scandal hits at the heart of Christie's carefully honed image as a straight-talking, no-nonsense governor interested in bipartisanship and efficiency. The one-time U.S. attorney, who specialized in cases of political corruption, is now facing the possibility of an investigation into his administration by the U.S. attorney of New Jersey.
Christie said he hoped to meet with the mayor of Fort Lee, the apparent target of the political vendetta, and he pledged to visit with the residents of the town and personally apologize to the commuters affected by the traffic jam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't really believe him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you imagine this guy with foreign policy?
TAPPER: But the mayor said he wasn't so sure that was a good idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY NEWS 12)
MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH (D), FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY: It's just going to cause more chaos in Fort Lee. We don't need it at this point. And I've got to tell you, I think he ought to wait for this investigation to conclude. Otherwise, we're going to be spending a lot of gas coming up and down the turnpike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: When we spoke to Christie last Election Day, we talked about apologies in the context of President Obama's broken promise that if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.
CHRISTIE: Here's what my suggestion would be to him. Don't be so cute. And when you make a mistake, admit it. So you know what, I said it, I was wrong. I'm sorry and we're going to try to fix this and make it better.
TAPPER: Today it sounded as if he was taking his own advice.
CHRISTIE: When mistakes are made, then I have to own up to them and take the action that I believe is necessary in order to remediate.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TAPPER: And just a few minutes ago, Governor Chris Christie left the mayor's office in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He called it a productive meeting and said that it went well. I guess we'll hear more on that coming up.
BLITZER: Yes. We're going to be speaking to the mayor momentarily, Mark Sokolich. He's going to be joining us in his first live interview following that meeting.
His problems, Christie, from your perspective and my perspective, are not over with yet. There's still a long way to go.
TAPPER: Well, and you also have Democrats in the legislature there who are going to hold investigations and call hearings and have -- we haven't heard from Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who was fired. We haven't heard from the former campaign manager who Christie let go today, as well. There are a lot of people who have not given their side of the story.
BLITZER: We'll see if they plead the Fifth, like David Wildstein, the former official at the -- who worked on that bridge, in that -- in New York and New Jersey. He pleaded the Fifth. He took the Fifth today before his testimony before the legislature. We'll see if these others also plead the Fifth -- take the Fifth.
TAPPER: And even if they do, that doesn't mean that we're not going to ultimately hear their stories in some other way.
All right, thanks for that, Jake.
Let's go live to Fort Lee right now.
This is the city that was virtually brought to its knees by those politically-inspired traffic jams.
Chris Christie has been there -- he just left a little while ago -- to personally apologize to the mayor, Mark Sokolich. And once again, we're going to be speaking with that mayor shortly.
Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is on the scene for us.
Set the scene for us a little bit -- Jason.
What's going on in Fort Lee right now?
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, things are just breaking up now, Wolf. But there were a crush of reporters here, as you can imagine, when the governor arrived, just a little bit more than an hour ago. He met with the mayor for about 40 minutes.
When he came down the steps, he described the meeting as being warm, cordial. He said it was productive. He said he did apologize during that meeting to the mayor and also to the people of Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Once again, when he came down, he spoke just very briefly.
I want to listen to a little bit of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: We had a very good and productive meeting and I have great respect for the mayor. We had a very good conversation. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us what was said, Governor, during that meeting?
CHRISTIE: I just did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take a lie detector test.
CHRISTIE: It was a very good, productive meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) better that you met him?
Governor, do you feel better now that you met him?
CHRISTIE: Yes, I do.
CHRISTIE: We just -- listen, we had a very good, productive meeting and absolutely he did. And I'm -- and I look forward to working with him in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL: Now, Wolf, as you know, there's been a lot of back and forth in terms of whether or not this meeting was actually going to take place. The governor saying earlier, during that marathon press conference, that he wanted to come to Fort Lee, that he wanted to personally apologize.
The mayor, Mayor Mark Sokolich, basically saying he didn't feel as though that was a good idea. He thought it would be disruptive for the community.
But once the governor heard word of that, he said he was coming anyway and if the mayor didn't want to meet with him, he would meet with other people.
The mayor then changed his mind and said that he would welcome the governor here, which he did.
Obviously, now, the question is what, from the mayor's perspective, does he have to say?
And he will be speaking to you later in the show -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, we're waiting. We're standing by to speak to the mayor, Mark Sokolich, and get his reaction. He'll take us inside that room and tell us what it was like to meet with Governor Christie.
Jason, thank you.
Christie is used to calling the shots and used to dishing it out. But today, he was on the receiving end. Our chief national correspondent, John King, was in the room as Christie got nearly two hours worth of grilling questioning from the reporters.
John is joining us from to Trenton right now -- John, let's not forget, this is a man who, by all indications, would like to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2007. He's someone who was considered one of the top candidates for that Republican presidential nominee. That's why there has been, at least in part, so much in interest in this story.
But take us inside that room.
How did it go?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: T was a fascinating, nearly two hours, Wolf, of political drama, and some theater, as you know, packed with reporters, packed with still photographers, packed with television cameras and, also, a large contingent of Christie's senior staff. They stayed against a wall watching him every second, just intently staring at the governor to see how he would perform at this defining political moment.
As you noted in the conversation with Jason, he apologized repeatedly. He said he was embarrassed. He said he was humiliated. He said he was determined to get to the bottom of this. And most importantly politically and legally going forward, he said he had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Should that hold up, Governor Christie's performance today will be held out as part of how you handle a crisis.
So, but Wolf, you know, it was just a fascinating moment. He often cuts reporters off if he doesn't like their questions. One reporter, during the press conference, asked a question that had just been asked by the previous reporter. He obviously wasn't paying close attention.
That is a trademark chance for Christie to snap. He did not. He stayed calm. He stayed calm. He answered all the questions politely. He looked reporters in the eyes as he was answering them, he never got riled up. It was more than an hour before there was any laughter in the room, because it was pretty serious as he answered all the questions.
And then he left and he said thank you, and he promised -- and this is a key part of this, as the investigations go forward -- he said if he finds out anyone else on his staff had any involvement, he will quickly bring that information to the public.
So this, as you were just noting, Wolf, this is not over. It's just the beginning but an important day for Governor Christie to face the media today.
BLITZER: And let's not forget -- let's not forget, John, that there are a lot of investigations underway, local investigations, state investigations, federal. Now the federal government is involved. The U.S. attorney for New Jersey is looking into all of this.
I assume there will be a drag on Christie's administration as governor right now.
KING: Think of how much his stature, his standing, his potential standing, anyway, has changed just in days and a couple of weeks here. He wins that landslide reelection campaign. He makes inroads among Democrats, inroads among Latinos, inroads among African-Americans. He's the only Republican, if you give voters a list of a dozen potential candidates, who runs even. He actually beats Hillary Clinton by a point or two.
So he went wow in the national polls. Now there's a giant question mark.
His state of the state address is next week, Wolf. After this election, he thought he had a huge mandate. Now a lot of Democrats here in Trenton are saying this makes him vulnerable. They can stand up to him. They can do more political battle with him.
He needs success at the state level as he starts to travel the country in 2014 and into 2016. So there's no question, a guy who had a huge wind at his back now has a bit of a wind in his face, as he deals with these investigations.
The key thing is he needs to be proven right. If anything he said today turns out to be wrong, as even some Republicans are saying, that would make him toast. But then he also needs to prove that beyond the investigations, he could quickly get his political feet back, if you will, and advance his agenda if he wants to be able to travel the country over the next two years saying, look what I'm doing, look what I've done, back home in New Jersey.
BLITZER: Well, let's not forget, in addition to being the governor of New Jersey and maybe a presidential candidate, he's just been elected the chairman of the Republican Governors Association across the country. So he's got a lot going on right now.
John, thank you.
Coming up, after getting a personal apology from Governor Christie for those traffic jams that snarled the city, Fort Lee's mayor is standing by. He's getting ready to join us for the first interview since that meeting.
And the massive gridlock may have had grim consequences for Fort Lee residents. We'll go back there. We're on the scene.
BLITZER: The Fort Lee mayor, Mark Sokolich, now briefing reporters following his meeting with Governor Christie saying they had a very productive cordial meeting. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH, (D) FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY: That it is an ongoing investigation. There is a lot more information that I think needs to be reviewed. I think that the committees going through all of that and all the other investigative agencies are dealing with this issue and I think we both agree, or at least I definitely agree -- I'm pretty sure the governor shares these thoughts -- that, you know, to a certain extent, we have to wait to see what else transpires.
But from the governor's office and its relationship with the borough of Fort Lee, we believe that today's meeting went in a very productive course of action, and we're content at the moment and the investigation will tell us the balance of what needs to be told.
SOKOLICH: I accepted his apology. Yes, I did. You know, we did. The governor of the state came here. You know, and I just wanted to also clarify something, you know, when I was also speaking to you folks while the governor was conducting his press conference, I had indicated that, you know, maybe it wouldn't be productive to come up now. And I explained to the governor that wasn't to be disrespectful.
It was just to, would it make more sense to do this once the investigation was concluded. The governor respectfully insisted and we certainly would welcome any governor and especially our governor, the new state of New Jersey, with open arms as we did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you glad he came?
SOKOLICH: I'm glad he came.
SOKOLICH: I'm glad he came.
I take him for his word, which is, he had nothing to do with it. And, I said this once, I said this 100 times, we in Fort Lee are not rooting for facts to, you know, come about and surface that would suggest in some shape or form that he was involved -- we don't -- we take him for his word.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He knows who you are now.
SOKOLICH: He does. He does.
SOKOLICH: You know, close might be a stretch. I will tell you, at the end I did say, "Governor, am I on your radar? I think his answer was something to the effect that, "we now have our own screen," which I thought was pretty funny.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- traffic shut down on a lane here, is there an irony here that traffic was shut down to the governor --
SOKOLICH: -- to you guys to make that decision. That was a safety plan, and actually, we had conducted a couple of studies before he arrived.
SOKOLICH: All right, guys. Thank you very much for your patience. Goodnight, all.
BLITZER: All right. So there he is, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark Sokolich briefing reporters there at city hall in Fort Lee following his meeting with the governor, Chris Christie, saying it was a productive meeting, saying he originally had some reservations about wanting to meet with the governor on this day, but the governor insisted, he welcomed him.
We're going to have an opportunity to speak with the mayor, Mayor Sokolich, here in the SITUATION ROOM shortly. We've got lots of questions for him. Hopefully, he'll take our questions. We'll continue our special coverage on this and all the day's other important news. We'll take a quick break. We'll be back in the SITUATION ROOM right after this.
BLITZER: New Jersey's governor has a reputation as a tough guy. He wants things done his way or else. He's also seen by many as an outright bully, but as he stood for nearly two hours apologizing for political vendetta said to be organized by some of his senior aides, we saw a different Chris Christie seemingly humbled and embarrassed.
So, which is the real Chris Christie? Our Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story for us. And Brian, what do you see?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the answer may well be that the real Chris Christie is the opportunistic one. When it's helped him to be the tough guy, even the bully, he's done today. Today, he needed to be the contrite, betrayed leader. But many believe Christie's pattern of behavior gives the clearest picture.
TODD (voice-over): This isn't the Chris Christie many of us expected to see, humbled, apologetic.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: I am not a bully.
TODD: And yet it's that jersey tough-guy style which launched him to political stardom.
CHRISTIE: Are you stupid? On topic. On topic. Next question. Good. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all very much and I'm sorry for the idiot over there.
It's none of your business.
I'll ask you where you send your kids to school. Don't bother me about where I send mine.
And you know what, and you know what, let me tell you this. You know what, it's people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country. We're here to bring this country together, not to divide it.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TODD: According to the book "Double Down" about the 2012 campaign, Christie insisted that Mitt Romney get his approval to raise money in New Jersey. The authors say Romney wasn't pleased, quote, "It was like something out of the "Sopranos."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're running a business here.
TODD: But with his sight set on 2016, has Christie gone soft?
PROF. MATTHEW HALE, SETON HALL UNIVERSITY: Governor Christie has spent a good part of the last year trying to run away from the idea that he's a bully. This whole incident just blew that out of the water.
TODD: Between his elbows out style and this bridge scandal, is Chris Christie losing fans? We ask people in D.C. and New Jersey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I were to question him in six months, you know, people would say, hey, you know, we don't trust this guy, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like his style. He's very blunt. He's out there. He's different compared to other politicians and his own party that just beat around the bush.
TODD (on-camera): New Jersey political analyst, Matthew Hale, says Christie did help himself with that news conference today, but he's got to stay in front of this. Hale says he has to be engaged with the investigation into the bridge scandal. And Hale says if Christie doesn't do that or if information comes out that he knew of the bridge closing around the time it happened, the scandal is not over, Christie's over -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, I know your team, our team is in New Jersey. Brian, they've taken a sampling of some of the people on the street as far as Christie is concerned. Were you surprised by what we heard?
TODD: I'll tell you, Wolf, I was very surprised at least here in D.C. And from what I saw from our teams in New Jersey, surprised that the balance of opinion tilted so heavily in Christie's favor. Despite the scandal and how bad it looks for him and his administration, the majority of people we sampled today say they still like the guy. They like his honesty, his bluntness, even the shortcomings, the temper they think are refreshing. It's his humanity that they're drawn to.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Brian, thank you. Coming up, more on this story, including Christie's political future as he toasts some of suggested or could he still wind up in the White House. Our special panel is standing by.
BLITZER: The massive traffic jams triggered by a political dirty trick may have had some grim consequences for residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey. CNNs Alexandra Field is joining us now. She's there and she's been speaking with folks who are directly affected. What are you learning, Alexandra?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question on everyone's mind here in Fort Lee is what we're truly the consequences of that traffic jam and what can be blamed on that traffic jam, itself. We know that when that jam was ongoing, the (INAUDIBLE) here in Fort Lee said that it was tying up emergency response time. He pointed to the case of a 91-year-old woman who died in the hospital following a heart attack.
He said that paramedics tied up in traffic, weren't able to reach her home. They had to reach her on her way to the hospital. We are now hearing from a New Jersey woman who says the 91-year-old victim was her mother, Florence Geneva (ph). Geneva's daughter, Vilma, says that a home health aide called 911 after her mother went into cardiac arrest and here's what that health aide told Vilma about what happened next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VILMA OLERI, DAUGHTER: I just remember her saying to get to the hospital. It seemed to take forever to her, that it should have been quicker.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: Now, Vilma is obviously expressing her frustration about the situation that has unfolded since her mother's death as she continues to learn about these traffic jams, but she was asked if she thought the delays in getting her mother to the hospital could have attributed to her mother's death and here's what she said to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLERI: No, I really don't think so. No. I really don't -- I think she was 91 and I believe in my heart that she was already gone when the ambulance got there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: Those are the words from Geneva's daughter, Vilma. Meanwhile, the (INAUDIBLE) did come out during those traffic jams back in September saying that in at least four cases emergency response time was delayed. Calls that should have taken a few minutes took as much as three times that amount, Wolf. BLITZER: Alexandra, thanks very much for that update. Let's continue our conversation. Joining us now our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, along with CNN "Crossfire" co-host, S.E. Cupp, and CNN political commentator, Charles Blow. Gloria, let me play you another clip. Chris Christie today ultimately explaining his deep regret, his apology.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch. The good and the bad. And when mistakes are made, then I have to own up to them and take the action that I believe is necessary in order to remediate them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So did he go along way in cleaning up this mess from his personal perspective?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He did most of what he had to do, Wolf. I would say today that he apologized to the people of Fort Lee. He expressed a lot of contrition. He said he never saw this as political retribution because he actually didn't know the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. He distanced himself from this. He fired a couple of people.
What he did not do, as far as I'm concerned, is really explain the why of this, which is, why would people in his office think that doing such a thing, a callous and stupid thing, as he called it, why would they think that would make him happy and what does that tell us about the way he operates as a governor. He didn't have an answer to that.
BLITZER: And was this just an isolated incident or will we learn more of incidents along these lines in the days and weeks to come. Jeffrey, last night, I was watching you on CNN and you said Christie was, quote, "done, over, absolutely." You now heard a nearly two-hour explanation on his point. Do you still believe that?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think politically he's in a world of trouble. Remember, this is a Republican who isn't even really liked by the base of his party. This is not -- he is not where the contemporary Republican Party is. So he has an uphill battle to start with and, you know, this story -- this is not the beginning of the end. This is the end of the beginning.
Now we start to hear from the other characters in this play. We see one of them who took the Fifth. What do the other records show? If this unfolded precisely the way Christie said, well, then he's in better shape. But, you know, stories tend to get complicated when you look into them and there are going to be a lot of people looking into this story and I don't think we've heard the last word.
BLITZER: You know, Charles, you wrote this before the news conference. You wrote, "The larger-than-life, from-the-hip, quick- with-the-tongue paladin of the Palisades, Chris Christie is beginning to emerge as a small, petty, and vindictive." After you heard him today, do you still believe that?
CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I believe that this pushes him further in that direction, absolutely. I think that what he did today what he -- the best he could do. He apologized. If what he says is true at this point, I cannot believe what he says. I don't have -- I have no way of knowing whether it's true or not true. But I -- you can't take it at face value because the last time that he was before a camera, when he was first asked about this, and people were asked if it was true, he was trying to laugh it off and joke it off.
And he said today that the reason he was doing that was because some of his aides lied to them and today he came out and said that now he's talked to more of them. But there's no -- you know, there's no way to know if more of his aides didn't lie to him.
People tend to lie to keep job. That happens, right? When people get in trouble, they may lie to keep their job. So now it's up to investigators and possibly grand juries, people to figure out what -- the facts are. And I do agree with Jeffrey which is that when you start digging, you find things.
There is always something else to be found. No one wants everything that they do to be dug through because if you look through all of it, 99 percent of what I do maybe on -- above four, but you will probably find 1 percent of something that is -- that you don't want to find.
And I don't think that that happens with political candidates in general particularly with people who want to be on the national stage and possibly presidential candidates. And that is definitely going to happen with Christie and it's going to happen much sooner than he would have liked.
And if he gets bogged down and people digging through Jersey politics which are messy before he even gets a chance to go on his tour as president of the governors -- the Republican Governors Association, and build this brand and say, look back at New Jersey and what we've done and what you've done is clogged up traffic and shut down bridges, and what you've done is allow people in your administration, whether you knew it or not, to exact for political revenge on people who are not on your side, that is not going to look good for him.
BLITZER: All right.
BLOW: I do think that all of that makes him look small.
BLITZER: S.E., what do you think?
S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": I think he's in a markedly better position today than he was yesterday. I'm in the camp of folks yesterday who thought there is no way this doesn't come back to him somehow. I saw those e-mails. I thought, there's no way.
And actually, in his press conference I thought he did a really good job convincing me and the people that he was blindsided. Now everyone on this panel is right. We're going to get more information. This is not the last of the questions that will be asked. There's going to be more investigating. Now it's maybe going to the Justice Department. That's going to be messy.
At the very least it will paint a very ugly picture of politics in Trenton and that's not anything that Chris Christie wants to carry around in a presidential campaign and at the worst, I think if one iota of something that Christie said today proves to be false, he's done. Cooked. Because his whole authenticity mantra and these bold- faced lies he told if not true will completely ruin the credibility and any faith he gained back today.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, I want to play another clip of Christie at the news conference when he got sort of emotional.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: A person close to me betrayed me. A person who I counted on and trusted for five years betrayed me. A person who I gave a high government office to betrayed me. I will probably get angry at some point. But I've got to tell you the truth, I'm sad. I'm a sad guy standing here today. And very disappointed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's referring to Bridget Anne Kelly. His deputy chief of staff, not some low-level -- the deputy chief of staff to the governor of New Jersey.
BLITZER: Someone who's worked with him for five years.
BLITZER: And he wasn't the only one betrayed here. I mean, the people of the state of New Jersey were betrayed here. It wasn't just personal to Chris Christie. And obviously I also think he's angry, he may be sad, but he's angry, too. But the people of New Jersey were the ones who were sitting on that -- on that bridge and tied up in traffic, and, you know, not just Chris Christie.
Look, I think the strategy here was high risk and high reward potentially, reward if it all turns out to be true, high risk because there were a lot of absolute -- as S.E. points out today, that were delivered. A lot of absolute. I didn't know. I looked on my iPad. I was exercising. That's how I found out. These people lied to me.
CUPP: They have no room. No room.
BORGER: There was nothing.
BORGER: So --
CUPP: That is risky. BORGER: High risk, high reward.
BLITZER: You know, as far as the legal point, Jeffrey, let me bring you into this, because I was sort of surprised that -- as quickly as it happened that one of these associates David Wildstein from the Port Authority in New Jersey and New York who had resigned a few weeks ago, maybe as a result of this, maybe not. He was there testifying before the state legislature at a committee and he took the advice of his attorney, pleaded the Fifth, refused to answer any questions.
What do you make of that?
TOOBIN: Well, I think nine out of 10 criminal defense attorneys would have given exactly the same advice. This is a highly volatile situation. And if you're the lawyer who has just been brought in as I believe this lawyer is, you don't want your client testifying until he has seen all the documents that are available, until he has gone over all the substance of what he knows with his lawyer, sort it out, prepare to testify under oath.
People are aflame about this and this is a perfectly understandable initial response. You know, he may not have this choice forever. He may get immunity from the grand jury. He may get immunity from some other government body and in that case he'll have to testify and chances are that will become public.
Same thing, perhaps even more importantly, with Miss Kelly, she probably will be taking the Fifth right away but their stories will come out and if they conflict with Chris Christie's, then the story gets a lot better.
BLITZER: Never looks good when a witness asks to plead the Fifth and say I have the right to remain silent, that's looks awful even though, of course, there's nothing illegal about that. That's the person's right under the United States Constitution.
Jeffrey, Charles, Gloria, and S.E., guys, thanks very much.
So can Governor Christie still make a go of it in 2016? CNN's "CROSSFIRE" team will have a lot, lot more on this story, that's coming up in an hour. "CROSSFIRE" at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.
Up next, we're going live to Fort Lee, New Jersey, again. The town at the center of all of this. The mayor, Mark Sokolich, he's standing by. We'll discuss.
BLITZER: Day after meeting with the nation's spy chiefs, President Obama sat down with lawmakers as he weighs new rules on NSA surveillance programs.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.
I know you're learning some of the details of what's going on? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The meeting went on for 90 minutes today. I'm told by two people who took part in this meeting that an hour of that was focused on the bulk collection of phone metadata.
Now the president has indicated he is open to change to bulk collection and we learned today of three other reforms the president is seriously considering, including making public exactly how many times the NSA queried phone companies and exactly how many people's records were affected.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): With his decision on NSA reform looming, today the president met face-to-face with key members of Congress, including some of the NSA's most ardent critics. Senator Mark Udall told us most of the meeting was focused on the government's bulk collection of phone metadata which he and others there sharply opposed.
SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: We urged him to throttle back the collection of metadata on a bulk level. I hope he listens. I hope he will follow the panel's recommendations.
SCIUTTO: CNN has learned the White House is giving serious consideration to several new reforms, including new rules addressing the insider threat in the wake of Edward Snowden.
EDWARD SNOWDEN, FORMER NSA LEAKER: End mass surveillance.
SCIUTTO: Including improving the issuing of security clearances and limiting access to classified networks by system administrators to better audit who can access what records. Setting standards for encryption to make clear the NSA will not break encryption for commercial spying or to disrupt the financial system.
And issuing new transparency reports, detailing exactly how many times the NSA queried phone companies and how many individuals' records were actually exposed.
Peter Swire is on the president's Intelligence Review Panel.
PETER SWIRE, GEORGIA TECH UNIVERSITY: I think it's really how many times they've queried a particular company for law enforcement or national security reasons and for that query how many people's records are being looked at. I think there's a belief out there sometimes that these searches are broader than they really are.
SCIUTTO: Today the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee released details of a classified Defense department report which found Snowden's disclosures may jeopardize the lives of U.S. soldiers in the field, cause a failure of current military operations, and may have already tipped off enemies to U.S. defense methods.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: The sources of that classified report, Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, say that while much of the focus so far has been on the NSA's foreign intelligence collection, that much of the information stolen by Edward Snowden is actually related to current U.S. military operations and it is their assessment that this release could have lethal consequences, Wolf, for American troops in the field.
BLITZER: And the president will be, as you say, making an announcement of his reforms within the next few days, maybe later this week, next week?
SCIUTTO: That's right. At least the next couple of weeks, certainly before the State of the Union address.
BLITZER: January 28th. All right. Thanks very much for that.
And we're just getting this, coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
The FBI is assisting the U.S. attorney's office to see if any federal laws were broken in the unfolding political scandal surrounding the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. That according to a law enforcement source who briefed our justice producer Shimon Prokupecz. Agents assigned to the bureau's Public Corruption Unit, they are working with the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey which has said it's reviewing the situation clearly.
The federal investigation into what's going on in New Jersey only just beginning.
Just ahead, it's the bizarre interview seen around the world and now Dennis Rodman has just one thing to say. Sorry.
And Chris Christie's scandal is capturing headlines everywhere. Jeanne Moos will bring us all the buzz about what's now being called Bridgegate.
And just ahead at the top of the hour, my live interview with the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. We'll get his reaction to his meeting which just ended with Governor Chris Christie.
BLITZER: A surprising report reveals that 2013 was one of the safest years on record to fly despite a number of high profile airline crashes that occurred.
Let's bring in CNN's Rene Marsh. She's been working the story. She's got the details.
Tell us what you know.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you've seen the catastrophic images. They often grab headlines. We're talking about airplane crashes, but the perception of safety doesn't match reality. Last year happened to be one of the safest years in aviation. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
MARSH (voice-over): A camera rolling when a Russian airliner crashed and exploded. Fifty people killed in 2013's deadliest crash.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. Oh, it's an accident.
MARSH: Asiana Flight 214 killed three and injured 180 in San Francisco. Two of the 29 fatal plane crashes around the world last year. But as horrific as these were, 2013 was one of the safest years to fly on record. The safest in fatalities and the second safest in number of crashes.
STEVEN WALLACE, FORMER DIRECTOR, FAA OFFICE OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION: Flying, there are a million analogies. You're more likely to die from a fall in the bathtub or a bee sting. And those are all actually true.
MARSH: Steven Wallace led the FAA's Office of the Accident Investigations. He says data proves flying is still the safest mode of transportation.
According to Aviation Safety Network, there were 265 fatalities worldwide last year, a record low. Wallace says better technology is one reason.
WALLACE: Things like pressurized airplanes that were able to fly above most of the bad weather. The jet engine which is way more powerful and way more reliable. We came up with electronic devices that catch human errors.
MARSH: Seventeen years ago a White House commission published a dire prediction. Unless the global accident rate is reduced by the year 2015, an airliner will crash somewhere in the world almost weekly. The dire prediction never materialized.
WALLACE: The way the aviation committee is looking now to do -- to take an excellence rating agency and make it even better is to see trends in the data before those trends become catastrophic events.
MARSH: Well, because the number of accidents has trended down so much, the challenge now is finding data to analyze to further improve safety. So the industry is encouraging pilots and others to self- report incident and behaviors that could be dangerous. They're looking for trends in that data that could detect problems before they actually cause a crash.
BLITZER: Eighth year. I'm really impressed. I did not know that. Thank you, Renee.
This programming note, please be sure to join us tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern for the CNN film "SOLE SURVIVOR." When the only person to survive a 1987 plane crash that killed 156 people breaks her silence for first time. That's tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
When we come back, a bizarre ending to a bizarre trip. Dennis Rodman's dramatic apology for that stunning rant you heard and saw right here on CNN.
And just at the top of the hour, my live interview with the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. We'll get his reaction to the meeting he just concluded with Governor Chris Christie.
BLITZER: The former NBA player Dennis Rodman now apologizing for his unruly behavior in a CNN interview.
Jim Sciutto reports.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Dennis Rodman is running away from his comments admitting in a statement to CNN that he was out of bounds.
"I want to apologize. I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy were quickly falling apart."
But he's not running away from North Korea. His apologies coming in the wake of a wild week playing exhibition basketball and exploding in an interview with Chris Cuomo.
DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: No, I don't give (EXPLETIVE DELETED) what -- I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think. I'm saying to you, look at these guys here. Look at them.
SCIUTTO: In his apology Rodman explains his outburst. "I had been drinking. It's not an excuse, but by the time the interview happened, I was upset, overwhelmed. It's not an excuse. It's just the truth."
Rodman's alarming North Korea trip was filled with even more bizarre images.
Singing "Happy Birthday" to leader Kim Jong-Un and giving him a bow.
RODMAN: Do you sir, let me know -- are you --
SCIUTTO: Rodman sparked a firestorm with his seeming justification for the imprisonment of American Kenneth Bae to Chris Cuomo, leaving Bae's family back home shocked and disappointed.
RODMAN: Do you understand what Kenneth Bae did?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Yes?
RODMAN: Do you understand what did in this country?
CUOMO: What did he do? You tell me. You tell me, what did he do?
RODMAN: And -- no, no, no, you tell me. You tell me. Why is he held captive?
SCIUTTO: But now Rodman is backpedaling, saying, "I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae's family. I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo. I embarrassed a lot of people. I'm very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I'm truly sorry."
SCIUTTO: Kenneth Bae's family released its own statement today saying that, "Our family accepts Dennis Rodman's apology for his outrageous outburst about our brother Kenneth Bae. Being drunk and stressed is not an excuse for what he said, but we acknowledge he's human and we all make mistakes.
Wolf, the State Department tell us they are working very hard for Kenneth Bae's release, as well, through China, through Sweden, through their own diplomatic envoy.
BLITZER: Let's hope that he's released soon. That would be excellent news if that happens.
Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.
The Chris Christie scandal taking on a life of its own.
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will Bridgegate take its toll on Governor Chris Christie? He sure wasn't getting an easy pass at his press conference with the normally feisty governor was nothing but bummed.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm sad, but I am a very sad person today. It just makes me sad. It's a sad day for me.
MOOS: Sad because he said he'd been betrayed by the trusted staff member he fired after incriminating e-mails surfaced.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like there might be a tie-up.
MOOS: Suggesting Christie allies closed toll lanes and created massive jams to retaliate against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.
JON STEWART, HOST, "DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Well, clearly somebody is getting thrown under the bus here. Fortunately for them, the bus isn't moving, it's stuck in terrible traffic.
MOOS: Humorist Andy Borowitz filed this update. "All lanes on the George Washington Bridge blocked by Chris Christie's ego." Though he's never been more humble than at Thursday's press conference.
CHRISTIE: I am humiliated.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": The president of the United States of New Jersey, Chris Christie, is in hot water. OK, hold on. I just pictured him in a hot tub. Shake it off.
MOOS: The fat jokes were back, weighing how the scandal might affect a run for the White House. And wearing a traffic cone. A few weeks earlier, he had joked about the then developing scandal.
CHRISTIE: I work the cones, actually, Matt. Unbeknownst to everybody I was actually the guy out there, I was in overalls.
MOOS: On Thursday Governor Christie said he would never have joked like that if he had had any inkling that his people would do something so stupid.
One person tweeted, "This is more Chris Christie therapy session than a press conference."
(on camera): Governor Christie spoke about what he is and what he isn't. Here's what he is.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I am embarrassed. I am heartbroken. I am responsible. I am stunned. I'm sick over this.
MOOS: And here's what he isn't.
CHRISTIE: I am not a focus group-tested, blow-dried candidate. I am who I am, but I am not a bully.
MOOS (voice-over): While one of Christie's former appointees was on the hot seat taking the Fifth about the scandal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the advice of counsel, I reserve my right to remain silent.
MOOS: The right to silence was one thing Chris Christie wasn't asserting.
CHRISTIE: I'm sad. Right now, I'm sad.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.
CHRISTIE: The emotion I have been displaying in private is sad.
MOOS: New York.