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Christie Annual Address; Christie's Popularity; Shooting at New Mexico Middle School; American Journalist Expelled From Russia; France's Hollande Questioned About Affair

Aired January 14, 2014 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Was it a visa problem or because he was critical of President Vladimir Putin? We're going to hear from that journalist up next.

And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's state of the state speech isn't usually followed so closely, but today the eyes of the nation are fixed on the likely presidential hopeful after his administration's bridge scandal.

And French President Francois Hollande faces reporters for the first time since he claims he had an affair -- or rather that claims that he had an affair with a French actress. We're going to tell you what he said from Paris.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

We are following another school shooting in the United States. It's unbelievable when you think that this could happen again, but it has. This time it's at a middle school in Roswell, New Mexico. Two children taken to a hospital after a report of a shooting at Berrendo Middle School.

Now, state public safety officials, they say it started just after 8:00 local time. We don't know the extent of the injuries yet, but authorities do have a suspect in custody. Now, officials released this statement just moments ago saying, "currently, the threat has been alleviated and this incident is being investigated. There are many resources and law enforcement officers on scene securing the area." We certainly wish them the best and hope that those students are safe.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey going back now into the national spotlight. He is delivering his state of the state speech. It comes at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. We are told that he will address some of the controversies surrounding him and his office. These type of speeches, you might imagine, they don't ordinarily capture national attention, but Christie, he's no ordinary governor. He is considered a front- runner for the GOP nomination in 2016 presidential race.

Well, he is in the middle of a scandal involving his former top aides. People are still talking about that. And he's also facing a federal investigation over how he spent Superstorm Sandy relief money. Our CNN's Erin McPike, she is in Trenton, New Jersey, and is going to set the scene for us.


ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the midst of weathering a full-blown political super storm, Chris Christie will discuss the bridge closure scandal when he delivers his annual state of the state address this afternoon. This will be the first time the popular New Jersey governor is in front of cameras since his marathon apology last week.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I am soul-searching on this. But what I also want the people of New Jersey to know is that this is the exception, not the rule.

MCPIKE: But it's not just bridge-gate anymore. On Monday, CNN revealed the new storm clouds forming over the brightest spot in his governorship, his response to Superstorm Sandy.

CHRISTIE: Because we're stronger than the storm.


MCPIKE: Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone thinks these tourism ads that promote the whole Christie family might be a misuse of the federal relief funds given to help New Jersey recover from Sandy.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: I think this extra money that was spent on the ads to put him on the air during the campaign, that could be used for other purposes for Sandy relief.

MCPIKE: Federal auditors are probing those allegations, though Christie's office dismissed the revelation as conveniently timed and added the Obama administration approved the effort.

Another possible incident of retribution, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, a Democrat, considered endorsing Christie for re-election last year but then declined to do so on July 18th.

CHRISTIE: Well, good morning, everybody.

MCPIKE: Over the next two days, Christie appointees canceled upcoming meetings with him, leading Fulop to write an e-mail to former Port Authority official Bill Baroni, who has since resigned. In the e-mail obtained by CNN he wrote, in part, "I am not sure if it is a coincidence that your office canceled a meeting several weeks back that seemed to be simultaneous to other political conversations elsewhere that were happening. Prior to that, you were always very responsive, and I sincerely hope the two issues are not related."

And there's more in the scandal that started it all. The lane closures to the George Washington Bridge last fall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do think laws have been broken.

MCPIKE: New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski will lead a brand-new special committee forming today that will utilize a special counsel to investigate Christie's key staffers, and the governor himself. That committee will have subpoena power and intends to call on fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien, Christie's longtime trusted political adviser.


MALVEAUX: And we bring in Erin here. So, Erin, let's talk a little bit about this because we have not seen the governor since his news conference on Thursday. Is this part of a larger strategy in terms of controlling the message at this point going forward?

MCPIKE: Well, Suzanne, certainty the Christie staff wanted that big apology press conference last week to stand on its own. I would point out to you that Chris Christie is very active on Twitter, but he hasn't said anything on Twitter since Wednesday when he started tweeting some of the clips of that apology press conference.

Now, on top of that, Suzanne, he had to get ready for this big state of the state address today. He's unveiling a couple of proposals, both on education reform and on property tax relief. And then on top of that, Suzanne, just one week from today, he will deliver his second inaugural address. So a lot is keeping him busy here in New Jersey.

MALVEAUX: And, Erin, I imagine we'll hear from the Democrats, as well?

MCPIKE: We will. And the man who is the assembly speaker-elect, Vincent Prieto, he and the assembly majority leader, Lou Greenwald, will hold a press conference immediately after Christie finishes his address today.

MALVEAUX: All right, Erin McPike, we'll be watching. Appreciate it.

One thing's for sure, Chris Christie has never been a shrinking violet. So we're going to watch. We're going to see what his demeanor is when he delivers his state of the state address this afternoon. And Wolf Blitzer is joining us to talk a little bit about that.

So, Wolf, we've seen the scandals play out here over the last couple of weeks and it seems, at least, that he's taken somewhat of a hit in the popularity if you take a look at the polls here. So the approval rating with New Jersey registered voters has dropped somewhat. Before the scandal broke he had 65 percent approval rating. Well now that's 58, first time since Superstorm Sandy hit back in 2012 that it's actually been below the 60 percent mark, telling here.

It's 46 percent of registered voters in New Jersey now have a favorable impression of Christie personally. More than a year ago, about a year ago, it was a whopping 71 percent that really had a good regard of him. So what do we make of the demeanor? When we've got to watch him here today, does he need to be kind of a kindler, gentler Christie, if that's possible?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Yes, I think he does. He tried to demonstrate that at his news conference, nearly a two-hour news conference, on Thursday. He's got to come across as sincere. So far, let's keep this in perspective, there's no smoking gun directly linking him to either the decision to go ahead and shut down those traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge separating New Jersey and New York. No smoking gun suggesting that -- directly linking him to some sort of cover-up. But there are a lot of investigations underway right now, some special investigations that are about to be launched in New Jersey, some federal probes, as well. So he's got a lot of problems, potentially, down the road.

As long as he told us all the truth last Thursday and there's no evidence that -- so far to show that he didn't tell us the truth, as long as he said -- he didn't mislead us, he'll be -- he'll probably be OK, although his stature clearly reflecting in those polls has been diminished.

MALVEAUX: Wolf, you bring up a really good point, which is he -- so far, when there's no evidence that he broke any laws here, do you think that people or voters -- particularly people in New Jersey -- are going to look at this and say, OK, this is politics as usual. And then, if you take it on the national stage, do you think that that's also the way voters are going to see it before 2016?

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people will see this as politics. It's - there's, you know, a lot of tough politics, especially in New Jersey, but a lot of other states as well. The notion, for example, in Jersey City, when the Democratic mayor was toying with the idea of endorsing him, had all these meetings scheduled to try to benefit the residents, the people of Jersey City, and then, of course, he decided to endorse the Democratic challenger to Chris Christie.

All of a sudden, within a few days, all of those meetings are basically canceled. Is that appropriate, inappropriate, is it just a coincidence or is it tough -- tough politics in New Jersey? It's tough politics. Is it illegal, something that was going on? What they're going to be looking for to see if what happened with the - with the transit lanes going to the bridge, was that just an aberration or was this part of a bigger political shenanigan strategy?

MALVEAUX: Yes, and you've got a lot of investigations coming up, so they're obviously going to try to get to the bottom of all of that. It's not going away any time soon. Wolf, we're going to be watching, of course. Thank you, as always.

You can see the governor's speech live here on CNN. Our coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

And the House could vote as soon as tomorrow on a bipartisan spending bill to keep the government running through September. Also prevent another government shutdown. Total cost, more than $1 trillion. It covers all kinds of things here. For instance, like protecting disabled veterans from a pension cut. Also, a 1 percent raise for federal workers and military personnel. And getting low-risk passengers through airport security more quickly. Also says that the Libyan government must prove that it's looking for the people responsible for the Benghazi attack before it can get any more aid from the United States. New revelations now about that deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. That happening, of course, on September 11th of 2012. Newly declassified documents from the House Armed Services Committee shows that while the U.S. military was worried about terrorist attacks around the world on that day, there were no discussions related to any specific threat in Libya. That was despite growing concern that the country was becoming a hot bed for extremism. As you know, four Americans were killed in the attack, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Here's more of what we're working on for AROUND THE WORLD.

Russia kicks an American reporter out of the country, and he says the whole experience is like a return to the Cold War days. Could it be punishment for his critical reporting before the Olympics?

And with the deadly daily bombings in Iraq, my friend, my co-anchor, Michael Holmes, he is back in the country where the U.S. troops left two years ago. Eight thousand people were killed in Iraq last year alone. Well, today, Michael spoke to Iraq's former prime minister about what he thinks is behind the terrible violence.

And a huge crackdown against gay people in Nigeria. Not only is same- sex marriage banned with prison time for those found guilty, but now gay people can get in trouble just for gathering together in public places.


MALVEAUX: We've got more on that school shooting out of New Mexico. Our Miguel Marquez joins us from Los Angeles with more information.

And we understand that there is at least a suspect in custody and two students who have been taken to the hospital. What do you know, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it sounds like that suspect who is in custody was not shot. It is not clear whether he gave up or police had to take him out in some way. We know that a little after 8:00, New Mexico time, that this young person walked into the Berrendo School, a middle school there. This is in New Mexico. That's typically fifth through eighth grade.

So it's shocking to think of the possibilities here, shot and injured two individuals. They were taken to Eastern New Mexico Medical Center there, which is a level three trauma center. There are some reports that he - that there may be a third victim who was airlifted to Lubbock, Texas, which would have a higher level trauma center. So we'll keep our eye on that.

Roswell is a fairly small town, about 50,000 people in southeastern New Mexico. The school itself is north of the city. It looks to be in a fairly new area or part of the town. So this would be a - a very rural part of a very rural area in New Mexico. It sounds as though he had a shotgun on him, but as authorities say, he has been apprehended, which leaves us to believe that he is alive and in police custody. We also know that students from Berrendo Middle School are now being taken to the Roswell Mall, not too far from there, so that parents can collect them and get them back. But just another shocking day in America when a shooting like this happens at a middle school, in a fairly rural part of New Mexico.

MALVEAUX: And, Miguel, do we know if he's a student or not, the alleged shooter?

MARQUEZ: We don't know if he's a student or not. It sounds as though he may be a student, given the ages that New Mexico state police are talking about at the moment. The ages of the two victims also appear to be students.


MARQUEZ: So it sounds like this may have been something between individual students, but it is not clear at this time.

MALVEAUX: All right, when you have more details, please get back to us. Unbelievable, another school shooting, it is just shocking.

The Russian government has kicked out an American journalist, out of the country, saying he violated visa regulations and called his presence undesirable. But David Satter says that Moscow didn't like his criticism of Vladimir Putin and what really surprised him is that Russian officials applied the same kind of rules to him that they apply to spies.

He talked with CNN about all of this earlier today.


DAVID SATTER, U.S. JOURNALIST EXPELLED FROM RUSSIA: This indicates we're dealing with something completely different. In fact, I at no time violated any regulations. I operated strictly in conformity with what I was told to do by the foreign ministry. They are perfectly aware of that.

They told the American embassy that they do not give -- when the American embassy -- we have been trying for weeks to get an explanation out of them. They told the American embassy that they don't give explanations in visa cases.

And then they give this explanation on their website, which is absolutely false. All -- everything that I did was strictly in conformity with what I was told to do by the foreign ministry itself. I followed all bureaucratic procedures.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": And David, there's no shortage of critics of President Vladimir Putin. That is to be sure.

Why do you think you? Why you? Why now?

SATTER: Well, I -- you know, it's very hard for me to speculate and put myself in the position of the Russian authorities. I wrote a book actually a long time ago, it came out in 2003, called "Darkness at Dawn" in which I argued that Putin came to power as a result of an act of terror, the blowing up of the apartment bombings in Moscow in 1999 that led to the second Chechen war.

That book has since been reissued in Russian under the title "How Putin Became President" and it actually became a best-seller. Maybe that was part of it. In fact, I did not go to Russia in order to reopen the question of the apartment bombings. I've talked about that in my book. I have testified about it before Congress.

My goal in going there was to understand the whole sweep of Russian history after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Nonetheless, we can't speculate as to what went on in the minds of the Russian authorities.

BOLDUAN: Well, of course, you're -


MALVEAUX: Our Nic Robertson is joining us from Moscow, and let's try to make sense of this, sort this all out here, because we have seen Russian President Vladimir Putin release prisoners who were critics of his, the punk rockers, Pussy Riot, the oil tycoon who was a political foe of his.

But now you've got this journalist who's really been writing critical articles of the government for years who all of a sudden is faced with this treatment as if he's a spy.

Explain what's behind this.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very hard to explain. One of the reasons is because there are Russian journalists here who are writing similar articles about those 1999 bombings, even one that's written a book.

She lives here. She is Russian. She hasn't been put in jail or badly treated as a result of that, as far as we're aware.

But what you have here is a case of Russian bureaucracy on the surface. This is what we can see. Russian bureaucracy here is very dense, it's hard to see through and it's often applied in a very tough and strict way.

Now, what David Satter has said as well is that he did come back to Russia. He was told to by the foreign ministry to come pick up a letter for his visa. When he got here, the letter wasn't ready. That delayed it for a few days. When he went to the next office as part of that dense bureaucratic process, they said, you have arrived too late.

So the question here is, was this a set-up by the foreign ministry or this other ministry that he was dealing with? Or was it a mistake between these two ministries? And because bureaucracy is applied with an iron fist here, that he's fallen foul of a dense bureaucracy. And that's what's really hard to tell here with this, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Nic, could it be here, because you had Satter who wrote this article, right, about Volgograd after the suicide bombings there, that he says in his words that visitors to Sochi are walking into effectively a war zone?

Is that just Putin's way of like just dismissing outright any concerns of national security at the Olympics there and just trying to shut it down so people go to the Olympics and don't worry about all this?

ROBERTSON: For sure, this is the way that the state here operates. They can, and they have in the past on other issues, make an example of somebody so others don't do it.

I had a story this past weekend running about the Sochi Olympics. An expert I interviewed for that said very clearly that it's in a state of absolute lockdown. It's -- the security there couldn't be tighter. The words he used were very, very strong.

So you know, we haven't had a phone call here at CNN about the language, the strong language we have used to describe how the security is being applied in Sochi.

But that's not to say that David Satter isn't being made an example of. It's just impossible to say that was the reason.

And that's very much the way Russia operates. Everyone here is kind of familiar with that.

And, of course, for us as reporters, it's very hard for us to come out and say this is black and white, this definitely happened, or it didn't happen.

And, again, it's this grayness --


ROBERTSON: -- the Russian government here often survives on.

MALVEAUX: And it certainly could be a message to you and many of the other reporters there who will be covering the Winter Olympics, you know, just kind of a warning, if you will, and that's the way they operate over there.

So, Nic, we appreciate it. Thank you very much.

His popularity is sinking. His country's economy, it's in a slump. But France's president found himself dancing around this question today. Did you have an affair with an actress?

That is the latest on the scandal in Paris, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: France's president wanted to talk about his country's economy today, but reporters, well, they wanted to know more about Francois Hollande's alleged affair with a French actress.

France's first lady, well, for her, she has been in the hospital since the scandal broke last week. This was all his first time facing reporters since the allegations came out.

Here's how it went.


PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRANCE (via translator): Everybody in their personal lives can go through hardships. That is our case.

These are painful moments, but I have one principle. That is that private affairs are dealt with in private, with respective intimacy of each other. Therefore, this is not the place nor the time to do this.


MALVEAUX: Our Jim Bitterman is in Paris. And Jim, you know, I mean, he talks about privacy And we know the French. They treasure their privacy.

They also really don't get riled up about some of these things when it comes to sex scandals.

Why is the French media in particular handling this differently?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think this time around, it's been a little bit -- a different kind of an aspect to it.

One of the things is that it does raise the whole question that's been raised in parliament today about the stature of the first lady, because in France we never had a bachelor president, which Hollande is. He wasn't married to his companion of 30 years, by whom he had four children. He, again, wasn't married to Valerie Trierweiler, current first lady, as far as we know.

And, by the way, when that question was asked today in the news conference, the way it was posed was this. The reporter said, "Is Valerie Trierweiler still the first lady of France?"

He also said ,in posing the question, "You're going to be visiting President Obama next month, February 11th." He's supposed to be a state dinner in Washington. The Obamas have already said they're going to look forward to welcoming President Hollande and Valerie Trierweiler.

The question is, is she going to be there? She's in the hospital right now, and who knows? At this point, we really don't know.

MALVEAUX: So, Jim, how is she doing? How is the first lady doing here? We heard she went into the hospital. Is she OK? BITTERMAN: Well, I think this is a diplomatic illness here. She went in because one of her friends said that she had a coups de blues, a blues feeling and needed rest. She's had rest since Friday. It's now Tuesday, and so I think that we've -- we've gone through the whole thing here.

She was supposed to come out yesterday, they said. She is still in the hospital. I think they're trying to work things out. I think that's really what it is She could not have been very happy about these reports that he had this alleged affair with this actress and that the affair had been going on for some time, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Yes, I can imagine she would be feeling that way, and, of course, he was trying to reset the economic agenda, trying to get everything going. Things are not going so well with the economy there, so clearly he's got some more work to do here.

Jim, thank you. Appreciate it, as well.

A sad and tragic story, this is out of South Sudan. Several hundred women and children died trying to escape the fighting between the government and rebel forces.

And an army official there says up to 300 people were aboard a ferry while on the White Nile River. The ferry apparently couldn't handle the load, overturned in the water. The only reported survivors were two crew members.

Now, the fighting in South Sudan, it has been going on for nearly a month. Hundreds of thousands of people, they've run from their homes to escape the violence.

And in Pakistan, a school is being renamed for a boy who gave his life for his fellow students. Fourteen-year-old Aitzaz Hassan Bangash died while tackling a suicide bomber last week at the school's front gate.

During the scuffle, that bomb detonated. In addition to the naming honor, the boy's family will receive a $5,000 award.

Innocent civilians caught up in the deadly cycle of violence in Iraq last year alone, 8,000 people were killed.

My friend and co-anchor, Michael Holmes, he is in Baghdad right now, reporting on what is causing this spike in violence two years after the U.S. military left the country.

You're going to want to hear his interview with the former Iraqi prime minister.