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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Mike Rogers; Interview with Angus King; Interview with Dawn Zimmer

Aired January 19, 2014 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Reining in big brother -- or not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Today, privacy versus security. The president looks for middle ground and finds no man's land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still have a long way to go to make sure we balance America's privacy interests on the metadata.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have gone too far in attacking the privacy rights of the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't think any changes were called for. The fact is the ones the president made are really minimal.

CROWLEY: Too much, too little, or mostly politics? An interview with House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers.

And, Benghazi. A Senate committee concludes that the death of four Americans were avoidable and the state department failed to act on longstanding security concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were failures. And no one has been held accountable. Why?

CROWLEY: Have we gotten to the bottom of Benghazi with independent senator, Angus King.

Plus, a week's worth of trouble for two titans of politics with 2016 ambitions.

And Michelle Obama hits the big 5-0 with a favorable rating north of 6-0. Our political panel on this week's headliners.

This is STATE OF THE UNION.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (on-camera): Good morning. I'm Candy Crowley. New jersey governor, Chris Christie, is in Florida this weekend, fundraising for fellow Republicans, meeting with donors. Back home in New Jersey, there are new allegations that his office threatened to withhold super storm Sandy relief funds if the mayor of Hoboken, a Democrat, didn't support a Christie-backed redevelopment plan. I will speak with Hoboken mayor, Dawn Zimmer, in a few moments.

But first, in Washington, they call something that pleases no one a compromise. In an election year, they often call it politics as well. Joining me now, Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Thank you for being here.

ROGERS: Thanks, Candy. It is great to be here.

CROWLEY: One of the biggest sort of thing in this and the thing that's concerned so many people is this bulk gathering of data on what phone numbers call what phone numbers in what manner of time and, et cetera, et cetera. So the so-called metadata phone program. The president essentially said, I'm going to take all that data and put it somewhere else. Where is somewhere else?

ROGERS: That's a good point. Two things about that speech. First, I thought it was very important that the president laid out, no abuses, this was not an illegal program, it wasn't a rogue agency.

CROWLEY: Can I just stop you there? Because every time somebody says something like that, I think that's because the people there are -- believe that they shouldn't do that. But an agency is only as trustworthy as its employees. And as we all know from Mr. Snowden -- although he was a contractor -- that can change in a moment.

ROGERS: No, I understand. But what they didn't understand -- certainly Snowden didn't understand -- was all the levels of oversight. A court reviewed it, Congress reviewed it, DOJ reviewed it, the IG reviewed it. And even with the independent review board, found no abuses, legal program.

The problem was the sensationalism of a rogue agency or domestic spying. None of that was true. And so I thought it was important that the president laid that case out, hey, this was not true. You may not like the fact that this happens, but this was a legal program. Seventeen judges, 36 times approved it. Congress reviewed it. So there was plenty of oversight on this program that you don't find in other places. And I think that's why we've had no abuses in the program, No. 1.

But No. 2 in this speech -- and I think this is important -- I think only in Washington, D.C., can you announce you have a review board, and then announce in your big decision that you're going to review the review board, and then review the decision in 70 days. I'm for it, but I don't think it should go here, somebody else is going to have to figure this out. That's been the problem, I think, with the president on this particular issue.

We really did need a decision on Friday, and what we got was lots of uncertainty. And just in my conversations over the weekend with intelligence officials, this new level of uncertainty is already having a bit of an impact on our ability to protect Americans by finding terrorists who are trying to reach into the United States.

CROWLEY: What does it tell you that it wasn't really an end to this? Like here's what we're going to do, it's all done, I'm moving forward. Then he did have, well, in 60 days we'll figure out where to put this data. What does that tell you about the president's intent?

ROGERS: Well, again, it took I think a long time to come to the conclusion where he needed to come out and say, hey, this is a legal program. Yes, it is impactful, yes, it is important to national security.

And remember, the reason we got here is there was a gap right after 9/11. And when all of Americans were saying how does this happen, well, the fact that a phone call from a known terrorist location came into the United States, the NSA could only get half of that equation. And so we needed something to fill this gap. This was the program, and I think clearly through all of this turmoil and all of the spotlight, people found out, well, I guess it is a huge degree of oversight on this particular program, where you didn't even see this in other parts of the government.

So that's how we got here. And I do think that the president is tugged (ph). He certainly is listening to the voices who say we shouldn't do any of this at any time for any reason, and I think he's trying to listen to the voices, the national security voices, which are bipartisan, saying you know what, this is an important program. We can do this with proper oversight. And you do need the oversight, but we can do it with proper oversight and protect Americans' privacy.

CROWLEY: But the truth of the matter is that his advisory board said, look, there's no real -- there's no real evidence we can point to that this program has helped stop a terrorist attack. Others will differ, but that's what his advisory board found. So therefore, there is collection of private data, what was thought to be private data, on almost every American for a program that hasn't turned up a terrorist. Does that not seem -- and the president sort of chose to then put it into private hands or someplace. Where is that place? It can't be at Target or at any of these places that end up being hacked into. Where is that place?

ROGERS: Let me just say one thing about the report. One of the failings of the report was not to have long conversations with the FBI. As a matter of fact, they had no personal relationship with the FBI in the conducting of the report. Pretty hard to come to a conclusion there was no impact. And when you do an investigation, it is as important to have some clue line up with the next clue. And this program clearly has done that. And it has clearly had an impact, they argue a significant impact, on eight of the cases in the affirmative, meaning it led to a disruption. And in four of the cases -- I found this interesting, we forgot about this part of the debate -- is that it stopped hundreds of thousands of FBI man-hours chasing down radicals. That's hugely important. We don't have resources to waste when we know we have these targets.

Now, here's the problem with the president's proposal. He said he's for the program. It works. He has very serious privacy concerns by a lot (ph) of mandating that the private sector keep it, as do it. But we're going to find the difference between now and 70 days. That's interjected a level of uncertainty and having a whole bunch of us scratch our head. We have looked at this issue.

CROWLEY: So not private and not government.

ROGERS: I don't know where that goes. I don't know where that goes. I think we have to come to the conclusion as Americans, can you put the proper oversight on these programs? I think we have. I think we did. Both under Bush and under Mr. Obama, to make sure we have a program that fills the gap that we know we missed on the 9/11 September attacks. I just don't think we want to go to pre-9/11 because we haven't had an attack. Why? I argue because we have all of the tools on the table to protect Americans, and you can do it with protecting privacy and civil liberties. CROWLEY: Bottom line here -- the president's proposals. Will they make Americans less safe in your opinion?

ROGERS: I think some of it is unworkable, and I do believe -- the machinations about going to the court is -- that is not going to make us less safe necessarily. It adds confusion. On the 215 program, I do think the way --

CROWLEY: That would be the phone records.

ROGERS: The phone records, the metadata, business records. That slows down the process. When you slow down the process, that causes problems. And the other piece is, should we be giving foreigners who you are trying to collect intelligence to keep Americans safe, the same rights as United States citizens.

CROWLEY: We're going to extend some privacy rights to non- Americans.

ROGERS: So we're going to have to work through that proposal. It wasn't very clear, so we're going to have to work through it to make sure that that doesn't hinder our ability. We want our spy agencies spying on foreigners. That's why we have them. And it is important that they do that in a way that's helpful to the United States, and that doesn't mean grabbing everything. It means grabbing--

CROWLEY: Is this a political document, do you think? More to speak to the progressives and those that were criticizing the program in general than to actually make any big changes, particularly in the metadata program?

ROGERS: Well, from what you see he recommended, there are big changes he recommended. He said he doesn't think it can stay with the government, but he's not sure going to the private sector. That is a huge problem as we move forward.

CROWLEY: But it hasn't happened.

ROGERS: Here is the problem, in discussing over the weekend. By interjecting this new level of having to go get a warrant for what in the private sector you'd use a subpoena, two different significant levels of legal authority or the ability to prove a point, probable cause versus reasonable articulable suspicion, that creates some uncertainty in the program. So some have already argued this weekend, I think we have to shut it down until you go and get a warrant for each. That's a problem. That means that there will be a period of time that we will not be able to query a very secure and safe database that only 20 people have the ability to get in and are accountable to the court and to Congress until we get this fixed. So that part I'm concerned about, and we've got to fix that. We better fix this tomorrow.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to the Olympics. Lots of safety concerns as we have seen, there have been a number of terrorist attacks, from Chechnya, largely. Would you go to the Olympics? Would you feel safe? Are you going?

ROGERS: Well, that's unfair question. If I went to the Olympics, I would have security. I think the question is--

CROWLEY: How about your Michigan athletes?

ROGERS: Yeah. I am very concerned about the security status of the Olympics. I do believe that the Russian government needs to be more cooperative with the United States when it comes to the security of the games. We have found a departure of cooperation that's very concerning to me.

CROWLEY: Can you tell me what a departure of cooperation is? What does that mean? What are they doing?

ROGERS: Well, think about the problems they've had. So they've had several bombings. They disrupted plots. They've now moved some 30,000 armed troops down to the region. That tells you that their level of concern is great, but we don't seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the games. I think this needs to change, and it should change soon. This is not going to be a political problem for the Russians to share, although they apparently don't think so. It will be a problem--

CROWLEY: They don't want to share their intelligence with U.S. intelligence.

ROGERS: That's correct. So what we're finding is they aren't giving us the full story about what are the threat streams, who do we need to worry about, are those groups, the terrorist groups who have had some success, are they still plotting? There's a missing gap, and you never want that when you go into something I think as important as the Olympic Games and the security of the athletes, and the participants and those who come to watch the games.

CROWLEY: Just quickly if I can, if that does not change, would you worry about U.S. participation in the Olympics?

ROGERS: If I don't see a higher level of cooperation, I'm concerned today. I don't think anything would abate that concern short of full cooperation from the Russian security services.

CROWLEY: Congressman Mike Rogers, from the great state of Michigan, thanks for being here.

ROGERS: Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: When we return, a Senate report says the size of an attack were there, but Hillary Clinton's state department failed to act. When we return, the Benghazi controversy with Senator Angus King.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Joining me now, Senator Angus king, a political independent from Maine. Although, we should mention that he caucuses with the Democrats. Senator King, thank you so much for joining us. I want to pick up where I left off with Congressman Rogers. You both serve on your separate Houses on the Intelligence Committee. What are your fears about the Olympics?

KING: Well, it's a very serious fear I think because the Olympics happen to be being held in an area of world where there has been a history of terrorist activity, where there's been a lot of tension between Islamists in that area and the government of Russia. And of course, the reality, Candy, is today, terrorism is so hard to detect. There is a guy in the Middle East now who's working on the design of a totally non-metallic bomb.

And, you know, that kind of thing, it's -- I don't know how do you it, frankly, when you have thousands and thousands of people and people milling around. You know, we could have prevented the attack at the Boston marathon by having 20,000 troops shoulder to shoulder on the road. But this is a real challenge for the Russians. And I agree with Mike Rogers.

If I were them, I would be advising and working with every intelligence agency in the world as thoroughly as possible to try to prevent something from happening.

CROWLEY: Given that nothing is ever 100 percent secure these days, is it in your mind safe enough for your family to go, for Maine athletes to go? Is it safe enough, do you think, or will it be safe enough?

KING: You know, I answer that question honestly. I would not go. And I don't think I would send my family. I don't know how you put a percentage on it, but it's just such a rich target in an area of the world that has -- you know, they've almost broadcast that they're going to try to do something there. I'd be -- it would be a stretch, I think, to say I'm going to send my family over.

CROWLEY: Right. Right. And I'm assuming that the athletes somehow and the whole U.S. Olympic team is getting security and strategic advice.

KING: Oh, yes, absolutely. We have a guy here in Maine, Seth Wescott, who's won two medals. And, I'm pretty sure he's going to be on the team. And they're going to certainly have very high level of security. But, you know, it's of concern. But, you know, it's of concern here. I'm afraid, Candy, that this is going to be a concern anywhere in the future.

I mean, you know, you've got people that what they want is some maximum damage. They want to harm a lot of people, draw attention to their cause, whatever it is. And, you know, I'm kind of worried about the World Cup down in Brazil as well. I think these kind of concerns are going to be heightened as we go into this uncertain world where all it takes is one guy with a bomb. CROWLEY: Absolutely. Let me turn you to the Benghazi story this week where the Senate Intelligence Committee put out a bipartisan report and said essentially -- I think what we all knew was that there were huge warnings and signals that the U.N. had pulled out some of its folks, the Red Cross -- I'm sorry, Britain had pulled out some of its folks.

The Red Cross had also pulled out from some of its folks because they knew that Benghazi was not at all stable and that there were terrorist groups working within Benghazi. I want to play for you something that your Senate colleague, Marco Rubio, said on the floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: They didn't have enough security. They maybe shouldn't have even been there at that stage in the process. Who's responsible for that? The buck stops with Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: First of all, that was Marco Rubio On Fox News. but to his point, let me ask you, is Hillary Clinton partially to blame for this lack of security and therefore accountable for those deaths?

KING: Well, I've thought a lot about that, Candy. That's a hard question. It's ultimately a political question. Yes, she was secretary of state. Was she the person making decisions about security at U.S. facilities? By the way, there are over 100 around the world that have security. Did somebody come to her and say we need more security at Benghazi and she said, no, don't bother?

There's no evidence that I've seen that she was directly involved in that decision. On the other hand, she's the CEO. She's the boss. And I've gone back and look at the law and how you hold CEOs accountable for lapses down the line. And, generally, the standard is there has to be some either knowledge or participation in the decision.

As I said at the beginning, I think the American people are going to have to make this decision. I'm not being a partisan of Hillary here, but I do think, you've got an organization with 20 or 30 or 40,000 people to say that an individual decision about one facility is the responsibility the boss who really wasn't making that decision. Now, having said that, there's no question the state department screwed up here.

And there should be accountability, in my opinion, who made -- who did make that decision in light of all the information and why and I think that's a very fair question. And frankly, I'm surprised and disappointed. I know some people who have been sort of shifted around, but you know, if accountability means anything, it means somebody paying a price for having made a disastrous decision. CROWLEY: Right. So, then report people that kind of put on leave but then they were abound not to have done anything terribly wrong, and they were shift around to other jobs. So, you would agree that no one has been held accountable for the fact that the state department failed whether in the person, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else at the state department. They failed to protect U.S. property and the U.S. people in it despite all those warnings. You think someone should have been fired.

KING: Yes. I agree. I haven't seen any real accountability and I think that's been a failure in this whole process. And actually, Susan Collins, my colleague from Maine, had a kind of addendum to the report where she identified some people that she thought should be held accountable based upon her work on a Homeland Security Committee. So, you know, I think that's part of it.

But let me sort of tie Benghazi to what you were talking with Mike Rogers about the telephone data. You know, we're pretty good in Washington at Monday morning quarterbacking and certainly on Benghazi. That's what we've been doing for about a year. Ask yourself this question, the president of the Congress suspends a program of collection of intelligence that could prevent a terrorist attack and an atomic bomb blows up in Miami.

You bet there would be a lot of discussion about, you know, would that program have helped? Who turned it off? Who decided not to do it? And all that kind of thing. And I think what we're all struggling, the president and two intelligence committees, the Congress, and our country is calibrating risk versus privacy. There are terrorist threats.

People do want to kill us, and yet, we have this thing of the Fourth Amendment, which is a deep abiding part of our culture and our society and trying to find the right balance which I think has to be calibrated all the time based upon the level of risk and the technology that's available to -- that could potentially invade our privacy. I want this data out of the hands of the United States government.

That bothers me. I don't like relying on the good faith and good nature of the people in charge. I think the check and balance and I don't know whether it should go into a third party or some other way of holding it. But to me, it's illusory to say, well, don't worry, we've got it, but we'll only use it if we need to. Once they got it, you know, it's out of -- then, we cross the line, I think.

CROWLEY: Senator Angus King, sounds like this will be a topic for discussion in Washington for several weeks if not months ahead. I really appreciate you joining us this morning.

KING: Absolutely. Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: When we return, a New Jersey mayor says officials from governor Christie's office threatened to withhold superstorm Sandy relief funding unless she supported a redevelopment plan favored by the governor. The mayor of Hoboken New Jersey is next as is our political panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: New Jersey governor, Chris Christie's camp is pushing back hard against claims that his administration threatened to withhold superstorm Sandy relief funds for political reasons. Hoboken mayor, Dawn Zimmer, says Christie administration officials indicated that her city would not receive aid if she failed to support a development project favored by the governor.

In one of several handwritten notes about the governor that she has made public, Mayor Zimmer wrote, "I thought he was honest. I thought he was moral. I thought he was something very different. This week, I found out he's cut from the same corrupt cloth that I've been fighting for the last four years. I am so disappointed. It literally brings tears to my eyes."

Joining me now, Mayor Dawn Zimmer. Thank you, madam mayor, for being here this morning. I know you're kind of fighting losing your voice so hopefully you won't in the middle of this interview. But let me ask you first. This happened early last year. Correct? In May of last year...

ZIMMER: Yes.

CROWLEY: ...when a couple of officials you say -- said to you, listen, Sandy relief aid will in fact may be jeopardized if you don't go along with this redevelopment plan. Why are you here now?

ZIMMER: Well, you know, back in May when the lieutenant governor came and very directly said to me that these two things are connected, I -- you know, I didn't think anyone would believe me. I really didn't. I mean I do, looking back, probably should have come forward but I really didn't think anyone would believe me and quite frankly, if I came forward, no one believes me, then I'm going to put Hoboken in an even worse position and my number one priority as a mayor of Hoboken is to fight to make sure that we can get as many Sandy funds as possible. That's my number one priority. And I was really concerned that if I came forward, no one believed me, that we would really be cut out of the Sandy funding. But as I watched the coverage with bridge-gate, you do see parallels. I just felt I had an obligation to come forward and as I look for the second tranche of funding come through, I'm concerned we're going to be cut out.

CROWLEY: So -- but we have seen since this happened in May, which I have recorded in your diary, we have seen you complement the mayor. We have seen you several months later say in a tweet, I'm so glad that Chris Christie is our governor. So can you square that for me? Because as you know, coming at this point, what the Chris Christie office says is this -- this is just politics. Why can this not be seen through a political lens?

ZIMMER: Well I mean that's part of the reason that this was so hard because I do have a really -- I did have a really good relationship so I couldn't believe that they were doing this. The bottom line is that the Christie administration's response is one of deflection. I mean the major question is, did they connect Sandy funding, Hoboken Sandy funding to the Rockefeller project. The fact is that is what they did. I'm coming forward. I'm sharing my story directly. I'm here talking to you. I'm sharing my journal. I'm offering to testify under oath. What are they doing? They're hiding behind spokes people and in fact the lieutenant governor was reached directly by the Bergen Record and she declined to comment. I believe if and when she is asked to testify under oath, the truth will come out because I believe she will be truthful and she will tell the truth.

CROWLEY: OK. Anything that connects directly to Chris Christie on this? I mean I understand that he had a relationship with -- you're talking to his lieutenant governor, that you're talking to others in his administration that he has a relationship with this Rockefeller group. But, is there -- did he ever say anything to you? Did you ever not get funds? I know you didn't get everything you wanted, but I imagine (ph) that's true of most cities in New Jersey.

ZIMMER: Well, I think we really got shortchanged on the funding. We've been saying from the very start that we have severe needs and that we need to look at this comprehensively and we've been asking them again and again. Now the fact is that she came, lieutenant governor pulled me aside and said essentially, you got to move forward with the Rockefeller project. This project is really important to the governor. And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor.

CROWLEY: So she said -- she said that to you.

ZIMMER: She said that to me, is that this is a direct message from the governor. I was with him on Friday night.

CROWLEY: Again, if this happens in May, you've got a city that was just devastated by super storm Sandy that needs these funds and needs them immediately, not you know, two or three years from now.

So in May you had this conversation and the lieutenant governor says to you, this is a direct message from Chris Christie, get behind this project, or funds may be in jeopardy for your recovery. And then in August I think is when you tweeted, "I'm so glad he is governor of New Jersey." It is just hard to put those two things together.

ZIMMER: Well, again, I mean I had to basically almost set aside what she said to me because it is unbelievable, but it's true. It's true and I'm coming forward and I just didn't feel that we were going to be able to get the funding. I was concern the people weren't going to believe me. I mean it is stunning. It's outrageous, but it is true and I stand by my word. And like I said, I'm willing to testify under oath and I think when she testifies under oath we're going to see -- if she's asked to testify under oath, I think we're going to see the truth come out because I believe she will be truthful under oath. And I think you look at their response. They did not respond to the number one question, are they linking Hoboken Sandy funding to the Rockefeller project. The fact is, they are. My number one priority, again, is to do what's right for Hoboken, to make sure that we can get that Sandy funding. At the time I just didn't think that they would -- anyone would believe me but I'm coming forward as we look at these parallels. The parallels are that you have -- the Christie administration using their authority to try and get something. I don't know what they were trying to get in the bridge gate but I do know what they're trying to get in Hoboken, they're holding our Sandy funds hostage in order to get pushed through and expedite the Rockefeller project.

CROWLEY: I did speak to someone inside the governor's office this morning and they said, listen, our first pot was $300 million. The request from Hoboken was $100 million. They got $70 million. And they said, when you look across the state of New Jersey, all of these places were hurting and needed more money than at that point they obviously had, that $70 million out of a $300 million pot at that point is pretty good, it's almost one-third of the funds.

ZIMMER: Well, actually, the $70 million that the governor is taking credit for, the majority of that is from the flood insurance program that residents and businesses have paid themselves. They're paying premiums and they're getting those flood insurance programs so that has nothing to do with the $70 million and the bottom line is we applied for over a $100 million and we got just, you know, a little bit more than $300,000. Those numbers stand. I mean it's -- they're playing games with the numbers and it is a deflection. The majority of that $70 million that they are talking about is from the flood insurance that they were not responsible for administering.

CROWLEY: Did any other mayors so far as you know -- I'm sure you've gotten calls from at least some of your Democratic mayoral --

ZIMMER: I'm sorry. Can you repeat that question?

CROWLEY: Sure. Have you spoken to any other mayors in New Jersey that have similar stories?

ZIMMER: I've spoken to Mayor Fulop and obviously I know his story of what happened to him. They, too, I think have not gotten that much Sandy funding. And for him, he saw something very clear, you know, happen where they had some important meetings set up, day- long series of meetings that he was supposed to really have the opportunity to them -- for them, his whole administration, to understand what the challenges that Jersey City was facing and those meetings were cut off right away.

CROWLEY: There are lots of disasters that I've covered and always in the aftermath there is -- particularly if they're kind of statewide, there's someone who says, I'm not getting enough money, or the feds aren't giving us enough money, or the state aren't or the insurance company, because it is just so overwhelmingly awful that it is almost impossible to put everything back in place as it was. Could it be that the reason you're not getting the funds you want is not about this but about the fact that there still are limited funds? I'm told again by the New Jersey governor's office that when the next -- when the president approves the next round of aid, certainly Hoboken is going to get some. So have you seen yet the results of the threats you say you got?

ZIMMER: Well I think we have seen the results. And the fact is she made the threat. When the lieutenant comes here -- CROWLEY: I mean is there -- has it come to fruition, is what I mean? Like --

ZIMMER: I think it has come, yes. I think it has come to fruition. I think it has come to fruition in the first round and I'm not going to stand silent for the second round and have Hoboken not get funding. I mean we deserve our fair share. We deserve some of this funding. We've seen it happen in the first round and I'm not going to stand aside. And the bottom line is she came and she made a direct threat to me. She came and when the lieutenant governor comes, pulls you aside in a parking lot and says that these two things are connected, I know it shouldn't be, but they are and if you tell anyone about it, I'll deny it. She felt almost guilty about saying it. She knows it is wrong, but that is exactly what they're trying to do.

CROWLEY: Do you think if you had stood up and discussed this conversation at the time it would not have gotten big play? I know you say you wouldn't have -- you don't think anyone would believe you, but it certainly would have put it out there in the local news media, probably the national news media, because of Chris Christie's profile?

ZIMMER: I mean I don't think people at that time, I don't think people would have believed me.

ZIMMER: So, you know, I basically again, my number one priority is looking out for Hoboken. So I decided that it was best not to say anything at that time because I wanted to make sure that Hoboken still had had a chance of getting funding and I thought if I came out with that, then we surely wouldn't get the funding. So it was a decision that I made at that time.

CROWLEY: I want to read to you a part of what Chris Christie's spokesman, Colin Reed, had to say in a statement to CNN in which he said, "it's very clear, partisan politics are at play here as Democrats mayors with a political ax to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television." As one of the faces on television, I'm going to give you a chance to respond to that.

ZIMMER: I mean I'm not surprised that they are taking that approach, but in some ways I am. I'm the one that has stood with Chris Christie from the very beginning. I mean I hosted him in Hoboken for his first town hall meeting on the 2 percent tax cut. I stood with him on arbitration. We've had, you know, every interaction that I've had with him, it's been a positive interaction. And so I'm not surprised that they're trying to take this approach but I'm not -- I haven't been a part of the Democratic machine, so to speak, and so I mean to me, it's just - it's a deflection.

You know again, they're not answering the core question and the core question is, did the lieutenant governor say what she said. And they're not even answering that in their statement. They're hiding behind spokes people. She herself wouldn't get on the phone. When she answered the phone, she literally -- they got her on her cell phone and she said, you know, I can't respond, my spokes people will be responding.

Well, when it comes time if they are asked to testify, it won't be their spokes people who are testifying. It will be her testifying and she will be asked under oath and I think that she will be truthful and the truth will come out. For me the bottom line is actually, you know my -- the governor got a lot of support. He got a couple hundred more votes than me in Hoboken and most of my supporters support Governor Christie. So I -- yes, I am a Democrat, but I'm someone that, you know, has been extremely supportive of the Christie administration and I have worked closely with them on a number of legislative issues. They really helped us with our hospital. So I'm not in that, you know, mold, so to speak. I'm a different face. And if they really look back and reflect on that, they know that is the truth. CROWLEY: In fact the governor's office told me they were kind of surprised by this on Friday. They thought the relationship between you and the governor was quite good and that in fact you were in the governor's office, not meeting with the governor but meeting with some of his officials as late as last Thursday. So the relationship is still OK?

ZIMMER: Well, actually, they were in my office. There was one representative from the governor's office. There was New Jersey transit. A rebuild by design team, an international design team and we were talking about this plan, this competition that we're a part of under HUD secretary, Donovan. It is an excellent competition that, you know, we're working on a comprehensive plan to really protect Hoboken and really hoping to move that forward. But my concern is that the governor ultimately will not support this plan unless I move forward with the Rockefeller project. And if I don't have his support on this plan, then we're not in a good position to win this competition. So that's my frustration and that's my concern. And again, I'm trying to do what -- you know, what I think is best for Hoboken and you know, I also felt as more and more comes out about bridge-gate, that I had an obligation to come forward because I think there are some strong parallels here.

CROWLEY: And you would - you would concede as a politician yourself that the Christie camp would look at this and see this as piling on or supporters of the governor would say, this looks like Democrats piling on and sort of keeping it in the news.

ZIMMER: I'm sure they would look at it that way but it really -- to me, that's a deflection. Again, have they answered the question, did the lieutenant governor say this to me? They have not directly responded to that question. Did they tie Hoboken Sandy funding to the Rockefeller project and, yes, they did. That is a fact and they have failed to respond to that to date and they have failed to respond to it directly. We have not heard from the governor directly. We have not heard from the lieutenant governor directly. And again, I believe if she is asked to testify that she will be truthful around the truth will come out.

CROWLEY: So my last question is, when this was going on when you're in the parking lot having this discussion with the lieutenant governor, there is a part of me that says this takes place in politics a lot. I mean to the winners go the spoils. I mean the (ph) people go, you know, you got to go with the governor on this because it makes it really hard to do this, or et cetera. But when you were having this particular the conversation did you say, this sounds illegal, this sounds like a shakedown. I mean at what point -- where do you think this categorizes in the kind of really, really hardball politics or did it occur to you was illegal?

ZIMMER: Well I mean, what I thought was, this is a threat. I mean this is a threat and this is wrong, this is not fair to Hoboken given the devastation that we had. Our city was severely flooded. 80 percent of the city was underwater and this is not fair what she's asking me to do and it's not fair to hold those Sandy funds hostage in exchange for one development project and what she was asking me to do was really unfair and just not possible. As far as whether or not, I think it is something for others to look at as far as whether or not it crosses that line. But I know from my perspective just was not fair and it felt like a threat.

CROWLEY: Almost guaranteed to be continued. So I want to thank you so much, Mayor Dawn Zimmer. I appreciate your time.

ZIMMER: Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: More on all of this - thank you. More on all of this with our panel in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me around the table Republican pollster, Kristen Soltis Anderson, Michael Crowley, senior correspondent for "Time Magazine," no relation, and CNN political commentator, Donna Brazile. Thank you all for being here especially since we have to shorten our time with you.

But please here's the mayor of Hoboken sort of adding on. Where are we in the assessment damage for Chris Christie?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We're still in the, everybody is trying to figure things out stage. Right now when you look at, for instance, Chris Christie's favorable rating there are four out of 10 Americans who are still unsure. (INAUDIBLE) all comes out I think a lot of folks are saying, this is odd. I don't know if this all adds up. Nothing has been directly connected to Governor Christie yet. Let's wait and see what this investigation say before we kind of make any final judgment about him as a man or him as a potential face of the Republican Party in the future.

CROWLEY: But true but not connected then becomes look (ph) he can't manage his own store.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, "TIME MAGAZINE," SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean I think the big question now is will another shoe drop that shows that direct connection, which is really a nuclear bomb. You could imagine his career being over if it looks as though he gave direct orders to the bridge closure. But even short of that I do think people are judging him and I think it's fair to judge him based on the kinds of people who are around him and who you surround yourself with. I think that's a fair test of leadership. So he's definitely suffering a lot of damage. By the way, I think one thing that people forget is that, he had a lot of baggage already. You remember the book "Game Change" talked about the Mitt Romney opposition file, you know, a lot of those allegations haven't been proven or vetted out by the media. You better believe reporters are working on it but there may be other stories to come.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Drip, drip, drip is involved in his entire staff. And right now it has tainted his brand and also his administration. Right now it looks like things are falling apart, because every day there is a new story, a new revelation.

CROWLEY: I will point out that the mayor of Hoboken did tie it to him directly. Now whether it's true or not is just a whole other conversation, whole other investigation, but she said lieutenant governor said to me, I was with the governor last night and this is a message from him. Get behind this project or your Sandy funds are in jeopardy. Still not clear to me if her (ph) Sandy funds are -- were really jeopardized. She believes they were. But again you know what it's like after one of these disasters. Nobody gets enough money.

BRAZILE: She felt like she was short changed. And look, one thing we did know is that the party up in New Jersey -- Democratic Party was fractured. Many of them felt pressured to support Chris Christie. Chris Christie people were looking for crossover appeal. They were looking for things that they could talk about for 2016. So this story will continue.

CROWLEY: It also -- just the headlines themselves, it almost -- in some ways you could say, no, none of them are true. Just the daily headlines taken away from other things he might be doing. Raising money for Republicans et cetera.

MICHAEL CROWLEY: There's no question. I mean we could talk about is it fair, is the media paying too much attention to this story? Christie staff certainly thinks they are. But it is just a blunt reality which I'm sure you're seeing in the polling, it's hurting him and it's making Republicans, donors, party leaders who are looking for their candidate in 2016 a little more reticent. By the way, I said "Game Change." The book is "Double Down." I'm sorry.

CROWLEY: Get your books correct...

(CROSSTALK)

... colleagues and (ph) they tell us. Hillary Clinton, I want to move to her. You all had a front cover. Can Hillary -- can anyone stop Hillary? But I bring you Benghazi.

This week, we kind of find what we already knew, which was they didn't pay any attention to the safety concerns in (INAUDIBLE) Benghazi, but it's fresh for Republicans who say, well, then who's -- if it was avoidable, who is to blame here? And you know where they go, Hillary Clinton. She was secretary of state.

ANDERSON: I certainly think that Republican will talk about this. But if they expect that Benghazi will be the way they can derail a Hillary Clinton run for White House, I do think that's mistaken. I do think that it will have to be a bigger message. But let's all keep in mind that at this point in the presidential cycle in 2008, Hillary Clinton was a top Democratic field at 39 percent and Barack Obama's name wasn't even being asked in the polls. In fact his name first shows up in CNN's polling in October 2006. So we've still got a long way to go before 2016.

MICHAEL CROWLEY: I think you're right about that. One difference is I think even at that time in 2008, analysts were saying her vote to authorize force (ph) in Iraq is a massive vulnerability, who is going to take advantage of it? She doesn't have that vulnerability now. To those who would say, what about Benghazi? I would say, Benghazi is the best Republicans have, it shows how weak their case. Sure, put ultimate responsibility for what happened on her because she was at the top of the chain. But I really just don't think most voters, conservatives feel passionately about this. I think most voters are not that exercised (ph) don't think that she's directly culpable.

CROWLEY: Right. I think actually her problem will be more from progressives sort of looking for a new face that's a little less middle of the road. But I've got to change the topic because you got to go to Michelle's 50th birthday party. 20 seconds to go, tell us.

BRAZILE: It was fantastic. Amazing lady. Incredible party. She had her childhood friends there. Of course people from the administration. But the most important thing is that Beyonce performed and I have to tell you, John Legend sang happy birthday. But the most moving tribute came from Barack Obama who talked about the woman he met and fell in love with. It was an amazing show.

CROWLEY: Sounds like a very good birthday. Thank you all so much for being here. And thank you all for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Fareed Zakaria, GPS, is next for our viewers here in the United States.