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Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield

Emails Tie Christie to Bridge Gridlock; Book Slams Biden and Hillary; New Controversial Book on FOX News Chief; Rodman's Team Plays in North Korea

Aired January 08, 2014 - 11:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: The incredible stuff. There is a lot more on this. If you want to see the entire story, "The New York Times" website, if you just go to that site and search out the retro report. There is an even longer documentary that you want. A whole lot more information as well, pretty fascinating stuff. And a lot of legal implications as well.


BANFIELD (voice-over): Speaking of legal implications, I don't know if you have ever heard of the George Washington Bridge, but it is one of the busiest bridges in the country, if not the busiest. It is on the left-hand side of your screen.

What does it have to do with Chris Christie on the right-hand side of your screen, the governor of New Jersey, well, there are some pretty damning emails that are coming out right now, tying him to some intentional lane closures on that bridge that really messed things up for a community on the opposite side of Manhattan.

A community belonging to a mayor he says didn't endorse him and his campaign. Wow. More on that in just a moment.




BANFIELD: This just in to CNN, emails emerging from top aides to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bolstering the case that the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge back in September were borne of a political vendetta against Christie's opponents and not simply an incomplete traffic study, as his administration had made the claim.

Our Jake Tapper joins me live now from Washington.

Listen, I have been reading some of these emails and they seem very, very damning. Let's be real clear: these are Christie's aides. But does anything go right to the top and tie Christie himself to this?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: No, not as of yet. We have no evidence that Governor Christie knew anything about these emails, the contents of these emails. But as you say, they are damming. They do seem to very strongly suggest that the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 were done directly to harm the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

That is the inescapable conclusion from these emails and text messages that we obtained. Let's get to some of them right now.

First of all, this is one sent a few weeks before the lane closures from Bridget Anne Kelly. She is a deputy chief of staff for Governor Christie, to David Wildstein, that is -- that was a political appointee at the Port Authority in charge of the bridges and tunnels going between New Jersey and New York.

And David, Bridget Anne Kelly says, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

And David Wildstein responds, "Got it."

So that is the first time in these emails and texts we obtained that we see any sort of suggestion that there will be some action on the George Washington Bridge, and it is not about a traffic study. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Then the next thing that happens is the morning of September 10th, this is on day two of this study, the mayor of Fort Lee -- and here is the context -- the mayor of Fort Lee, like I think roughly about 60 Democrats in New Jersey, when Governor Christie, a Republican, was running for re-election, one of his big points on the campaign trail was that he was bipartisan, able to achieve things in a bipartisan way.

He sought the endorsement of dozens and dozens of Democrats. He got the endorsement of dozens of Democrats.

The democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark Sokolich (ph), was not one of them. So that is the accusation from Democrats in New Jersey.

Until now, without proof, but now, bolstered by these emails and texts, that the mayor says in a text message to David Wildstein of the Port Authority, "Presently, we have four very busy traffic lanes merging into only one toll booth. The bigger problem is getting kids to school. Help, please. It's maddening."

Now Wildstein sends that text message to somebody else, whose name has been redacted. And that person writes back, "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?"

Then, the person writes, "I feel badly about the kids."

A minute later, he texts -- he or she texts, "I guess."

Then, Wildstein responds, "They are the children of Buono voters."

Barbara Buono was Christie's Democratic opponent in the pending New Jersey gubernatorial election. So again, once again, the idea of revenge against people who are not on the Christie side.

BANFIELD: Wow. And listen, it wasn't just the school kids. This was the first day of school. The buses were all showing up late. But there were also first responders, Jake, first responders said that they were having trouble responding to their emergencies.

And there was radio silence -- those are the actual words in some of these emails -- when there was a request. What's being said when the mayor reaches out and tries to get an answer from you at the Port Authority. Radio silence as though that is sort of a badge of honor. This is very, very troubling.

TAPPER: Radio silence, that's right. Bridget Anne Kelly, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, the day before, on the first day of the closures, calls in. Bridget Anne Kelly asks if anybody got back to him.

And you're right. That's exactly Wildstein's response, "Radio silence," as if he's bragging about it. "His name comes right after Mayor" -- I believe his name is Fulop -- "that mayor" -- and I apologize if I'm mispronouncing his name -- that mayor is a Democratic mayor of Jersey City, also a Democrat who refused to endorse Republican Governor Chris Christie in his re-election bid.

That mayor this week said that there was a lot of revenge against him for refusing to endorse Christie. He didn't say specifically Christie had anything to do with it but he says meetings were canceled from Christie aides and officials, cabinet officials.

And he said -- he refers to Democrats who supported Christie as Christiecrats. And he says one of his bills was scuttled because he didn't endorse Christie.

Here's another one, by the way. On September 18th, after there is this -- the story starts to get some traction in the news, because there is the suggestion that it was a political vendetta and also just a mystery as to why these lanes were closed on the first day of school.

And David Wildstein says to Bill Slepian (ph), who is the campaign manager for Christie and he says that he is going to -- he is ready to go to work with empty boxes. And then he says that the mayor, who he refers to as the Serbian, "the little Serbian is going to have a bad November."

He then writes back, the -- Christie's campaign manager, "It's fine. The mayor is an idiot, though. Win some, lose some."

There is going to be a lot -- there are a lot of questions for Governor Christie based on these very damning emails from some of his top aides and advisers.

Christie, of course, we weren't able to reach him. But he in December said that he took his aides' word for it, that this was just a traffic study gone wrong. And he did accept resignations from a few of the officials. (CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: (INAUDIBLE). We are not going to get those answers at the swearing-in ceremony for the Salem County Freeholder Director Julie Acton (ph), because we just got the notice about an hour ago that Chris Christie has revised his public schedule and that this has been postponed.

So no one's going to be getting any questions answered from the governor there. We will see if we can get any response otherwise. Jake Tapper, good reporting and thank you for that.

Be sure to watch Jake in "THE LEAD" weekday afternoons at 4:00 pm right here on CNN.

Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: Thank you.

BANFIELD: The former Defense secretary Robert Gates' new book has some bombshells about Vice President Joe Biden and then also Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; both Democrats are thought to be presidential candidates in 2016. So does this make a difference?


BANFIELD: We talked a little earlier this hour about how former Defense secretary Robert Gates' memoir, which is due out Tuesday, is already rattling cages in Washington. And that includes the 2016 presidential race.

Gates is a Republican. And he takes some swipes at two top Democrats weighing White House bids, big top Democrats, right there.

Gates says that Joe Biden, quote, "has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

Gates also recalls this exchange between President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Quote, "Hillary told the president that her opposition to the 2007 surge in Iraq had been political, because she was facing him in the Iowa primary."

So while that sinks in, joining me now, CNN political commentator Will Cain, shaking his head, and political strategist Sally Kohn, who is shaking her head and laughing it off.

2016, three years away, guys. Memory sometimes can be short, but memories can be long as well.

You don't seem to think this is as critical as others do.

SALLY KOHN, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: I had conceded. No, I don't, actually. First of all, I haven't read the book. Will hasn't read the book. Pretty much no one has read the book yet.

BANFIELD: But those quotes are in it.

KOHN: But those quotes are in it, as are some others. And so first of all, we should note that Gates says far more incredibly flattering things about Hillary Clinton, who he also calls a friend as well as saying he respects her judgment on a number of issues. She's been a great representative for America in the world. So he says all these things, too.

Here's the thing. This is a Republican smearing in a few passages two of the leading presidential candidates for 2016. Let's not make this more than this is. Republicans could find gum on the bottom of their shoes and use it to smear Hillary Clinton and Biden.

BANFIELD: This is a guy who has been really muted. For most, he would be considered one of the most nonpartisan players in Washington. He served two different administrations. So he is not your average Republican. Everybody else, I gotcha.


WILL CAIN, POLITICAL ANALYST: The fact he has worked for every administration since Richard Nixon except for Bill Clinton and, as you said, has a reputation for bipartisanship, the indictment here, Ashleigh, can't be overstated.

What he has said is Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, for that matter, made decisions about war and fought foreign policy for political calculation. To some (INAUDIBLE) these are like, whoa, politicians being politicians.

However, what we're talking about, he said President Obama, for example, was skeptical, if not outright certain that his Afghanistan strategy would fail. He sent 30,000 troops into battle, knowing essentially this would not work. That is unconscionable.


CAIN: That is Custer knowing how the battle is going to end out ahead of time and going in anyway.

BANFIELD: And then, he said, he made one of the most courageous decisions in the White House I've ever seen in going after bin Laden when even I, Bob Gates, didn't think it would work. He called him one of the most courageous presidents. He called him Lincolnesque. He had a lot of glowing --


CAIN: He did not say --

BANFIELD: How bad is this?

CAIN: -- he did not say Obama was an evil character. He did not say Obama was a villain. What he said, Ashleigh, what this incident reveals is Obama is not a leader. He is a follower. He followed political calculation. There are many ways --

BANFIELD: Sally, (INAUDIBLE) critical, that is a critical --

CAIN: -- (INAUDIBLE) follow the crowd.

BANFIELD: That is a critical issue that he brings up with people he very knows well.

KOHN: You know --

BANFIELD: Thirty seconds.

KOHN: -- what is it, 400 pages in this book. We pull out a few quotes. There are other quotes where he says he respects the decisions that the president made. You know, the other thing at work here is that Republicans have fallen behind. They used to have the dominance on foreign policy. That was the one issue where they hands- down beat Democrats.

They're losing that because of President Obama, because he got Osama bin Laden. And this is them desperately trying to get it back.

CAIN: If we are going to make political calculations to drive our foreign policy, we might as well elect Gallup. (INAUDIBLE) in no way. We have a chance in '16 to make a decision (INAUDIBLE).

BANFIELD: Something tells me that these will come up in the campaigning, which is almost certain (INAUDIBLE).


BANFIELD: (INAUDIBLE) for both of them.

Will Cain, Sally Kohn, thank you.

CAIN: Thank you.

KOHN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Another book set to release soon that exposes a man named Roger Ailes. Recognize the name? You should. He is the former chairman of FOX News. And how he wanted to elect the next President of the United States. Some allegations that are pretty serious as well, including offering a female employee an extra $100 a week for sex.

A joke? Appropriate? All that, coming up in a moment.



BANFIELD: I said before the break, the former chairman of FOX News, he's the current chairman of FOX News, and he's being accused of some pretty serious stuff right now, sexism and racism and wanting to elect the next President of the United States. Again, a news man. It's all part of a brand-new book called "The Loudest Voice in the Room," that hits stores January 21st.

And let's just say it is loud, it's explosive, in fact.

And to say that FOX News is not happy about it might be considered an understatement.

I want to bring in Brian Stelter, our CNN senior media correspondent and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

So let's just say right off the bat, this is not a book that Roger Ailes or anyone at FOX News took part in, was interviewed for or agreed to be a part of, correct?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: That's right. Gabriel Sherman, the author, tried to get access and (INAUDIBLE).

BANFIELD: (INAUDIBLE) exhaustive. I mean, they interviewed over 600 people for this book.

STELTER: That's right. And it's 500 and some pages long; it is attempting to be the definitive book about Roger Ailes and about FOX News. It's been in the works for three years. And some of the allegations in it are pretty damning.

BANFIELD: So among the allegations, as I just sort of skimmed through, some pretty embarrassing stuff, like suggesting that a producer named Randi Harrison, while negotiating her salary back with Mr. Ailes back in the '80s, he offered her an additional $100 each week, quote, "if you agree to have sex with me whenever I want."

STELTER: This was one of the biggest surprises, I think, in the book that we have heard about so far. It seems outlandish.

And yet the producer's name is attached to it and the producer spoke, this former producer spoke to the author of the book directly. So that is a pretty serious allegation.

Now FOX says these charges are false. They have also said, by the way, that the publisher of the book, Random House, did not actually fact-check the book with FOX News. That's one of their responses.

BANFIELD: That FOX News would not partake in that action?

STELTER: Well, I presume that if Gabriel Sherman had emailed a laundry list of questions of FOX, FOX either wouldn't have responded or would have just denied it all.

But the point is, and Roger -- Ashleigh, in the interview this morning out of "The Hollywood Reporter," Roger Ailes is quoted, saying, "What's new is that Random House refused to fact-check the content with me or FOX News."

And then he went on to say, "That tells you everything you need to know about this book and its agenda." And it's understandable why Roger Ailes is out there trying ahead of time to downplay this book and say it's wrong, because it is going to be pretty explosive.

BANFIELD: Explosive, to say the least. FOX News has put out a statement, in fact, in response to this.

"These charges are false. While we have not read the book, the only reality here is that Gabe was not provided any direct access to Roger Ailes, and the book was never" -- flip that screen, if we can, because I don't have a copy of it on my desk, I'm just going with it live -- "fact-checked with FOX News."

Just like Brian Stelter said, man, you're ahead of the curve.

STELTER: Yes. And you know, for a lot of people, this book is going to confirm their suspicions about FOX News. It's going to confirm, once and for all, that FOX is essentially a part of the Republican Party, or that Roger Ailes is the head of that party, so to speak.

BANFIELD: He also had some kind of scathing things to say, if the book is to be believed, about his two very big stars, Bill O'Reilly -- apparently he calls him a book salesman with a TV show -- and Brian Kilmeade, who's the morning show host, says he's a soccer coach from Long Island.

Where did he get these things?

STELTER: Well, these are clearly sources that were in the room with Roger Ailes. You know, authors like Gabriel Sherman don't make up this stuff. This comes from anonymous sources who are well-placed inside and around FOX News.

That said, they are usually anonymous. So some people are going to not believe a word of this.

BANFIELD: And this claim that Roger Ailes was so committed to having Mitt Romney elected as president in the 2012 race that he advised his running mate, Paul Ryan, that his TV skills needed some work and recommended that he get a speech coach.

STELTER: Right. Now these sort of things seem true to me. I've covered FOX News for a decade and it's very well documented that Roger Ailes is very interested in Republican politics, he speaks frequently to Republican politicians and has in the past given advice to people like former President George W. Bush.

That said, I think this book is going to go deeper than ever before about that.

BANFIELD: Personal experience: Roger Ailes tried to hire me many years ago and I was in a conference room with him and I asked him about the fair and balanced tag because he had been lambasted so often with the fact that he was a conservative who had no compunction about making his network conservative.

And I said, "Fair and balanced, is that fair?"

And he said, "Ashleigh, it's not about whether I'm fair and balanced with my network. It's when taken in whole part with the rest of the media, my network makes the media fair and balanced."

STELTER: And if you believe the rest of the media is liberal, then FOX is a very important counterweight.

Then the thing about FOX is that it is both a news operation, with respected news men and news women. And it's also in operation with pundits and Republican commentators and former Republican politicians and presidential candidates. It's both of these things. And that's why it's so fascinating.

BANFIELD: It's interesting, and it will raise a lot of hackles and I'm sure --

STELTER: And we just a couple minutes ago, booked Gabe Sherman on "RELIABLE SOURCES" this Sunday. So we will talk to him about it at length.

BANFIELD: And that's the guy you're going to watch, this Sunday, "RELIABLE SOURCES," at what time?

STELTER: 11:00 am Sunday.

BANFIELD: 11:00 am, there you go. Thanks so much.

STELTER: Thank you.

BANFIELD: See you, Brian. It's good to see you in from the cold.

STELTER: Thanks, yes. Much nicer.

BANFIELD: (INAUDIBLE) your own medicine.

STELTER: Much balmier.

BANFIELD: We'll be right back.



BANFIELD (voice-over): So that is the ever-flamboyant Dennis Rodman, singing "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who turns, well, everybody figures, probably 31 today, his performance just before his squad of former NBA stars played their controversial game against a North Korean team this morning.

Rodman's team lost. This game comes a day after Rodman's tirade during a CNN interview, in which he strongly implied that Kenneth Bae, an American imprisoned in North Korea for over a year, may, in fact, have committed a crime against Kim's regime, even though there have been no charges released or a trial, it seems.

Bae's sister speaking on CNN "NEW DAY" this morning said that Rodman doesn't know what he's talking about.


TERRI CHUNG, SISTER OF KENNETH BAE: I was shocked by his words, and I think -- I don't think Dennis Rodman -- I'm not sure where he's getting his information. And I'm not sure how much credence I would give to his outbursts. I don't think -- he's certainly not a diplomat, and not an authority on this case at all.


BANFIELD: In case you're wondering, AP says that Rodman's team played only the first half against the North Koreans and lost 47-39. They split up and merged the teams for the second half. Rodman played only in the first half, and then sat next to the president, Kim, during the entire second half of that game.

Want to show you some amazing video from my hometown of Winnipeg, because all this week we have been talking about the bitter cold and snow all across the United States. And is I keep telling you, I feel your pain, because I grew up in minus-40 in Winnipeg. And here is how some of us in Winnipeg like to enjoy the cold, winter months.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the Winnipeg Winter Water Gun Fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't try this at home. We're trained professionals.



BANFIELD (voice-over): Thank you, "Winnipeg Free Press," for giving us this awesome video and telling us what it's really like to live up there in the cold arctic temperatures.