The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/31/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, Chris, who needless to say –
HAYES: Has won numerous Super Bowls. Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you and enjoy the rings.
Thanks to you at home as well for joining us this hour.
So, today, the Chris Christie bridge lane scandal seems to have broken
– hey, guys, how you doing? Over here. Sorry. Seems to have broken wide
There are actually three huge developments in this case today. One,
the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, the federal prosecutor`s office, appears
to have taken a big new step in its investigation of potential abuse of
power or other federal crimes committed in New Jersey. We learned today of
new federal grand jury subpoenas today from federal prosecutors in New
Jersey. We`re going to be getting to that a little later on in the show
tonight. That`s one.
Also today, Chris Christie`s campaign manager, the man who led his re-
election campaign, who incidentally was the field director for the
McCain/Palin campaign in 2008, who was tapped immediately before this
scandal broke open to be the new head of the New Jersey Republican Party,
the man who was widely expected to be Governor Christie`s campaign manager
if he runs for president in 2016. That man, Bill Stepien, today announced
that he will invoke the Fifth Amendment and will fight having to respond to
the subpoena that he received from the New Jersey legislature.
He had been due to hand over documents and BlackBerries and cell
phones in response to that legally binding subpoena on Monday. This
upcoming Monday. But today, Bill Stepien`s lawyer said he will invoke the
Fifth Amendment and he does not plan to comply.
That development is actually really important for what happens next
here. And for the wider political impact here of what is happening to
Chris Christie in this scandal. We`re going to have much more on that
coming up in just a moment.
But the news flash today that rocked the political world and suddenly
made the whole country remember that there is something else going on in
New Jersey right now besides the Super Bowl, that, of course, was this news
flash from “The New York Times” just before 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time this
Ex-Port Authority official says evidence exists that Christie knew
about lane closings.
And it`s not just any ex-Port Authority official who`s saying this.
It is the guy who actually carried out the closing down of those lanes on
the George Washington Bridge, the access lanes from Fort Lee, New Jersey,
on to the busiest bridge in the world. Closing down those lanes during the
first week of school back in September didn`t just create traffic trouble
at those access lanes on to the bridge, shutting down those lanes
gridlocked traffic across the entire town of Fort Lee, New Jersey – on
Monday, the first day of school and again on Tuesday and again on Wednesday
and again on Thursday.
And they finally got called out and had the scheme broken up on Friday
of that week. That week was a nightmare. People`s commutes turned into
four-hour-long oddities. It was manmade.
And we have learned since then the gridlocking of Fort Lee in
September, that was the whole point of the exercise. Chris Christie`s
deputy chief of staff sent this e-mail, “Time for some traffic problems in
Fort Lee.” To which that aforementioned ex-Port Authority official
responded, “Got it.” It`s the guy who said “Got it” and seemed to spend
the next few weeks orchestrating how to create those traffic problems in
It`s that guy, the “got it” guy who today alleged in a letter from his
lawyer that Governor Chris Christie, himself, knew about this, knew about
the lanes being shut down. And here`s what`s important about that for
Governor Christie. Governor Christie is already in trouble, at least it
looks like he`s already in trouble for what he has said publicly about this
scheme – the scheme to use the George Washington bridge as a way to punish
this town of Fort Lee.
It was Wednesday, January 8th, when the e-mails and text messages were
first published that showed that the order to hurt Fort Lee by shutting
down those lanes had come from Governor Christie`s office, had come from
his deputy chief of staff. That was also the day that we saw these heavily
redacted text messages between someone who appears to be the same deputy
chief of staff and David Wildstein.
They`re talking about the gridlock they caused. Quote, “Is it wrong
that I`m smiling?” “No, no, it`s not wrong that you`re smiling.” The
person responds to David Wildstein, “I feel badly about the kids. I
guess.” To which David Wildstein responds, “They are the children of Buono
voters” – meaning they`re the children of people who vote Democratic. Do
not feel bad they`re gridlocked for hours in traffic and cannot get to
school because of something we just did.
That all came out on Wednesday, January 8th. Wednesday, January 8th.
The day after that, Governor Chris Christie gave a press conference
responding to this issue, professing to be angry and sad and blindsided
about this whole thing.
And you know what, the Beltway press really loved it, loved his press
conference is so long. He`s taking so many questions. He`s doing great.
The scandal is terrible, but Chris Christie is doing so great. Look
at his long press conference. The problem is, is that at that press
conference, the Beltway press may have loved it, but substantively, the
governor made claims at that press conference that have turned out not to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I am confident based upon my
conversations with them that they had no prior knowledge nor involvement in
REPORTER: What about – what about the cover-up piece of this?
CHRISTIE: That`s your characterization, not mine. There`s nobody on
my staff who had any knowledge of this issue until after the issue was
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is not true. This is an e-mail that was sent on the
fourth day of the bridge shutdown between top-level staffers and Governor
Christie`s office. It was sent from Christina Genovese Renna, who is the
director of departmental relations for the state of New Jersey, to Bridget
Anne Kelly, Governor Christie`s deputy chief of staff. She`s the one who
ordered, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
During the shutdown of those lanes, while Fort Lee was still a traffic
catastrophe, Christina Renna writes to Bridget Kelly, “Dear Bridget, this
afternoon, Evan received a call from Mayor Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee.
The mayor`s extremely upset about the reduction of toll lanes from three to
one. Not only is it causing horrendous traffic backups in town, but first
responders are having a horrible time maneuvering in traffic because that
backup was so severe. The mayor told Evan that he has no idea why Port
Authority decided to do this, but there`s a feeling in town there`s
government retribution for something. He simply can`t understand why that
would be the case however, because he`s supportive of the governor. Evan
told the fine mayor he was unaware the toll lanes were closed but could see
when he could find out.”
This was an e-mail during the bridge shutdown. It`s to Bridget Kelly
who worked in the governor`s office and who we now know ordered the bridge
shutdown. It`s from Christina Renna, who also worked in the governor`s
office. It references a third person we also believe works in the
governor`s office, Evan J. Ridley, who was an aide to Governor Christie.
That e-mail is during the shutdown. It involves the person who
ordered it, it`s three people in the governor`s office discussing the
ongoing shutdown, the disaster it`s causing, even the mayor`s feelings that
it`s politically motivated to hurt Fort Lee. And that discussion is
happening among the governor`s top staffers during the shutdown. Not
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: There was nobody on my staff who had any knowledge of this
issue until after the issue was already done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Not true. There`s also e-mail involving the governor`s
campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and Bridget Kelly, again, during the bridge
lane shutdown, during the catastrophe in Fort Lee that shows they not only
knew it was going on, but they knew what a disaster it was and a real
public safety problem as well, and that was during, not after, but during.
So, it is already a problem for Governor Chris Christie that he has
said something not true. That he has said nobody on his staff – no one
had any knowledge of this issue while it was happening. He has been
disproven on that point already and has not publicly addressed why he gave
that broad exculpatory assurance about his staff when it just wasn`t true.
Now, though, this new allegation hits closer to home. It is from
David Wildstein, from the man who arranged the shutdown on the bridge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), STATE ASSEMBLYMAN: Could you state and spell
your last name for the record?
DAVID WILDSTEIN, FORMER PORT AUTHORITY OFFICIAL: David Wildstein. W-
WISNIEWSKI: And where do you currently reside?
WILDSTEIN: Montville, New Jersey.
WISNIEWSKI: OK. And are you currently employed?
WISNIEWSKI: And most recently, where were you employed?
WILDSTEIN: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully assert my
right to remain silent under the United States and New Jersey
On the advice of counsel, I, again, assert my right to remain silent.
On the advice of counsel, I assert my right to remain silent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the attorneys general for New Jersey, New York
and United States were all to agree to clothe Mr. Wildstein with immunity,
I think you`d find yourselves in a far different position with respect to
information he can provide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was David Wildstein pleading the Fifth when he was
called before the New Jersey legislative committee that was investigating
the shutdown of those bridge lanes.
At the end there, you also heard his lawyer saying that in if Mr.
Wildstein could be cloaked in immunity, Mr. Wildstein might have some very
interesting information to provide.
Well, this time last week, because all news in this story breaks late
in the day on a Friday, this time last week, we were reporting that David
Wildstein had been cut off by the Port Authority in terms of his legal
defense in this matter. Even though he was employed at the Port Authority
while he engineered the bridge shutdown, the Port Authority said he was
going to have to pay all his own legal bills for representing himself in
So, not only would David Wildstein be blamed for the whole problem and
lose his job and potentially go to jail, but he`ll have to personally foot
the financial bill for his not inconsiderable legal defense along the way
because the Port Authority was not going to help him with that.
And that detail, which sort of feels like a little detail in this
whole thing, kind of feels like process, but that is what led to today`s
huge “New York Times” bombshell. When “The New York Times” was the first
paper to get its hands on this letter from David Wildstein`s lawyer. It`s
a letter to the general counsel of the Port Authority essentially appealing
the Port Authority`s decision to cut off David Wildstein and not help him
with his defense.
Quote, “I would request that you kindly reconsider the Port
Authority`s decision to deny Mr. Wildstein payment of his legal fees and
And why should the Port Authority do that? Why should the Port
Authority not cut David Wildstein off and make him deal with this himself,
ruin him as well as blame him? Why should the Port Authority not cut him
off? Because according to David Wildstein and his lawyer, he did not act
Look – “It has come to light a person within the Christie
administration communicated the Christie administration`s order that
certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed. And
evidence exists as well tying Governor Christie, himself, to having
knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were
closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press
Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements the governor
made about him and can prove the inaccuracy of some. And so implicitly,
don`t you dare hang him out to dry alone. He didn`t do this alone and he`s
not going to pay the price alone.
And although this is a letter that is addressed to the Port Authority
general counsel, if you think about it, it`s not really a surprise it also
went to the front page of “The New York Times” because this is clearly
meant as a much more public message. This is clearly meant as a public
message that David Wildstein has a song to sing about this, and he would
happily sing it if only someone would give him a reason to do so.
Governor Christie, for his part, released this statement tonight,
somewhat oddly claiming that Mr. Wildstein`s accusation exonerates the
governor. “Mr. Wildstein`s lawyer confirms who the governor has said all
along. He had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before
they happened.” Which is kind of an amazing thing. I mean, what David
Wildstein said today is Chris Christie knew about this when it was
happening. Didn`t say anything about whether or not Chris Christie knew in
By changing the subject, Governor Christie is trumpeting this
accusation as if it is some kind of exoneration, when in fact it is an
accusation and specifically an accusation that the governor lied. It`s an
accusation that the governor at that press conference, the big apology
press conference that the Beltway press loved so much. It`s an accusation
from David Wildstein that the governor didn`t just lie about his staff,
which we know he did, but he also lied about himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its
planning or its execution. I knew nothing about this. I don`t know what
else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this, of the
planning, the execution or anything about it. And that I first found out
about it after it was over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When the governor that day made similar assertions about his
staff, those were not true. David Wildstein asserted today that Governor
Christie was not telling the truth about himself there, either.
Now, Governor Christie denies that accusation. He says he definitely
didn`t know about it until afterwards and he says oddly that he is somehow
exonerated by the accusation that he knew about it during. That would be
amazing linguistic judo if the accusation does in fact turns out to
exonerate him, right?
Will that prove true? Will either the governor`s claims or David
Wildstein`s claims prove true? And how will it be proven? And how does
this bombshell today change the investigation that`s under way already?
The man leading the investigation in the New Jersey legislature John
Wisniewski is going to join us, as is Ted Mann from “The Wall Street
We`ve got lots ahead. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I don`t know what else to say except to tell them that I
had no knowledge of this, the planning, the execution, or anything about
it. I first found out about it after it was over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie saying he first found out
about it after it was over. That claim contested today by the man who did
it, the “it” in question, which of course is the shutdown of access lanes
on to the George Washington Bridge, apparently in order to manufacture a
huge purpose-built traffic jam in the town of Fort Lee that lasted for more
than four days.
David Wildstein, the man who made that jam happen said today that
there is in his words evidence that Governor Christie knew about that whole
thing as it was under way. The governor is denying it. Joining us now is
Ted Mann of “The Wall Street Journal” published this piece saying, watch to
see if David Wildstein has anything to say particularly if he`s granted
immunity in this case.
Ted, thank you for being the huge neon arrow blinking and pointing at
David Wildstein before the story broke today.
TED MANN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: You`re welcome.
MADDOW: In terms of what he actually said, Mr. Wildstein`s letter is
the first time any of Governor Christie`s aides or allies have challenged
the governor`s statements on this issue. Do we know enough yet to know
whether this is an important turning point?
MANN: I don`t think we know if this is the turning point of the
story, certainly it`s a sign that this timeline issue that has been really
lingering in this story is not going to go away very easily. The last time
the governor spoke about when he learned this was happening, which is a
legitimate question only because you`d expect he would take some action
hearing about how disruptive it was. The story shifted somewhat from in
December saying he had learned of this when the Pat Foye angry e-mail was
published to saying he learned of it somewhat earlier when the first press
reports came out.
The governor tonight didn`t actually deny directly and explicitly what
Mr. Wildstein`s lawyer is saying. He didn`t say it on the record, no, I
didn`t know during. So, the last thing we have to go on is the public
statement from the first press reports, that`s when I found out something
was up here. But that`s not going to be specific enough for the lawmakers
who are investigating, surely, and it`s probably not specific enough for
the media and the public.
MADDOW: That`s an important point, though, is that the governor has
already given two different and conflicting explanations as to when he knew
and now that there is this direct allegation from a guy who`s presumably in
a position to know that the governor knew during and the governor isn`t
denying that, is that in effect a third and yet earlier explanation of –
MANN: I don`t think we can say it`s a change yet only because the
statement, today, was just totally lacking in specifics –
MANN: – on exactly when he`s saying he knew. I mean, they`re saying
the press reports but they didn`t identify one in that e-mail that was sent
to everybody today.
And then it`s also important to point out that the person making this
accusation has not told us what his evidence is. You know, we don`t know
if it says what he says it says. That`s something who has something to
sell, which is a client with a good story that`s good enough to get him
immunity from being prosecuted.
MADDOW: Right, and being able to say, you know, an unnamed campaign
staffer somewhere, I can nail them is not enough incentive to offer the guy
who did it immunity in exchange for that testimony. It has to be big fish
presumably in order to justify that.
MANN: And that`s what our story was about this morning, the wildcard
nature of Mr. Wildstein. If he`s going out there via his attorney saying
I`ve got a story to tell, you should give me immunity, you know, tacitly,
you`re promising not that you can put a low level campaign staffer in hot
water, you`re saying something really big. It`s going to be coming from
MADDOW: This letter from the attorney today was directed specifically
to the Port Authority, to the general counsel at the Port Authority asking
for them not only to cover legal fees but provide him indemnification which
is related to immunity. But, obviously, the Port Authority wouldn`t have
that kind of authority that would extend to a criminal matter or anything.
MANN: Not in law enforcement. That`s an indemnification policy in
the Port Authority bylaws. And that`s the mechanism by which if you get in
trouble for something you did in your official capacity, you can turn to
the Port Authority and say you`re going to have to help cover my legal
bills because now I`m in trouble. Both David Wildstein and Bill Baroni
asked them to cover those bills.
There`s been no decision announced about Baroni. Wildstein was
eventually denied. They said in effect our policy covers you working for
the Port Authority and we don`t think what you were up to qualifies.
MADDOW: Strategically it`s an interesting issue because it`s going to
be hard for them to say no to Wildstein, you`re on your own and protect
Bill Baroni. But if you keep cutting the guys off, there`s no reason for
them not to turn on everybody else involved in the issues in order to save
MANN: Well, and there you have to consider the people making the
decision about the indemnification, they`re not discussing the rationale.
But they work for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They
don`t necessarily work for the Christie administration. They don`t
necessarily have loyally to either of these guys or anyone but the Port
MADDOW: Ted Mann, “Wall Street Journal” transportation reporter
covering the New Jersey bridge scandal from the very beginning – Ted,
thank you for being here. Stay in touch.
MANN: Thank you.
And there was the news bombshell dropped by a man named Bill Stepien,
the guy who everybody thought was going to be his campaign manager when he
ran for president as well. While David Wildstein today was threatening to
sing, Bill Stepien was breaking other news, doing everything he could to
clam up, invoking the Fifth Amendment. That very unexpected story plus the
mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and more coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, today, the man who arranged the shutdown of those lanes
on the George Washington bridge, to hurt the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey,
he alleged that Governor Christie knew about the shutdown while it was
happening, despite the governor`s repeated claims that he knew no such
The federal prosecutors investigating the potential criminal activity
in Chris Christie`s New Jersey sent subpoenas to the city of Hoboken.
Hoboken, the city whose mayor has alleged hurricane sandy relief funds were
made contingent by the Christie administration on her green lighting a
private development project in Hoboken to which the governor`s allies were
Both of those things happened today. But what may end up being the
most important development today in this story concerns this man. His name
is Bill Stepien. He`s Chris Christie`s campaign manager.
He was the New Hampshire political director for the Bush/Cheney re-
election campaign in 2004. In 2008, Mr. Stepien worked for the disastrous
Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign. Before leaving that failed effort to
become national field director for the McCain/Palin campaign.
After that ended in 2008, well, that ended up being a convenient
ending time because there was a Republican candidate for governor who had
to run in an off-year election immediately after `08. He was running in
2009. And Bill Stepien was available and Chris Christie hired Bill Stepien
to be his campaign manager when he first ran for governor in 2009.
When he won the governorship, he brought Bill Stepien into the
governor`s office with him. He made him his deputy chief of staff. Mr.
Stepien is reported to have been very closely involved in almost every
aspect of the day-to-day running of the office and Christie administration
as a whole. He was one of Christie`s closest confidants for years.
When it came time for Governor Christie to run for reelection, Mr.
Stepien was moved out of the governor`s office so he could once again
manage the campaign. When he moved to the campaign office to once become
campaign manager for the Christie election effort, he was replaced in the
governor`s office by Bridget Anne Kelly, who would go on to send that
infamous e-mail “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
A few months after that, though, after Governor Christie did win re-
election, he had a decision to make about what was going to happen to his
campaign staff. He had a decision to make about what was going to happen
to his beloved and twice victorious campaign manager he was so close to,
Bill Stepien. Everybody expected when Governor Christie was going to run
for president in 2016, Bill Stepien again was going to be the Chris
Christie campaign manager for that presidential run.
But what would Mr. Stepien do in the meantime? Now that the
gubernatorial re-election campaign was over, but it`s a little too early to
start the presidential. What would he do now?
Problem solved. On Tuesday, January 7th, so just a few weeks ago,
Governor Christie announced he wanted Bill Stepien to become the new head
of the New Jersey Republican Party.
Mr. Stepien had already taken up a consultancy gig with the Republican
Governors Association which Chris Christie was running, but Chris Christie
said Bill Stepien should also run the New Jersey State Republican Party.
Governor Christie put out this statement saying this, “Bill Stepien is the
best Republican operative in the country and New Jersey Republicans will be
fortunate to have him leading our party.”
OK. So, that was a Tuesday. That was Tuesday, January 7th. The next
day, Wednesday, January 8th, this happened. The “Bergen Record” first to
publish 22 pages of highly redacted documents showing the order to cause
some traffic problems in Fort Lee had been sent by Governor Christie`s
deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, who happened to have replaced Bill
Stepien in that job.
In addition, Stepien, himself, turned up in those 22 pages of
documents. A few days after the closures, David Wildstein sent a press
report about the traffic jam to Bill Stepien. Mr. Stepien read it, wrote
back, quote, “It`s fine, the mayor`s an idiot, though.” Meaning presumably
the mayor of Fort Lee who had this horrible thing done to his town on
orders of the governor`s office.
A few weeks later, David Wildstein sent Bill Stepien another press
account, this one from “Wall Street Journal.” “Port chief fumed over
bridge jam.” The report included an e-mail from the director of the Port
Authority calling those lane closures abusive and appalling and saying he
prayed no one died as a result.
Bill Stepien reviewed that e-mail and replied, quote, “I saw.
Ultimately not an awful story. Whatever.”
That is what is publicly known about Bill Stepien`s involvement in the
lane closures or reaction to the lane closures in the first week in January
when those 22 pages first came out, where Tuesday saw Bill Stepien picked
to run the state Republican Party. Wednesday saw the release of 22 pages
of e-mails and texts. And then, Thursday, saw his Governor Chris Christie
fire him in public and basically end his career.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)]
CHRISTIE: I was disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude, a
callous indifference, that was displayed in the e-mails by my former
campaign manager Bill Stepien, and reading that, it made me lose my
confidence in Bill`s judgment. And you cannot have someone at the top of
your political operation who you do not have confidence in. As a result,
I`ve instructed Bill Stepien to not place his name in nomination for state
party chairman, and he will not be considered for state party chairman.
And I`ve instructed him to withdraw his consultancy with the Republican
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “I told him to not place his name in nomination for state
party chairman. Disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude displayed
in his e-mails.”
Chris Christie in his press conference told reporters he fired Bridget
Kelly, his deputy chief of staff. He said he fired her for lying to him,
about knowing nothing about the decision to close the lanes on that bridge.
But he also said in that press conference that he was ixnaying the
whole thing with the campaign manager taking over the state party and him
working for the Republican Governors Association, not because of something
that Bill Stepien knew about the bridge scheme before it happened. He said
he was firing him because of the tone of his e-mails, the e-mails that he
sent after the whole bridge scandal thing was over.
Interestingly, and weirdly, Governor Christie actually said he fired
Bill Stepien because of this matter even before he fired Bridget Kelly.
Bridget Kelly is the one who apparently did it. Bill Stepien got fired
even before she did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: But, you know, there are times when people that you put in
those positions make mistakes. They disappoint you. You lose their – you
lose your confidence in them. Or they lie to you.
And when you find that out, the test of leadership is what do you do?
I found this out at 8:50 yesterday morning. By 9:00 this morning, Bridget
Kelly was fired. By 7:00 yesterday evening, Bill Stepien was asked to
leave my organization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Why did Bill Stepien get canned even before Bridget Kelly
did? Bridget Kelly is the “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”
order. Bill Stepien went before she did? Why is that?
In any case, they both got canned, famously and in public. After
those 22 pages of documents were leaked to the “Bergen Record.”
Ultimately, though, importantly, we got more than just those 22 pages.
When the committee and the legislature investigating this thing released
more than 2,000 pages of what they had obtained by subpoena. In that giant
pile of 2,000 documents, Bill Stepien turns up yet again. This time it`s
not after the fact. It`s not after the lane closures issue was long over.
It`s while it is still going on.
Look at this message dated September 12th. September 12th. This is
while the bridge shutdown is in effect. Message from David Wildstein to
Bridget Kelly, who ordered the shutdown in the first place, but also to
bill Stepien, a forwarded message, during the shutdown. Of the complaint
letter from Fort Lee`s mayor, Mark Sokolich.
The Fort Lee mayor explaining the disaster in Fort Lee, “This decision
wreaked havoc upon our community visiting upon us. Complete gridlock. Our
emergency service vehicles are experiencing tremendous response time
This part of his letter is underlined, “Unquestionably this decision
has negatively impacted safety here in Fort Lee.” The mayor asked, “Is
this punitive? Is Fort Lee being punished? What do we do?”
Bill Stepien was sent that during the shutdown when he was serving as
Chris Christie`s top political operative. Yes, Bill Stepien was one of the
18 people subpoenaed by the state legislature into the investigation into
this matter. Those subpoenas are supposed to be responded to by Monday.
But, today, Bill Stepien said he`s not going to do that. He`s going
to invoke the Fifth Amendment. His lawyer releasing this 19-page letter,
along with 100-plus pages of attachments tonight, explaining that Bill
Stepien will not comply with the subpoena. He`ll invoke this Fifth
Amendment right not to testify.
His attorney says Bill Stepien has not broken any laws. He calls him
one of the most well respected political consultants in America. And he
says he`s taking the Fifth.
Here`s the thing, though – that subpoena deadline is Monday. Is Bill
Stepien going to be the first to invoke the Fifth Amendment and invoke the
subpoena or are all the Chris Christie staffers going to do that now?
Also, two days after the subpoenas are due on Monday, it`s going to be
Wednesday of next week. And Wednesday of next week is the subpoena
deadline not just for the legislature but federal prosecutors also
investigating this issue as a potential federal criminal matter and who
have sent subpoenas due next Wednesday.
We know from last week that two of the entities who received the
federal grand jury subpoenas due next Wednesday are the Chris Christie re-
election campaign and New Jersey state Republican Party.
Interestingly, in the “I`m taking the Fifth” filing from Bill Stepien
today, he said he didn`t get a federal subpoena from the U.S. attorney`s
office, he only got one from the state legislature.
We don`t really know who else got subpoenaed by federal prosecutors,
but look at this. The “Bergen Record” got ahold of the agreement for what
Governor Christie`s office is going to pay the lawyer who`s representing
them on the bridge scandal. They`re going to be paying the lawyer $650 an
hour. Or rather if you`re a New Jersey taxpayer, you are going to be
paying this lawyer $650 an hour. That`s the deal they struck for his time.
But more interesting that what he`s getting paid is what he`s getting
paid for. The lawyer`s retention letter states he will help the governor`s
office with, quote, “document retention and production in connection with
the United States attorney inquiry”, which the “Bergen Record” notes is the
clearest indication we`ve had yet that Governor Christie`s office either
has already received or anticipating receiving a subpoena from the federal
prosecutors looking into whether a crime was committed.
Chris Christie`s campaign manager is invoking the Fifth Amendment in
response to the subpoena from the legislature on Monday. Nobody is saying
officially who also got a subpoena from the Feds. But New Jersey taxpayers
are paying a $650 an hour lawyer for the office of the governor of New
Jersey to handle some kind of inquiry from federal criminal prosecutors.
They`re just not saying what.
This weekend is the Super Bowl, and it is in New Jersey. And on that
occasion, I`m sure Governor Christie is delighted to be like doing sports
interviews where no one asks him about whether he really is dealing with a
federal grand jury subpoena of his governor`s office in this corruption
But the Super Bowl is Sunday and it will end on Sunday. Then will
come Monday and all of next week. And right now, it looks like all of next
week is going to be a real doozy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown
here. We have nothing to hide and his administration has nothing to hide.
Listen, I have absolutely nothing to hide. And I`ve not given any
instruction to anyone what, but my instruction to everybody will be to
cooperate and answer questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That said, the governor`s top political staffer, his campaign
manager for both his election campaign and his re-election campaign just
said he will not comply with a subpoena from the New Jersey state
legislature o n the issue of the bridge scandal, says he`s invoking his
Fifth Amendment rights and will not hand anything over.
Joining us now is co-chairman of the New Jersey assembly select
committee investigation, Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
Thank you for being back here.
WISNIEWSKI: Good to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Today, we learned that – well, today, we learned a lot of
things. One of the things we learned is that Bill Stepien`s lawyer, the
Christie campaign manager, is challenging your subpoena. He`s asserting
his Fifth Amendment rights. He`s saying essentially he`s not going to
What`s your reaction to that?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, that`s something the lawyers are going to have to
work out because the subpoena is valid. Remember, David Wildstein complied
with the document subpoena, did not raise this very same issue.
So, it`s a little curious. We expect compliance with the subpoenas.
We`re going to meet with counsel beginning of the week to talk about what
steps the committee could take to make sure the subpoena is complied with.
MADDOW: Do you expect more of this? Do you have any reason to
suspect or know other people who you subpoenaed? You subpoenaed 18
individuals and two entities, that they`ll also do this?
WISNIEWSKI: I don`t have reason to expect they will. We`ve gotten
documents not only from Mr. Wildstein but from Mr. Foye and others who none
of them have raised this very same objections. So my expectation is that
people will comply with the subpoenas as they`ve been issued.
MADDOW: I`m just going to laze one issue to you from Mr. Stepien`s
objection. His lawyer says, we presume he`s subpoenaed because of two
documents he sent which show him commenting on press reports about this
matter after it was already done.
So, obviously, they`re saying the implication is he wasn`t involved in
this in any way. They`re not referencing the other document which you also
turned up under subpoena in which he was sent information about the
shutdown while it was ongoing.
Do you think it`s possible this is, like, a three`s company plot, this
is a big misunderstanding and once we get on the same page about the facts
it will be resolved?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, it could be.
WISNIEWSKI: But I think the key element here is the facts. Let`s get
to the facts. Let`s get to the documents.
If there`s absolutely nothing untoward going on here, if this is just
a big misunderstanding, then what`s the harm in allowing the committee to
see the documents and make – have the committee make the determination on
We want to get to the facts so this can`t happen again. We`re not a
law enforcement agency. So it seems that the protestation is somewhat
overblown in light of what the committee`s charge is and what the
committee`s looking for.
MADDOW: In a different letter released today, David Wildstein`s
lawyer appears to be referencing some sort of undisclosed evidence that the
governor knew about the lane closures on that bridge while they happened.
You have already received a number of documents from David Wildstein under
subpoena. Is he referencing evidence that you have seen? Do you know what
he`s talking about?
WISNIEWSKI: I don`t know what he`s talking about and I think that`s,
perhaps, one of the most intriguing elements of this letter. I mean, it
was buried in a three-page letter that largely talked about his getting his
attorneys fees paid.
So, somewhere in there is this allegation that there`s material that
Mr. Wildstein has that refutes the governor`s statement. I would have
expected that if he had that material, it would have been produced as part
of his subpoena response. We don`t have that. So, I`d like to know what
it is. But, also I`d like to know under what basis was this material with
held from the committee?
MADDOW: One of the ways Mr. Wildstein withheld material by the
committee was handing you documents that had black lines all over them, a
lot of things redacted. You talked before about trying to get the un-
redacted version of the documents, trying to figure out what it was that he
blocked out. What`s the status of that?
WISNIEWSKI: The committee attorney is looking at those documents to
determine exactly what was redacted and we`ll have a conversation with Mr.
Wildstein`s attorney to make a determination as to whether we agree with
his redactions or we find issue with his redactions. I think it`s too
early to say.
There`s a small number of documents. We`re looking at them to make
sure the argument was made. These are outside the timeframe. These are
not relevant to the subject matter.
So, we want to make sure that if that`s really the case or were there
things that were unintentionally or intentionally kept from the committee
that we should have been made aware of. But, so far, we haven`t come
across anything that seems to speak to the issue that was raised by
Wildstein`s attorney in today`s letter.
MADDOW: One last question for you briefly. I know you`re about to
get – unless everybody pleads the Fifth, you`re about to get thousands of
documents starting on Monday.
MADDOW: In response to the subpoenas. Will they be publicly
released? When will the decision be made?
WISNIEWSKI: They won`t be publicly released initially because we
won`t know exactly how complete they are, if they`ve complied. So, the
first step, his staff will review them. There will be a determination for
completeness. And then what we did in the fast with Wildstein is when he
testified as part of the transcript that was prepared afterwards, those
documents were made available as part of the transcript.
And so, we`re way before anybody testifying. We don`t know if we
need, for instance, to do additional document subpoenas. So, it will be
some time before the documents become part of the public record.
MADDOW: Attorney Assemblyman John Wisniewski, now accepting new
reading glasses as a donation from across the nation. Good luck, thanks,
WISNIEWSKI: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got lots more to come. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH (D), FORT LEE, NJ: Think about it. Who would
close down lanes of the busiest bridge in the world to get to me? First of
all, I never viewed myself as being that important. The governor himself
said that I`m not on his radar nor am I in his rolodex. So, I`m thinking,
how could this possibly be? How could it possibly be?
But now reading the e-mails and the texts that we see today, it
certainly is the case. And I`m embarrassed for those people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is the mayor of the Fort Lee, New Jersey,
Mayor Mark Sokolich.
Mr. Sokolich, thank you very much for being here.
SOKOLICH: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: You talked about this story and what was going on in your
town initially when it happened and then you stopped talking about it
publicly for a while.
SOKOLICH: I did.
MADDOW: Why did you stop far while and why are you OK to talk with us
SOKOLICH: You know, my decisions – everything I do is based on what
I believe to be in the best interest of my community, bottom line. So,
when this happened on that Monday on September 9 and for three or four
months, I didn`t view there being any benefit. There were fact finders
that were investigating, you know, Senator Weinberg and the assemblyman,
the committee from the assembly was looking at all the facts.
So, I didn`t view it to be a benefit for Fort Lee to enter that fray,
number one. The only time I really spoke publicly during those four months
when I believe the governor made reference to the fact that if it was such
an important issue to me, I should have called Pat Foye. I didn`t know who
Pat Foye was until he wrote that memo on that Thursday, because we were
always directed, only deal with New Jersey appointees for New Jersey
MADDOW: And he was implying that you would never squawk, that you
would never complain, that this hadn`t bothered you when it happened
SOKOLICH: That`s not possible.
MADDOW: Right. And we now know. We`ve seen the letters, we`ve seen
the references, the text messages, the e-mails.
SOKOLICH: Twenty or 30 of them.
MADDOW: What`s your reaction today to learn about David Wildstein
asserting, he says there is evidence that Governor Christie knew this was
happening? What do you think about it?
SOKOLICH: Right. It`s an artily crafted letter, you know, written by
a lawyer, well-trained lawyer, talks about wanting legal fees, talks about
conflict of interest, and its concluding section talks about, you know,
during – and he said during the lane closures. And that needs to be a
defined term because if during the lane closures is Monday, September 9th
and then four more days ensue thereafter, well, that`s a problem. That`s a
problem for me. It`s a problem for Fort Lee. It`s a problem for the
MADDOW: If the governor knew about it and didn`t take steps to stop
it. Is that what you mean?
SOKOLICH: That`s correct. If during means Tuesday or Wednesday, I
mean, it gets a little less worse as you get to problem or Thursday when
the memo surfaces from executive director Foye.
But if, you know, if we were – if it was allowed to continue that`s a
problem. But you know what? I said I`ve taken the governor at his word,
I`m not rooting for the highest elected officer in the state of New Jersey
to, you know, be part of this, but there`s still many chapters still not
yet read on this issue.
MADDOW: When Governor Christie did stop attacking people for asking
about this and minimizing this as an issue, and he did apologize and take
some responsibility for it, one of the thing he did was came to Fort Lee to
apologize to talk to you. Did he say anything then to you, to assure you
that he didn`t have – that he didn`t know about it at the time or didn`t
know about it ahead of time?
SOKOLICH: That 25, 30-minute meeting, maybe 40-minute meeting was
basically a recant of the two hours of statements that were made earlier
that day. There were unconditional assurances there would be no further
retribution. You can rest assured nothing like this will ever happen
It was a specific question I had asked. I said, what do I tell my
residents? What can I say to my residents to give them an assurance that
this won`t happen again? And we were assured it wouldn`t happen again.
MADDOW: Have you heard from the governor or his office since then?
Has there been any further intercourse between the two of you?
SOKOLICH: There`s been no further intercourse between the two. I did
reach out and there`s a meeting we set up for the new deputy executive
director with the Port Authority, which I`m really looking forward to
meeting. We initiated that. And she graciously agreed. So we`re really
looking forward to meeting with her. I`m talking about how Fort Lee can be
a great host community to the busiest bridge in the world.
MADDOW: Fort Lee, New Jersey Mayor Mark Sokolich – you`ve been
through a lot on this. Thank you for being able to talk to us on this.
SOKOLICH: My pleasure.
MADDOW: I really appreciate.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Do you remember a couple of weeks ago, I said in the middle
of one of these long shows about the information about the bridge scandal
in New Jersey – listen, we`ve been covering this, you know what we have to
talk about tonight, but there`s something else going on in the story, and
Steve Kornacki is going to break it tomorrow? Remember I told you that and
it turns out the next day Steve Kornacki blew the whole story open with the
Dawn Zimmer claims about Hoboken and having their Superstorm Sandy relief
funds tied to a development project in the town, how that changed the whole
story, and Steve Kornacki broke that story?
Well, Steve tomorrow has another scoop. It is a different angle than
what we`ve learned about tonight. Tonight, we`ve learned about David
Wildstein, saying there`s evidence that Christie knew about the bridge
shutdown while it was happening.
Today, we`ve learned that Chris Christie`s campaign manager is going
to invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to comply with the subpoena that
he`s supposed to respond to on Monday. Today, we have evidence, not direct
evidence, but evidence, that Chris Christie`s office has probably also
received a subpoena or is expected to receive a subpoena for federal
prosecutors looking into matters for this potential criminal issue in New
Jersey. All of that broke today.
But something different on this story is going to break tomorrow here
on MSNBC, from long time New Jersey reporter and now MSNBC anchor Steve
Kornacki, 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
You have to go to bed now so you can wake up in time, because it
starts at 8:00 a.m. And if you`re not going to go to bed now, you have to
go to prison.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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