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Bridge to 2016 Still Open for Christie?

Aired January 14, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the state of the apology.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Mistakes were clearly made.

ANNOUNCER: Despite his apologetic State of the State address, are new allegations adding to Governor Chris Christie's political problems?

On the left, Sally Kohn. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist; and Bob Ehrlich, the Republican former governor of Maryland. The politics of being sorry now while keeping open the bridge to 2016, tonight on CROSSFIRE.


SALLY KOHN, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Sally Kohn on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, a top Democratic strategist and a Republican former governor.

During his State of the State address this afternoon, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie firmly and forcefully dealt with the scandal he's facing. Before we go on, Jake Tapper is in Trenton -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Newt, the feeling right here by the governor's aides is that he did what he needed to do nine days ago, the idea that he would be apologizing for a political scandal in his State of the State address would have been completely foreign as a concept.

But of course, those e-mails came out last week, suggesting that his inner staff, his top -- some of his top advisers were involved in what appears to have been a political vendetta.

The governor in his State of the State right after that said that mistakes were clearly made, although one could argue quibble with the question about the passive voice in that. It was more than a mistake, one would say. But then he took responsibility, full responsibility and said that he would deal with all appropriate investigations.

Response here in Trenton seems to be breaking down predictably along party lines. Democrats saying they can't believe that Governor Christie did not know what was going on among his top staff.

Tomorrow, they will name a council to be leading the investigation. On Thursday, members of the special investigative committee will be announced.

Republicans starting to come out, starting to firmly back Governor Christie, saying they take him at his word. They believe him. He's a former U.S. attorney, and they are behind him 100 percent -- Newt and Sally.

KOHN: Jake Tapper, thanks.

Chris Christie already had a reputation for being a political bully. The bridge allegations just added to that. Now the mayors of Jersey City and Hoboken say their funding was cut, because they didn't endorse Christie.

Plus, as CNN first reported, federal investigators are looking into $25 million in Sandy relief that went for so-called tourism ads featuring the governor that just happened to air in the lead-up to his 2013 reelection campaign. With that new revelation, Chris Christie looks more and more like a bully using public coffers as a personal slush fund and using government office for political payback.

GINGRICH: Well, I know you're thrilled by this opportunity. The fact is, on the $25 million in ads, the federal government, the Obama administration, approved them and, in fact, the secretary of commerce praised them last fall as a really effective ad program. So I don't think that dog is going to hunt very far.

But in the CROSSFIRE tonight Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist. And Bob Ehrlich, the Republican former governor of Maryland (INAUDIBLE). His new book is called "America: Hope for Change."

I've got to -- I've got to ask. Doesn't it sound like -- for those who don't know, Donna is from Louisiana. I went to Tulane. I knew that the dog hunting would get to her immediately. Isn't it a fact that this is like Christmas for the Democrats? Finally, something other than Obama care to talk about?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST/CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, there's no question that Chris Christie today deflected from all the controversy that was surrounding him. The dog may not hunt right now, but the dog is sniffing. This scandal is live. It's in living color. It is going to continue to dog Governor Christie. Yes.


GINGRICH: -- remember this one.

BRAZILE: Don't start. But the truth is I think that, you know, while conservatives are looking for a way to bring President Obama in this or Hillary Clinton or anyone else, the truth is Chris Christie did something that I think every good manager should do. And Governor, you know this. And that is he stepped up; he took responsibility.

Now today he said he will fully cooperate with the federal investigators. And there's a lot of investigating to do.

BOB EHRLICH (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND: I agree with you. And I know that's not good for ratings, by the way. Transparency, openness, we screwed up. I fired my people. And of course, that leads to certain comparisons with certain former presidents and the current president.

But the bottom line here is, after two hours and my only problem, by the way, with the last few days ago was two hours. Because I learned as governor, like Congress, you can't feed this beast. The beast will be there for two hours. If he would have been there for 24 hours, my 25th hour would have been we have more angles for you. We have some more questions for you.

So other than that, I thought he handled in as up front and as transparent a way as possible. Now, I've been in this situation a little bit. So it's going to be bad. It's drinking out of the fire hose for weeks. He understands it. It's all the political opponents. Everybody just got embarrassed. It was a big victory. Everybody who has a vendetta over the long term, they're all coming out of the woodwork. But the bottom line is, it will pass.

KOHN: I'm not so sure, because we've got the dog. We've got the beast. Now let's talk about the buck. Where the buck didn't seem to stop yet, is all these stories. As you said, the fire hose, they're not just made-up things. There's story after story that suggests this political bullying reputation and climate.

Even if -- and it's a big if -- even if the governor wasn't involved in any of this personally, he didn't order this, still don't you think he's responsible for that culture of political bullying he's created in his administration?

EHRLICH: That's a big if. Obviously, that's a big if. Now, he has a strong personality. It is popular in New Jersey. Some would argue it's popular in the East.

Christie's real test, if he was going to run for president, is is he going to be popular in New Mexico and Colorado, in California. But the bottom line here is this guy in a very blue state just won big. He's been a very successful governor with that approach, which is up front, transparent. You might not like me; this is the way it is.

And look, as I said, this test will be when he goes outside of the East.

BRAZILE: See, that was the problem. Part of his, I guess, charisma was that he was a fix-it kind of guy. A guy who was on the scene. On the scene Sandy.

Then you have a bridge story that was, you know, controversial, developing over three or four days, and where was the governor? And then the first time it came out in the fall, he laughed about it. He was snarky. He made sarcastic remarks. All that's coming back.

EHRLICH: How dumb do you think he is if he actually knew about this, and he still manifested that attitude in the first place? I mean, he's not a dumb man. Nobody thinks he's a dumb man.

So I think that goes to, in fact, his transparency, his honesty. Look, the best way to handle this is the way he handled it. "My folks screwed up. I'm the boss. I take responsibility. I want to go forward, and I want to apologize personally. I'm going to have this long press conference. I want to answer every question over the next few weeks."

And I believe, if he's being honest, which I believe he is -- that's his reputation, I know him personally. I think he is what he is. And I think that's why he's been so popular. It will dissipate over time.

GINGRICH: Let me point out, Washington political types love this. The news media kind of loves it. The fact is, New Jersey people, overwhelmingly people aren't affected. Sixty percent say it doesn't change their opinion at all. Sixteen percent say it makes him look less favorable.

Now, if you worked for a solid week working this poor guy over, and you only get 16 percent that says it makes him less favorable, isn't this kind of a dry well? If we go to -- totally different.

BRAZILE: Hey, he had a large bar. He was, what, at 70 percent. He was in what I call the angel. You know, there's angels--

EHRLICH: That's a good place to be.

BRAZILE: There are a bunch of, you know, devils down there. But he's at this margin where the level of trust -- it's all about trust, as you all know. To govern is to be able to have the people trust your judgment, trust, you know, your values and so forth.

But I think people are going to begin to question him, especially when he says, "I don't know this guy. I haven't talked to this guy." And then all of a sudden, the "Wall Street Journal" shows up with a picture.

You know, so I think he has to make sure that there is no other shoe that will drop and no other story that will contradict what he said last week at that long-winded press conference.

KOHN: Loving all the metaphors we're getting in here. Shoe popping, animals are falling left and right.

Governor, let's talk about who does seem to care about this, which is the people of New Jersey. Take a look at this poll. They -- a majority already -- and this is early, I think -- a majority already don't believe that Christie is being completely honest about what he knows.

Now, it seems to me, Governor, Republicans made character an issue. They've been working for 20 years to make character an issue in elections. Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards, you name it. Is this the character chicken coming home to roost for the Republicans? EHRLICH: Absolutely. It was the character of standing out in front of everybody saying, "You know what? Two people I trusted made a mistake. They violated my trust. They violated the trust of the people of New Jersey. I fired them. I'm the boss. This is about responsibility. It's about good government, open government, transparency. "I fired them. Blame me. I'm going to go make a personal apology. I'm going to make the slings and arrows, outrageous fortune for the next few weeks." All these investigations.

I mean, I -- as I say, I really have empathy for Chris. At a very small level, I went through this one time with the investigation. And the damage is done. What you see with these numbers, the damage is done through the headlines. And every day and 24/7 news coverage and cable TV and talk radio and the bloggers and all that. But over time, it either sticks to you or doesn't, and if he was honest, he was--


EHRLICH: If he was honest, which I believe he was, over time, in fact, it turns into a positive story as opposed to the Bill Clinton--

GINGRICH: Let's draw that contrast. Chris Christie set a new standard in his State of the State address. If President Obama follows it, imagine how much he'll be apologizing for during his upcoming State of the Union speech. I'll have a few suggestions about Obama apologies when we come back.


GINGRICH: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Donna Brazile and Bob Ehrlich.

In his State of the State address this afternoon, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took responsibility for mistakes made during his watch, and he fired two of his closest aides.

By that standard, President Obama could spend his entire upcoming State of the Union speech -- more than an hour -- apologizing. He could apologize for the Obama care Web site, for that he lied to us about keeping our doctor and our health insurance, about Benghazi, about the economy, about the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservatives. The list goes on and on.

Whereas Christie fired people close to him, no one close to Barack Obama has had any consequence for a succession of failures that have hurt the American people.

KOHN: All right. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I've got to slow your roll there, peach pit (ph). I've got a list here of apology after apology that President Obama has given on each of those examples. So on health care, "the buck stops with me. This is my team. If I'm not working -- if it's not working, it's my job to get it fixed. I'm sorry they're finding themselves in this situation about people losing their insurance."

On Benghazi: "I've been very clear, taking responsibility." IRS: "The misconduct that's been uncovered is inexcusable."


EHRLICH: Can I ask a question here?

KOHN: He's apologized.

EHRLICH: Is there a card to go out to everybody who's lost their job?

BRAZILE: Yes, I have that one. The acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller was forced to resign. The two tax -- the government exempt commissioner, Joseph Grant (ph), was forced to retire early. Ms. Lois Lerner was forced to retire early.

And then we have Holly Pass (ph) who was in charge of all of the agreements with the IRS. She was also placed on indefinite leave.

And you know what?

EHRLICH: Indefinite leave is not fired.

GINGRICH: Not of whom are close to him.

BRAZILE: Because this happened in a Cincinnati office. I mean, was he supposed to go down to Cincinnati?

GINGRICH: The Obamacare Web site, they happened in Cincinnati?

BRAZILE: No, I was talking about the IRS.

EHRLICH: That was one scandal. Not all the rest of the scandals.

BRAZILE: Some of these are tragedies.

EHRLICH: They are. Obamacare is a tragedy, I agree.

BRAZILE: When you have millions of Americans without health care --

EHRLICH: I'm not kidding. And that is not funny, absolutely.

BRAZILE: People declare bankruptcy so they can stay healthy, that's a tragedy. Giving people access to health care --


GINGRICH: Are you talking about the ones who've been dumped off their insurance by Obama, is that --


BRAZILE: Because the insurance company -- because the insurance company says that we can't sell you this crappy policy anymore and therefore you have to buy a new policy. Come on.

EHRLICH: I love that. I just heard it, folks. BRAZILE: Look, I'm on individual market.

EHRLICH: Crappy policy. We know best. Washington knows best. You know best.

KOHN: This is fascinating because this is actually part of the reform --

EHRLICH: It is one size fits all.


KOHN: And stop talking about Chris Christie.

EHRLICH: No, this is substance. This is actually issues.

KOHN: We are talking about his close senior staff and Republicans want to draw these false equivalencies to President Obama. Again, we are talking about his distant IRS branch in Cincinnati. We are talking --

EHRLICH: We are talking about looking into the camera and being negligent with regard to how his health care reform actually would work in the real world with real people undergoing real treatments.

KOHN: I'm sorry people are finding themselves in this situation doesn't seem negligent to me.



GINGRICH: I have a simple question for you two. If somebody introduces tomorrow a bill that says, we're going to keep President Obama's promises. You're going to be allowed to keep your health insurance that you want, you're going to be allowed to keep your doctor if you want. Do you think the president would sign it? Do you think he'd veto it?

BRAZILE: Well, it depends on all of the other details in the bill. But I think the president would give it every serious consideration and he should give it every serious consideration, not like some of the Republicans who have been AWOL when it comes to fixing the economy, fixing the health care, just AWOL.

You know that. Just AWOL.


BRAZILE: Absent without leave. You guys have been AWOL.

EHRLICH: Democratic president and Democratic Senate and Democratic House. First couple of years, a lot of damage. That was AWOL, a lot of damage.

(CROSSTALK) EHRLICH: But let me get back to Chris Christie, because you want to talk about -- I'll talk about Chris.

BRAZILE: Let's talk about Chris Christie.

EHRLICH: I know him. I've known him for years. Terrific governor, real threat to Hillary Clinton, real Democratic establishment, big time, right?

KOHN: No question.

EHRLICH: Blunt, in your face, this is the way I am, like it or not. The non-politician, the non-politician. This is not how they write it up.

So, for the first time in his political career, big-time problem. No doubt about it. This is a real important event in his lifetime. How does he handle it? Up front. Here I am.

KOHN: OK, Governor, let's get into an example of that because I think part of the issue here is not -- again, we don't actually know what he knew and when he knew it. Why didn't he seem like he wanted to figure it out sooner?

These are his close staff. This isn't like all these things around Obama that involved distant parts of a large federal government. These are his closest staff.

EHRLICH: Distant parts of health care?

KOHN: The people he works with every single day, his deputies, his campaign director. These are important --


EHRLICH: To my friend, Donna.

KOHN: Now, I want you to watch this clip from Jon Huntsman and then we will discuss it.

EHRLICH: All right.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: Your neighbor is the chief of staff and your deputy chief of staff is right down the hall. And everybody knows day in and day out what's playing out in your state, down to, you know, a minuscule detail. So, there is something here that just does not connect fully.


KOHN: That's obviously Republican Governor Jon Huntsman.

Now, Governor, when you were governor of Maryland, I want to know -- if there had been a bottleneck in one of your tunnels and people couldn't get home during rush hour, wouldn't you that day try to get to the bottom of what was going on?


KOHN: Wouldn't you want to figure out then and not four months later?

EHRLICH: Yes. And I would have taken the word of the people I pay to do that job.

KOHN: But four months after it happened?

EHRLICH: No, I'm saying --

KOHN: He didn't look into it until a few days ago, or a few weeks according to his report.

EHRLICH: Can I just say this? I'm looking at Donna -- Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal doesn't matter. And I love (INAUDIBLE). We know each other for years. She loves my lieutenant governor.

BRAZILE: Yes, we deal with people.

EHRLICH: But here is the deal -- if you know too much, you don't know anything. And when you are governor, it is a big-time job and you really need to focus on certain things you define your job as on a daily basis. And everything else, you leave to 60,000 other people running that state.

BRAZILE: So you're saying he's a poor administrator, he's not on top of the issues? Come on.

This is a guy -- this is a guy whose part of his reputation is he's on top of things. That he gets things done. This is his campaign director. I've been a campaign director.

EHRLICH: In any particular day, does the president know what his cabinet secretaries did that day?

BRAZILE: I'm sure he knows what his chief of staff did --


EHRLICH: His transportation secretary? It's crazy.

GINGRICH: Let's focus on that analogy, all right?

President said -- two clear examples he can't hide from.


GINGRICH: One is Benghazi. In Benghazi, he is right in the middle of the White House. It is right in the national -- the Situation Room, and there's no question if you look at the reports on CNN today where the military is now finally coming out well over a year later saying, oh, gee, we were totally unprepared. They're also coming out and saying they saw Senator Feinstein, Democrat chair of the Intelligence Committee, said "The New York Times" was totally wrong about how they characterized this. We knew from day one it was a terrorist attack.

The president and his entire team misinformed the country. That's right in the White House.

Second, the Obamacare process is not in Cincinnati. It's not some distant place. This is the biggest single domestic change in modern times. It is absolutely -- if nobody in the White House was responsible, that would tell you something else, wouldn't it?

BRAZILE: You know what? The Web site, the roll out of the Web site was a huge mistake. It was an embarrassment. And the president has said such. He's apologized for that.

But as you know, the health care law is not the Web site. Over 100 million Americans are enjoying the benefits, preventive care, keeping their kids on the plan, the children with access.

EHRLICH: Twenty-six year olds on your parents' plan, that's something to brag about. Wow.

BRAZILE: Well, you know what? There are a lot of 26-year-olds who --

EHRLICH: Dependency is cool now.

BRAZILE: Still a lot of 26-year-olds dry trying to get a second degree.

EHRLICH: Trying to get the job in this economy.


BRAZILE: Well, it's a very tough economy. And that's what I mean when I say the Republicans have been AWOL on trying to get job creation back to where we were under prerecession levels.

KOHN: Let's get to the other difference, though, which is deliberateness. We can disagree over these details. I, of course, agree with Donna, well put.

But the differences is, is IRS, Benghazi, health care reform -- you are not I hope, Newt, going to suggest that the president or anyone on his team deliberately did Benghazi, deliberately blew up health care reform.


EHRLICH: I will suggest this. I will suggest this. Deliberately his staff misled him about the impact of the individual market. No doubt about it. No doubt about it. We have the proof now. We have the documents.

GINGRICH: Stay here. Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. What is your current view of Chris Christie? Tweet favorable or unfavorable using the #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


GINGRICH: We're back with Donna Brazile and Bob Ehrlich.

Now, it's time for the final question. I just have to ask you this.

All this talk about bullying and all this frantic fear on the left, you have a frontrunner who apparently has an enemy list inside her own party of people she'd like to get with, even with apparently starting with Senator Claire McCaskill.

Doesn't it kind of -- isn't it kind of weird to worry about Chris Christie as a bully if your front-runner already has a pre-nomination enemies list?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, it's called political intelligence. What I believe happened is that they're looking at people who early on supported some other candidates and this is an opportunity for Mrs. Clinton to renew her acquaintances. As you know is, Senator McCaskill -- I'm putting the best face forward.


GINGRICH: She's good.

KOHN: Renew her "acquaintances".


BRAZILE: I might be 99 on the list of 100. So, I want to be careful, OK?

GINGRICH: This is like Al Capone wanted to reacquaint himself with his many friends.


BRAZILE: But she is tough, tenacious. But she has all of those qualities that we like in a good strong president.

GINGRICH: But why is she -- why is she not a bully and he is a bully?

BRAZILE: Well, because is he by definition is a bully, somebody who throws a sucker punch and walks away. She'll sit in the arena and keep hitting.

KOHN: Also, every politician has a list of who they're going to help raise money for or not. That's different than I'm going to direct federal funds or state funds towards that politician or not, or close down bridges.

Governor, I wanted to ask, you know, there seems to be this larger issue that Chris Christie doesn't seem to have many friends right now, present company excluded, that the base of the Republican Party has been kind of out to get him for a long time. And there seems to be the larger problem that Republicans, you're a pretty sensible Republican, Republicans can't elect sensible people anymore because their party has moved that far to the right.

EHRLICH: I reject the premise of the question. What kind of question is that, Donna?

No, I think he's got a lot of friends.

GINGRICH: I'm sorry. He does have a lot of the friends, and I see you (ph) next time.


EHRLICH: Thanks, Speaker.


GINGRICH: Thanks to Donna Brazile and Bob Ehrlich.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. What is your current view of Chris Christie? Right now, 40 percent of you say favorable, 60 percent say unfavorable.

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

KOHN: From the left, I'm Sally Kohn.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.