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Piers Morgan Live

Chris Christie's Bridge Over Troubled Waters; Gabriel Sherman Book Slams Fox News; Discussion On Waterboarding As Torture; Sole Survivors

Aired January 08, 2014 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, PIERS MORGAN LIVE HOST: This is Piers Morgan Live. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're looking live at the George Washington Bridge, the world's busiest, traffic is moving pretty smoothly right now between New York and New Jersey.

But back in September, the traffic jam from hell turned the town of Fort Lee into a virtual parking lot for days. Coincidentally or maybe not as we now learned, the town's mayor had just refused to endorse Governor Chris Christie for reelection.

Now, we have e-mails from top Christie aids, to make this look a lot more like a case of clinical payback. Listen to what Fort Lee's mayor told Wolf Blitzer earlier today.


MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH, (D) FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY: For those that are responsible are responsible for this most heinous act. They can no longer be in positions of power in government.


MORGAN: I'll talk to that mayor in a moment.

The massive traffic was a question of life and death in several cases but people were waiting for ambulances. I talked to New York -- New Jersey lawmaker who says Chris Christie should come clean and come clean now.

Plus, the explosive new book about Fox News Chief Roger Ailes, what he says about some of his top talent and his plans to change the course of America's politics.

Also, the hero pilot who saved 154 people from icy Hudson River five years ago, what Sully Sullenberger wants you to know about flying in icy weather and about the danger from electronics in midair.

I want to begin now with our Big Story, Chris Christie's bridge over troubled waters. Joe Johns is here with more on the spreading scandal.

Joe Johns, what started as a potential problem for Chris Christie has turned into a pretty dramatic scandal which some fear if it turns out he's not being completely frank could end any presidential aspirations.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, a real potential there for difficulties for Chris Christie, Piers. The closest thing to a smoking gun in all of this is a message that went out around August 13th that said time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.

It was from the e-mail account of Bridget Ann Kelly, the governor's Deputy Chief of Staff it was to former Port Authority official who wrote back that he got it.

It's significant because the official reason for the gridlock was a traffic study reviewing safety patterns for toll lanes. The problem though is that the town that felt the most pain was Fort Lee, New Jersey who's Democratic mayor had endorsed Christie's opponent in the gubernatorial race in November raising the question of politically motivated punishment.

So first question is what does the governor know?

He put out a statement tonight denying knowledge of this calling the e-mail's unacceptable saying, he's outraged, that he was misled by a member of his staff and that the completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without his knowledge.

Perhaps the biggest problem here is that that the gridlock caused by the traffic study created problems for emergency medical crews. The emergency medical services coordinator for Fort Lee, New Jersey wrote a letter taking off four occasions when emergency medical crews were delayed from responding to calls.

Apparently, due to the change in traffic patterns in the area this includes a 91 year old woman in cardiac arrest who was pronounced in the EMS jargon that generally means pronounced dead at a local hospital.

So, Piers, this is simply very serious stuff.

MORGAN: Yeah and I guess it all comes down to what Chris Christie knew or didn't know although of course there's a secondary issue of what he does about the staff who were very close to him in some cases, his deputy chief of staff who are still in their jobs tonight.

Is there some surprise that he hasn't already taken action and fired those responsible?

JOHNS: Well, it's a difficult situation over there because the alternative to not knowing was knowing which would have been another headache. But the headache he's dealing with is that Governor Christie did not know what was going on in his own office apparently and while he said he was misled by a member by his staff, the e-mail seem to suggest that others including people at Port Authority may have knowledge of what was going on.

The governor did tonight promised accountability for those responsible. So he says it's going to happen, Piers. MORGAN: Joe Johns, thank you very much indeed. Joining me now on the phone is the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich.

Mr. Mayor, what is your reaction to Chris Christie's statement late this afternoon?

SOKOLICH: That he's appalled. I guess it's -- I wish it came a little earlier. It came four months into this debacle. It would have been a little more sincere, I believe, if it happened within a day or two or three of all of these happening but, you know, it took four years of, excuse me, four days of complete shutdown, resignations, engagement of incremental defense attorneys, Senate subcommittee meetings, and now, the revelation of the existence of these e-mails to make the statement.

I mean there's always pretty obvious what it transpired. I don't think -- I think I was really, Piers, the only guy in the world that was hoping that this wasn't the case. I think everybody else knew it. I just was in denial quite frankly.

MORGAN: Do you believe that Chris Christie knew nothing about this as he claims?

SOKOLICH: I don't know. I mean I don't want to speculate. I've been saying that on the interviews I've conducted today. I truly don't want to speculate although as time transpires and events unfold, you know, it just -- it becomes disheartening to believe that it's disclosed to the Governor's office quite frankly.

Two high ranking officials at the Port. Now, we have a deputy chief of staff. We have a campaign manager who apparently is sending e-mail calling me the idiot. Meanwhile, he's putting this stuff in e-mails but OK.

It seems like it's getting closer and closer. And I don't know. I don't want to speculate but it seems like it's just getting closer.

MORGAN: Well, it cuts right into the heart of courseChris Christie, for amateurs, of being a straight guy who lives in breeze for the people of New Jersey.

Let's watch a little clip from an interview I did with him in February 2012 where he directly talks about that responsibility.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: All I could tell you is what I do. And my view is, here in New Jersey, that I'm responsible for every New Jerseyan, no matter how much money they make, no matter where they live, no matter how many children they have, whether they've lived here their whole lives or they just moved here, whether their kids are in school or whether they're retired and living on a fixed income.

As the Governor, as the President, you have to be responsible for everyone. And you need to care about everyone the exact same way. And as Governor, my view is all of them deserve our attention. Of course we're not going to let the most vulnerable suffer and we haven't in New Jersey and we shouldn't in America.


MORGAN: I mean it seems to me that whichever way you look at this what has happened whether it's his senior staff or whether Chris Christie in involving himself which is the moment he resolutely denies.

But, what you've got here is people in his office and the Port Authority potentially putting people's lives at risk, we know four of separate incidents involving emergency services being delayed by minutes in getting to people who have called for emergencies. It's hard to imagine a more serious abuse of power, isn't it Mr. Mayor?

SOKOLICH: I would agree, you know. And I've been questioned. People have questioned my decision not to really enter into this fray until now. Less four or five months as well four months or so, I've been just sending off interview request and statement request after request after request. Now, with the revelation of these e-mails, obviously, I think I have to keep my responsibility if I don't speak up a little bit.

We always knew that these people's lives are put in harm's way, these are documents that we are required to produce, we knew that they were going to eventually surface.

To our credit, we didn't grant stand. We didn't --to do some, this is the reality of things. And by the way, the e-mail that you're referring to I believe was they should get (ph) me only on day two and that was halfway through day two.

And as far as day three and four, I can only imagine but --

MORGAN: More then, if you actually -- Yeah. And if we ask you read some of this is a text from you to Bill Baroni --

SOKOLICH: I'm begging. At that point I'm begging.

MORGAN: Right. And you say, "Presently we have four very busy traffic lanes merging into only toll booth. The bigger problem is getting kids to school. Help please, it's maddening." Then there's a text from an unknown person to David Wildstein saying "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?" Wildstein, no. Unknown person, "I feel badly about the kids. I guess. Wildstein, "They are children of Buono voters."

I mean an absolute lack of any empathy of chilling kind of political revenge aspect to all this. From people running the Port Authority and leading right to the sensor of Chris Christie's operation.

What do you think should happen now? Should people be fired, should any of any of these people be in a job by tomorrow morning one to be name in shame today? SOKOLICH: People that are in these positions of authority that behave this way, that put petty politics ahead of the health safety and welfare of my residents and the residents of the entire state of New Jersey truly can't be in those positions.

I'm sorry, if you know me for 30 seconds there was none an ounce of venom in my blood. It takes a lot for me to say that. It takes a lot for me to reach that conclusion. They can't be put in those positions.

Look, it's a privilege to serve. I don't want to sound corny. I don't want to sound like this is rehearsed. It's not. I served as the Mayor of Fort Lee, as the father and husband, I view it as the most important job that I had. That statement that the governor said before that you replayed is precisely the statement that I'd make and I've made on behalf of the residents of my town.

One distinction though, I abide by it. It is truly and absolute privilege to serve. And if you can't distinguish between politics and political vendetta you do not belong in those positions.

But, you know, I have a feeling that many of them will know longer be in those but -- excuse me, will no longer be in those positions. And I'm sure you'll also hear that this was part of the career path. And you know, they were going to be resigning anyway or they're going to be fired anyway.

It's not true. This is a problem. And my bigger problem, Piers, is what's going to happen to Fort Lee once all of this coverage goes by the wayside in a month, in two, in three, in six, and nine.

What retribution do we have to look forward to here in Fort Lee because let's say --

MORGAN: A final question --

SOKOLICH: -- in many different ways you can skin this cat and that's what I've always --

MORGAN: Right.

SOKOLICH: -- been scared off since day one.

MORGAN: And final question, Mr. Mayor, and briefly if you didn't mind. Have you heard from anybody in Chris Christie's camp including the governor's staff?

SOKOLICH: No, zero. No one.

MORGAN: No apology?

SOKOLICH: Remain mindful, Piers, I'm not on his radar, so I trust, I'm not in his (inaudible) either.

MORGAN: Mayor Sokolich, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

SOKOLICH: My pleasure.

MORGAN: And now, I want to bring you in Loretta Weinberg, she's a New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader, Fort Lee is in her district also John Cichowski. He's a Road Warrior columnist for the Bergen County Record. He's covered this from the very start.

And let me talk to you first Loretta Weinberg. What is your reaction to this extraordinary development today which lays clear evidence now that takes right to the heart of Chris Christie's operation that they did this deliberately?

LORETTA WEINBERG, (D) NEW JERSEY STATE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I have been involved in this issue for four months which Mayor Sokolich knows.

I represent Fort Lee, indeed, I lived in Fort Lee for a couple of years. So, I know this area quite well. I know the geography very well. I have been to four Port Authority commission meetings in October, November, December, I have asked question after question. So let's look at this whole thing.

I am really glad that the governor has finally, after four months, expressed outraged. Let me point out that all of the New Jersey commissioners are nominated by the governor. He is the one who appoints them. Then we move ahead to his two top lieutenants at the Port Authority. The deputy executive director and Mr. Wildstein who was a childhood buddy of his. When those two people left and it was apparent that they were directly involved with this, the governor never asked them. Did anybody in my office have anything to do with this? The governor should know that --

MORGAN: Should he --

WEINBERG: -- until --

MORGAN: -- if I could jump in, should Chris Christie be firing people over this?

WEINBERG: Yes. Absolutely. I will back up with Mayor Sokolich's just said, anybody who used the George Washington Bridge, just think about it. It's really--it's almost difficult for me to find that right words to express this. This is the busiest bridge in the world. It is a Homeland Security target. And they created a traffic jam and put our citizens in jeopardy and caused our children --

MORGAN: Yeah and --

WEINBERG: -- to be late to school.

MORGAN: It could be a disgraceful ...

WEINBERG: I mean, it's unbelievable.

MORGAN: It is unbelievable. Let me go to John Cichowski, Road Warrior, a reporter for the Bergen Record. The argument that's been spun until now from the Christie campus is that they were conducting some traffic study. Is there any credibility to that? Is there any evidence to support it? Is it likely that that was ever in their minds?

JOHN CICHOWSKI, ROAD WARRIOR COLUMNIST, THE BERGEN COUNTY RECORD: Well, if you call the traffic study three or four days beforehand where you have the idea put forward that you're going to close a few lanes and look at that, I suppose you vaguely could call that a traffic study. But there are much better ways to do this. I mean, you've got cameras and -- all over the place, you got computers, you can look at the -- you can read the license plates, you know where people are coming from. It's hardly necessary to run -- to actually stop traffic and bring it down to one lane at that location.

MORGAN: But you were actually --

CICHOWSKI: It was over 30 years that's been done that way, you know, why not continue?

MORGAN: Yeah, as you're talking, John, we're actually looking pictures from the time back in September where you can see the traffic currents (ph) and everything else.

So -- and what is significant it seems to me is that there was no warning given to officials or the police or anybody. This just happened first thing in the morning. That would suggest this was a deliberate attempt to do what we now believe was a form of corruption really.

CICHOWSKI: Yeah, yeah. But it sure looks that way.

WEINBERG: And did in fact under oath when the manager of the bridge testified before the assembly transportation committee. He said he got a very clear direction. "You are not to tell anybody in Fort Lee." That was a clear communication. So, it can't claim any miscommunications here.

MORGAN: OK. I'm going to have to --

WEINBERG: The governor heard that testimony.

MORGAN: Yeah. I'm going to have to leave it there for both of you. Thank you both very much for joining me. Chris Christie's bridge scandal is turning to a major headache for the (inaudible) Republican sees their best hope to be Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical 2016 race.

Joining me now to talk about all this is Brian Steltar, the Senior Media Correspondent and the host of Reliable Sources in CNN. Political commentators Marc Lamont Hill, and Ryan Lizza, and Amy Holmes, Anchor of The Hot List

Ryan Lizza, I was reading your tweets about this early today and you were not pulling punches. How serious could this be for Chris Christie?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's very serious I think it could threaten his presidential ambitions if he is directly tied to this scandal which he hasn't yet been.

He denied that his staff had anything to do with this and we now know that that's not true. And in the statement today, he has said that he was misled.

So if that's the end of it, if this woman Bridget who clearly set this whole thing in motion, if she is -- obviously she's not going to survive this. She's not going to be working for Chris Christie much longer, I think we all know that. And that's evidence that's the only person in Chris Christie's office who was tied to this.

And he will -- I think he can survive this. But you he has to deal with the fact that he wasn't honest when he said that his staff wasn't involved.

And then there are the questions of how did a culture in Chris Christie's office get created where someone who is so close to him would go to someone who is his best friend, the guy the Port Authority, and think it was OK to spend $60,000 on a fake traffic study and punish a local mayor who didn't endorse Chris Christie when Chris Christie was 25 points ahead in the polls.

MORGAN: You know, that's the thing, I mean Amy Holmes, let me bring you in here. I mean it's just seem so utterly pointless. He didn't --


MORGAN: -- to do this. His staff didn't need to -- it seems too petty and plays right to the thematic claims against Christie over the years. He is a bit of bully. Whether he knew or not, if the staff are behaving like this, that in itself is outrageous.

HOLMES: Exactly, it's not only vindictive. Politically, it's stupid.

How did these folks think that Fort Lee residents were going to be blaming their Mayor and not the Governor for sitting in traffic for three to four hours and the Governor not interceding on their behalf.

So that doesn't even make sense politically. But to Ryan's point, Chris Christie I think can survive this. But that depends on of the e-mail and the texting traffic doesn't lead directly to him.

Clearly, Bridget needs to be fired. I think her next job is going to be for Kim Jong-Un. And apparently, she has these very petty tyrannical tendencies that do not belong in government.

MORGAN: Marc Lamont Hill, are we all getting too overexcited about this because Christie's such big political figure because I think the most telling thing I've heard tonight so far is, when you remember George Washington Bridge is the busiest in the world, as a terror target right up there and here you are deliberately creating a mass traffic jam therefore potentially mass casualties.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, absolutely I don't think we could overstate the importance of this. You know, last month Chris Christie try to tell us that that was the case. He said I'm a national figure now until the Democrats are attacking me. That has proven to be untrue, this was not a Democratic plot. This was in fact a very real thing.

It's hard to imagine also that he didn't know about it. Everyone who knows Chris Christie, anyone close to his administration knows that he is a notorious micro manager.

He runs that place with an iron fist, its hardly imaginable that he could do -- that anything could happen without him knowing about it.

So for me, this is a mark on his character even if it doesn't go all the way to him in terms of a smoking gun. Questions will be raised throughout the next two years that will hurt him as he supports candidates around the country in 2014. It will certainly hurt him if he decides to run for president in 2016.

MORGAN: Brian Stelter, I'm going to actually leave the viewers in suspense for your verdict.

When we comeback after the break, I want two things from you. One, your reaction of this and the media treatment

Also Roger Ailes in the news, interesting that Fox News has barely touched this story. What does that tell you about the power that he wields in protecting or going after presidential candidates? We'll find out after the break.



MORGAN: Do you like the fact that you have this slightly intimidating reputation?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) OF NEW JERSEY: I don't like or just like it, it's just kind of what it is. It's who I am. Me and I think what people in New Jersey have gotten to know about me over the last decade that I've been in public life is what you see is what you see is what you get.

And I'm no different when I'm sitting with you than I am when I'm at home or anyplace --


MORGAN: Chris Christie back in 2011. Back with me now is Brian Stelter, Marc Lamont Hill Ryan Lizza and Amy Holmes.

Brian Stelter, this is the very brand, isn't it of Chris Christie? He's a straight talking guy. He calls as is. He's not like the other guys of Washington.

So, this is cut right to the quick really of his reputation. What do you make of this and the way the media is responding? BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is catnip for the media. I think in part because it involves something everybody hate which is traffic, you know.