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Terror Video Threatens Olympic Games; Mayor: Christie Held Sandy Funds Hostage; California Gripped by Record Dry Heat; Drying Lake May Yield 1965 Plane Crash; New Terror Threat To Olympic Games; Mayor: Christie Held Sandy Funds Hostage; Is Christie's Reputation Tarnished?; Dennis Rodman Checks Into Alcohol Rehab; Michelle Obama's 50th Birthday Bash

Aired January 19, 2014 - 14:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Two big breaking stories topping our news this hour. New terror concerns for everyone heading to the Sochi Olympic Games. Just weeks before the Winter Games begin, CNN has obtained an ominous video made by terrorists that's at the heart of the concern. We're live in Russia with the very latest.

And back in this country, another allegation against Governor Chris Christie's office. The mayor of Hoboken tells CNN the governor's office withheld relief funds after Superstorm Sandy. Details on both stories start right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: We begin with the breaking news out of Russia and that terror tape. Here's what the new threat says, in part. Quote, "As for your Olympics, something that you really want, we prepared a present for you. You do your business, and we'll do ours. We prepared a present for you and all tourists who come over," end quote.

A video posted online shows two men who claim to be the suicide bombers behind one of last month's bloody bombings in Volgograd, Russia. The video is just adding to fear that Russia won't be able to stop a terror attack at the Olympic Games.

Phil Black joining me live now from Volgograd. So Phil, give us more about this video and how it was uncovered.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, so this video shows two men who claim credit for those bombings here in Volgograd just a few weeks ago that killed 34 people on the 29th and 30th of December. But more than that, as you've touched on, they promised there is still more to come.

In that very ominous language they say they have a present prepared for Russians, for tourists traveling to Sochi for the Winter Olympics there. They say that they have prepared this in response, in revenge for all the blood of innocent Muslims they say has been spilled across the world. And they say they have a list of people who are involved in this who are prepared to help them, who are prepared to take part in these sort of actions, enough they say, for effectively an attack every day.

So an ominous, first of all, taking credit for the attacks that took place here so brazenly but also promising more to come in the Sochi Olympics, which is now just such a short time away -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so what, if anything, is the Russian government saying about how this tape is now changing their security game plan?

BLACK: They haven't commented on this video specifically. But when it came to the attacks that the men in this video are claiming credit for, at the time, Russian officials said that does not change their game plan, their security game plan for Sochi, because they believe they already had everything possible in place.

But what you did see was certainly a big step up in security in Volgograd, in cities like this, in transport hubs. Because what that attack showed was perhaps the vulnerability, not so much in Sochi. Because a theory suggests that if those men had wanted and thought they could strike Sochi at that time, they would have done so. What they have perhaps highlighted are the vulnerabilities that may exist in other heavily-populated parts of Russia, and how -- and the challenge of protecting such a vast country, so many cities, so many vulnerable targets during the Olympics, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And in what way has security been beefed up, particularly because of these new vulnerabilities?

BLACK: What you've seen, simply, it's just been a much more visible security presence, particularly here in Volgograd. And particularly you're going to see a lot of that tomorrow. Because the Olympic flag arrives in Volgograd just a few weeks after those terror attacks here, which as I say, killed 34 people.

And interestingly, it will be arriving by train, coming into the same train station that was attacked on December the 29th. We are expecting to see a very large security presence here on the streets. And in deed, there's already very much a sign of that in the city here tonight, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Phil Black, thanks so much.

So Russia may be flooding Sochi with more security, but that apparently is not good enough for two U.S. lawmakers. They sit on the intelligence committees for the House and the Senate. And both say that they worry that Russia is really not up to -- not prepared for these serious concerns and threats at the Olympic games.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: So what we're finding is they're not 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? You know, there's a missing gap. You never want that when you go into something, I think, as important as the Olympic Games. SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: 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 -- they've almost broadcast that they're going to try to do something there.


WHITFIELD: The fear of a terror attack at the games will be hanging over these Olympics from the opening ceremonies and all the way to the closing.

Former CIA operative and CNN national security analyst Robert Baer joining me now from Los Angeles with more on this.

So Bob, bottom line, is it your feeling that, A, this threat is very credible? And if so, how concerned are you about anyone who may be going to these Olympic Games?

ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it's absolutely credible. I think these people will strike somewhere in Russia, probably not the Olympic village, the facilities. They could hit airplanes, crowded areas. Americans aren't safe there. I certainly, myself, wouldn't go to Russia at this time, go to Moscow, even, or St. Petersburg.

I think when these people say they're going to hit, they will. And there's no way that the Russians can protect against this 100 percent. They've been trying to deal with this threat for 20 years and have failed.

WHITFIELD: So it's not comforting, or -- at all, in any way that even Putin has said that he has security under control, that seven known terrorists have been killed recently leading up to these games to make sure, to ensure that this will be a secure games?

BAER: Fredricka, they cannot control the North Caucasus. There are large Caucasian populations in Moscow and the rest of Russia, Volgograd, in particular, whether they're Chechens or Dagestanis. No, these -- they can't do it. It's too big of a threat. The Russians are very efficient. They just -- they simply cannot protect Russia during these games.

WHITFIELD: And how much might Russia allow, whether it be U.S. intelligence or intelligence from other countries, to assist, particularly during these games, to try to secure the many tourists and athletes who are on their way?

BAER: The Russians have never been cooperative about internal security. They say, "Listen, we can take care of it. Don't bother us. Don't ask us. We're not going to give you anything. We're not going to let you in our situation rooms."

So we're not going to get much cooperation at all. We just have to take it on faith. And frankly, you know, I've worked with the Russians before. I don't think they can do it. WHITFIELD: So what does it mean when the president, Putin, says there's an evacuation plan, whether it be for U.S. athletes or other athletes if, indeed, something were to happen? What do you envision that means?

BAER: An evacuation plan doesn't sound good to me. I mean, it sounds like people running for it under some sort of attack. I don't -- that's not reassuring. You know, he's saying, "We'll keep you safe but we can't -- we can't guarantee it."

WHITFIELD: So it would -- I think most athletes and even tourists would think that if there's going to be a secure location, it would be in that Olympic perimeter in Sochi. But you're saying not only is Sochi vulnerable, but certainly, tourists or athletes venturing outside of that perimeter are really potentially in trouble.

BAER: Fredricka, it's targets of opportunity: tourist buses, train stations, airports, even airplanes themselves. They can get suicide bombers on these airplanes. They have in the past. And they're going to try it. Just the Russian intelligence is not good enough to take care of this. I'm quite sure of it.

WHITFIELD: And this Volgograd attack that took place in December, what, in your view, was the real strategy here by the terrorists, to do this leading up to the games, to make everybody uneasy, or to simply also send a message this is a prelude for more?

BAER: I think it's absolutely -- it was a well-coordinated military- style attack. You know, two targets right in the heart of Russia. You know, get people like me on TV saying it's not safe to go, but it's not. And I think they want to wreck the Olympics for the Russians, and they're starting to do it.

WHITFIELD: Very sobering, very unsettling for the millions of people who will be descending, or planning to descend on Sochi. Thanks so much, Bob Baer. Appreciate that.

BAER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Now to our other top story.


DAWN ZIMMER, MAYOR OF HOBOKEN: They're holding our Sandy funds hostage. You have, you know, the Christie administration using their authority to try and get something.


WHITFIELD: That is the Hoboken mayor, Dawn Zimmer, making stunning new allegations against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Zimmer, standing next to Christie in videotape you see right here, told "CNN STATE OF THE UNION" today that Christie's office is playing politics with Sandy relief money.

The governor's office is already denying this. Sunlen Serfaty is following this story live for us from Washington. So Sunlen, what more do we know about the mayor's claims and how she will substantiate them?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, the mayor went farther than ever today. For the first time, here on CNN, she's tying Governor Chris Christie directly to these threats of retaliation.


SERFATY (voice-over): The alleged retaliation from Christie's team happened seven months ago. On CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer tells Candy Crowley why she's coming forward only now.

ZIMMER: I was really concerned that if I came forward, no one would believe me, that we would really be cut out of the Sandy funding. But as I watch the coverage with Bridge-gate, you do see parallels.

SERFATY: Her charge: Sandy aid for hard-hit Hoboken was held hostage until she pushed through a project by the Rockefeller group, a real- estate developer with ties to the New Jersey governor.

SERFATY: After this Hoboken event in May in a nearby parking lot, Zimmer says Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, communicated what she said was a message that came from Christie himself.

ZIMMER: She came, and she made a direct threat to me. The lieutenant governor pulled me aside, and she said, "The Rock -- essentially, you've got to move forward with the Rockefeller project. This is -- 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.

SERFATY: And then Zimmer says Guadagno she told her this.

ZIMMER: "You tell anyone, I'll deny it."

I mean, it is -- it's stunning. It's outrageous, but it's true. And I stand by my word.

SERFATY: She says her account is backed up by a journal entry she wrote at the time about the conversation, then saying about Christie, "I thought he was honest. I thought he was moral. This week I found out he's cut from the same corrupt cloth that I've been fighting for the last four years."

The governor's office, in a statement, called Zimmer's characterization of the conversation with Guadagno "categorically false," saying, "Partisan politics are at play here as Democratic mayors with a political axe to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television."

Zimmer says Christie and his team are hiding behind spokespeople but believes the lieutenant governor, Guadagno, will eventually confirm her account. ZIMMER: And I believe if and when she is asked to testify under oath, the truth will be -- will come out. Because I believe she will be truthful, and she will tell the truth.


SERFATY: And the mayor says she feels so strongly about all of this that she herself is willing to testify under oath. And Fred, she said she wants a formal investigation to her claims.

WHITFIELD: All right. And we're going to talk much more about this situation later on this hour. Thanks so much, Sunlen Serfaty in Washington.

Meantime, some pretty severe weather situations. No relief in sight for, in fact, drought-stricken California. The state is getting baked by hot weather, with no change in forecast. The governor there says it is the state's worst dry spell in 100 years. The impact will be felt far outside California. Expect higher prices for California produce in grocery stores.

An SUV driver who was chased down and beaten by a group of bikers will file a lawsuit against the city of New York. The man, Alexian Lien, claims the city was negligent in hiring and training its police officers.

Prosecutors say some off-duty police officers allegedly participated in the attack in September. The driver's wife and 2-year-old daughter were also in that SUV. The family is seeking more than $75,000 each in damages.

A postal workers union is threatening protests and boycotts against Staples stores. According to an Associated Press report, the union disapproves of postal service retail centers in the stores. The postal centers are staffed by Staples employees, not postal workers. The union says that replaces good paying union jobs with low-wage, non-union workers.

The postmaster general says the program is about driving up demand for the agency's products.

All right. It was a star-studded night at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. And "American Hustle" had another great night. A week after taking home a few Golden Globes it won the big one, Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Best Lead Actor went to Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club," and Cate Blanchett won Outstanding Female Lead for "Blue Jasmine."

All right. Coming up, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faces new allegations and more questions. Will this hurt his popularity among his constituents?


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ZIMMER: I couldn't believe that they were doing this. The bottom line is, the Christie administration's response is one 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 -- you know, I'm sharing my journal; I'm offering to testify under oath.

What are they doing? They're hiding behind spokespeople. And in fact, the lieutenant governor was reached directly by the "Bergen Record," and she declined to comment. And I believe, if and when she is asked to testify under oath, the truth will be -- will come out.


WHITFIELD: New allegations against New Jersey Chris Christie this morning on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." Hoboken's mayor there accused the Christie administration of holding back Sandy aid unless she backed a redevelopment project favored by the governor.

Well, the governor's office is denying this. So how might this affect Christie's popularity and the way he does his job?

Joining me now, Ron Brownstein, editorial director at the "National Journal" and CNN's senior political analyst. Good to see you. And Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Good to see you, as well.


WHITFIELD: So Ron, you first: you know, how damaging might this be to Christie as governor, as he's sworn in this week, as he perhaps looks to the horizon, potential run for presidency?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, the ultimate impact depends on -- depends on whether the allegations are substantiated in the further investigations. But I think there's no question these are very serious charges. They would be very serious on their own terms. They're even more serious when they occur in combination with the allegations about the bridge.

Because what it does is create a pattern of behavior that he is being accused of.

So this is, I think, a very serious moment for him. We know these are going to be investigated by the state legislature. We've heard, as you showed, the mayor being very unequivocal, "I will go testify under oath." So I think a new chapter has opened that is even more serious than where he has been so far.

WHITFIELD: And Larry, you know, the mayor, Mayor Zimmer there, challenging Chris Christie's office and the governor himself, saying hiding behind spokespeople is not going to work. At some point he has to address this. How do you suppose he will try to address this? Certainly wouldn't happen during his swearing-in ceremony. But at what point does he emphatically deny this or come clean about her allegations?

SABATO: Well, there's obviously going to be an investigation or two or three. And I agree with Ron. This is very serious. In my view, it's actually more serious than Bridge-gate as it connects to Chris Christie.


SABATO: No one has alleged with any evidence that Chris Christie was an instigator of the closing of those lanes on the bridge. This ties directly to Christie.

I watched all of Candy Crowley's interview with Mayor Zimmer. Just as I found Christie credible at his press conference, I found Mayor Zimmer very credible in this interview. The evidence she presented, the testimony was powerful. And the lieutenant governor is not just any old aide. This is someone that Christie picked and is known to be close to him.

WHITFIELD: And in fact, Ron, you know, Mayor Zimmer saying the lieutenant governor said to her, and I'm quoting the mayor, you know, "If you tell anyone, I'll deny it."

Yet, at the same time the mayor was saying if she were to be subpoenaed, if she were to testify, the lieutenant governor would likely tell the truth that, yes, you know, she was told that she wasn't getting funding in exchange for not supporting the governor.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Well, the mayor has really thrown down a gauntlet here by repeatedly saying in that interview, "I will testify under oath. I believe the lieutenant governor will have to validate my story if she testifies under oath."

And the -- you know, as Larry pointed out, I mean, the real breakthrough here, what makes this much more high-stakes for Governor Christie, is that he is being tied directly to the activity. I mean, the argument that the -- that, you know, I was told the governor said this was a priority for him.

Look, we know, and Larry wrote a great book about this seven or eight years ago, there are -- everybody in public life gets some dents now. And we know the public has more tolerance for imperfection in their political officials than it used to.

But even having said that, these allegations are very serious ones, and I think they could have a material effect. Certainly if proven out, these are very serious questions for Governor Christie.

WHITFIELD: Are these particularly serious allegations because it comes on the heels of the feds now, you know, reviewing whether Christie misspent Sandy money to air television commercials that were also, in the view of some people, used as campaign ads for him, Ron? BROWNSTEIN: Well, yes -- well, I think it's -- again, it's the -- and I think Larry would agree it's the overall pattern that becomes the risk here. Because all of these -- all of these allegations kind of revolve around the idea of improperly using state power toward other ends.

And you know, what's interesting about that is that that's something that would not only draw criticism from the left, but you could imagine the libertarian conservatives like Rand Paul making great hay out of this in a Republican primary from the other direction. And we know there's no love lost between the two of them to begin with.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And so Larry, is the governor isolated at this point? Is it difficult for him, you know, to try and get the support of other leading Republicans? Because at this juncture, it seems that very few are willing to come to his aid, because he's always been the kind of guy who's doing it his way.

SABATO: That's certainly true. Look, he got a third of the Democratic vote in the election, which is extraordinary. Well, no Democratic official is going to come to his aid at this point.

And as for the Republicans, he's potentially facing -- if he still runs for president, he's potentially facing a half dozen or more opponents. And let me tell you something. With these allegations, the TV ads the Republicans will use against him in Iowa and New Hampshire are writing themselves. And they're potentially very powerful.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. Larry Sabato, Ron Brownstein, good to see both of you, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Fred.

SABATO: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, California's devastating drought. Why it could help divers solve a decades-old mystery.


WHITFIELD: California's severe drought is spreading so rapidly that it's now engulfed the entire state. Everything is bone dry and ripe for wildfires.

CNN's Kyung Lah spoke with one resident who fled the flames and returned to the smoldering ruins of his home.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What is this, all this stuff that we're looking at?

ALEX LARSON, HOME DESTROYED BY FIRE: This is my -- this is my bedroom. LAH (voice-over): What was his bedroom, before the Colby wildfire swept through the foothills. Firefighters continued to battle the blaze as Alex Larson returned home to what's gone, learning firsthand the fury of California's drought.

LARSON: It's a ticking time bomb. And something happens, all it would take would be, you know, one lightning bolt.

LAH: From these charred hills in Los Angeles to the dried-out lake beds of the Central Valley, to the barren hills of Albert Strauss's (ph) dairy farm, the state's drought is palpable and painful.

ALBERT STRAUSS (PH), DAIRY FARMER: This is the worst year I've ever seen.


LAH: Farmers pressured California's governor to act. He says while he can't make it rain, he can declare a state of emergency.

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: This takes everybody pitching in.

LAH: The message: everyone cut back on water by 20 percent.

The state's reservoirs are at critical levels, setting record lows. Snow packs are 80 percent lower than normal, and it's only getting worse. Areas of extreme drought expanded in just one week.

(on camera): The hills across California are brown. In January, this is usually all green. It's summer weather in winter here. And that hurts everyone. About half the nation's fruits, nuts, and vegetables come from California.

(voice-over): As the farms wilt, so does the country's food supply. And prices, they're on the climb.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're waiting for rain; we're praying. We're going to do a rain dance.

LAH: And there may be no other option as the forecast offers no immediate relief for the ever browning Golden State.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.


WHITFIELD: And to understand why California's drought is so relentless, well, let's turn to Jennifer Gray in the CNN weather center.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Fred, this drought is not something that's going to get better overnight. We need rain, and we need a lot of it.

And this high pressure is what's been causing things to be so dry over the past couple of months. This has been the dominant weather feature. And it has brought in very warm air and very dry air. And that's where we're going to stay.

Temperatures are going to be hot coming into the middle part of the week. Seventy-nine degrees on Wednesday, that's almost 15 degrees above normal. San Diego, you, too, you'll be running almost 10 degrees above normal.

Look at these records. We've shattered records all across California. This is from Saturday, with high temperatures in the mid-80s across portions of California. We even broke records in Oakland at 67 degrees.

It's been warm in the west, will be cold in the east. A very different story setting up for the week. We are going to see these temperatures at 62 degrees on Monday. So much of the south feeling nice. But look at that high on Wednesday, 39 degrees. Should be at 52 this time of year. And look at New York City: 42 degrees on Monday, 21 degrees your high temperature on Wednesday -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Jennifer.

So the drought is transforming parts of California into a barren landscape, with stunning images of huge lakes reduced to now muddy puddles. But there are some unintended benefits here as a large reservoir out Sacramento dries up. Police are now using the lower water levels to search for 50-year-old plane crash. Here is Kevin Oliver from affiliate, KCRA.


KEVIN OLIVER, KCRA REPORTER (voice-over): Exhausted after the third full day of searching, authorities pulled their boats out of the Folsom Lake. With water levels dramatically lower than normal, searchers were hoping to find the wreckage of a small plane with the remains of three people possibly still inside. They can't say they found the plane, but they didn't leave empty handed.

SGT. DAN JOHNSON, EL DORADO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: We are going to regroup. There are several images that were captured and various points in the lake that we will go ahead and evaluate.

OLIVER: The plane crashed into the water between the dam and Beetle's Point on New Year's Day 1965. Volunteer divers set out to help after talking to relatives of the passengers still missing.

JEFF PLUTH, VOLUNTEER DIVER: You could see in their faces when they were talking with them this morning that they really want to be able to bring it to an end.

OLIVER: Even though the water levels were down, divers said they could barely see anything.

PLUTH: The visibility was so bad, usually we'd run into tree branches before we'd see them.

OLIVER: The search crew said since the fuselage has been badly damaged and sitting under water for nearly half a century, they aren't sure even what shape to be looking for. A number of people standing along the shoreline said even though they didn't know the victims, it might be an upside to this shrinking lake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suspect it's going to get lower and lower and eventually they will find what they are looking for I'm sure.


WHITFIELD: That was KCRA's Kevin Oliver in Sacramento.

The Winter Olympics beginning in just three weeks, but just how safe will athletes and spectators be? We'll go live to Russia next.


WHITFIELD: New video reveals terrorists have put a big bull's eye on the Olympic Games in Sochi. In the video two young men believed to be suicide bombers that attacked Volgograd, Russia, just a month ago make an ominous threat. They promise a present for any tourist who goes to the game in revenge for the Muslim blood spilled. Russia's president said he's determined to keep the games safe with 40,000 security officers.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): If we show our weakness and fear and let others notice it, it will help terrorists to achieve goals. I believe the international community in various fields such as humanity, politics and economic, should make joint efforts in fighting against terrorist acts and the killing of innocent people. Our task as organizers is to provide security for participants and guests of the Sochi Olympic Games and we are going to do everything for it.


WHITFIELD: So President Putin is confident the games will be safe. Are other Russians as confident? Phil Black joining me now from Volgograd. So Phil, do other Russians share his confidence about the games that everything will be all right?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, there is certainly concern here in Volgograd among some people that this recent uptick in terrorist activity, which this city has felt the sharp edge is result of the Olympic Games, the Olympics are responsible. The Russian government's dedication to hold Olympics in this game when there's ongoing insurgency they believe has triggered the attacks we've seen.

So people representative entirely happy here. No. There is a theory that suggests the attacks that took place at the end of December which killed 34 people attacking a train station and trolley bus. They believe if possible those terrorists would have struck in Sochi if they believe they could have done so. We know the security bubble in Sochi is very, very tight.

What these can attacks here showed is the big question mark that sits over the rest of the country. Other cities, transport hubs, civilian areas where there's lots of people, as we've seen and as these people have shown there is clearly vulnerability. There is concern about Russians here about what could be to come.

WHITFIELD: Phil, are Russians saying they still want to go to the games?

BLACK: Well, there's always been something of a mixed reaction here. We spent a lot of time in Sochi. There's a mix of people very excited about it. Still, consider a party and want Russia to put their best possible face to the world and are proud of their country and so forth. People are concerned about what the bacteria will be, both in a security sense, as we've seen, about the vast amount of money spent on these games.

An estimated $50 billion, perhaps where else that money could have been spent more effectively than on hosting the Olympic so certainly a mix. The expect AIG is that once the games kick off, a lot of Russians are going to get behind it. They like their country a great deal and want to see it put on its best possible face to the world -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Phil Black, thanks so much. Of course, as you mentioned earlier, the torch will be making its way through Volgograd tomorrow. Security also heightened.

All right, back in this country he says he's not a bully, but New Jersey's embattled Governor Chris Christie is facing new allegations that he bullied another mayor. That story is straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: Governor Chris Christie is facing new allegations that misused Sandy relief money. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer claims that Christie directly ordered the recovery funds to be withheld unless she backed a development project that the governor supported. Here is what she told CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" today.


MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER (D), HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: 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 bridgegate. I know they were trying to get in Hoboken. They were holding sandy funds hostage to push through and expedite the Rockefeller project.


WHITFIELD: All right, so she is saying that Chris Christie's office directly ordered that happen. So these new claims come as Christie is already knee-deep in a scandal over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. How much damage does this do to the popular governor? I'm joined live now by CNN political commentator, Marc Lamont Hill and CNN commentator LZ Granderson. Good to see both of you, Gentlemen.


WHITFIELD: What appears with these new allegations there's a pattern alleged here. Marc, how does this governor combat that?

HILL: Well, a few things. One, he has to refute at all cost, a partisan attack. Obviously Democrats saw him as vulnerable after bridgegate. Chris Christie says they are just piling on now. There is an element of truth to this. I don't know what the Hoboken mayor is speaking the truth or not. I suspect she is. I see no reason why she should lie.

There's also the element that many politicians do this, many governors force the hands of small town mayors to get what they want. Is it, OK, no? Is it politically and ethically apart, absolutely? But Chris Christie isn't alone here, but he is being spotlighted. So he needs to frame this as a partisan attack.

WHITFIELD: So LZ, is this in your view the way politics unfolds?

LZ GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: You know, a few weeks ago, I got in trouble with a lot of conservatives because in talking about President Obama I said all politicians lie. The question is whose lies can you live with? But I'm going to repeat that and I don't know if this will give me a trouble again or not.

But all politicians lie. The question is whose lies are you going to deal with? Anyone who is shocked that this corruption coming out of New Jersey based on what we've seen recently with Corzine before him and before that, we had, you know, Jim McGrevy who hired his boyfriend to be, you know, Homeland Security chief for the state of New Jersey.

So this is a state that has a history of governors making poor decisions, making trouble scandalous decisions. I don't know if Chris Christie is guilty of this or not. But let's face it, New Jersey has proven that no one should be surprised if the a governor is caught in some sort of scam.

WHITFIELD: So then if that's the case, how tolerant are voters of this, you know, latest wave, LZ?

GRANDERSON: I guess, it depends on the depth of the lie. As I said earlier, it depends whose lies can you deal with? Well, the more that we find out about Chris Christie, the more voters ask whose lies can we deal with? But you know, the interesting caveat, too, is who is really spotlighting those lies. The typical thinking is that this is somehow being partisan driven.

That the Democrats are behind this, I'm not so sure. If you check some of the more conservative Tea Party run web sites, voices of the Tea Party, it's not like they are big Chris Christie fans anyway. It would appear they have as much to gain from his demise as any Democrat would.

WHITFIELD: So then Mark, is this kind of setting the stage or perhaps, you know, damaging the way potentially for Governor Christie in terms of his hopes for 2016 run? HILL: Absolutely. It damages him on multiple levels. The only thing that might save him is in is very early in the 2016 primary season. People aren't announcing their formal bids yet. If he can weather this storm early, perhaps voters will be exhausted from this. Democrats have a tendency to be really poor winners. We don't play from the front very well.

If we keep piling on, voters might say enough already, we are tired of the scandal. We may do to him what Republicans tried to do with Benghazi. As a result it may not work, nullify any type of advantage we have.

WHITFIELD: Is there a feeling this is all interpreted, digested a little differently based on whether you're a New Jersey voter or whether you're somebody in Iowa or California and you're watching all this unfold. If he does run and comes down to running for nomination, then you start paying attention if you're outside of New Jersey, LZ?

GRANDERSON: You know, there won't be a single Republican candidate in the primary who will not find a way to craft his press conference and put together some sort of ad attacking his credibility. This isn't a new allegation that can be easily dismissed. We already know he has close confidants who do things behind his back. I wouldn't be so quick to say it's false. You've already seen that you have close confidantes behind your back. If you are lying to us then, lying to us now, if you are incompetent then or incompetence now, it's not looking pretty for him.

WHITFIELD: Go ahead finish.

GRANDERSON: If you look at the time when Chris Christie said he knew about bridgegate, that's not consistent. Once you start combing through what he knew in press conferences what he knew when, there's not consistency there either.

WHITFIELD: So quickly, Marc, what, if anything, can or should Christie do at this point?

HILL: Well, one, he should pray nothing else comes out. If he did, all bets are off. But again, he needs to continue to be up front, honest, as transparent as possible. He needs to take responsibility for what he did and try to move past this in any way possible. I'm just not sure he can.

WHITFIELD: All right, Marc Lamont Hill, LZ Granderson, good to see both you Gentlemen. Appreciate it.


WHITFIELD: All right, ex-NBA star, Dennis Rodman back in rehab today. His agent tells us why, next.


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WHITFIELD: Ex-NBA star, Dennis Rodman, is in an alcohol rehab center. Rodman's agent said alcoholism has been a longtime struggle for the five-time NBA champ. The struggle got worse during his controversial trip to North Korea this month. Nick Valencia is following the story for us. So at what point did the agent decide it's time to lay it all out here?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This all got laid out evidently according to the attorney after he came back from North Korea. We do know that Dennis Rodman has been in rehab for at least a week. According to his agent the pressures of being a basketball diplomat were too much for him to handle.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Ever the showman during his reign as the NBA's most fierce rebounder, Dennis Rodman, became famous just as much for his colourful behavior on the court as often. For years, the 52-year- old has publicly battled drug addiction and alcohol abuse.

His agent told CNN, Rodman's drinking got out of control during his controversial trip to North Korea. His drinking escalated to a level none of us have seen before. When he came back I discussed with him on a personal level how concerned I was, his agent said. We sat down and decided for him to go to rehab. Part of the nightmare highly combative exchanges like this one with Chris Cuomo on CNN's "NEW DAY."

DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Ask what the hell you think. I'm saying look at these guys. Look at them.

VALENCIA: Rodman later apologized for that outburst saying he had been drinking at the time. Drunk or not, the trip was filled with odd moments like this -- on his return to the U.S., an emotional Rodman said he was misunderstood.

RODMAN: I'm sorry about all the people. I'm sorry. I'm not the president. I'm not an ambassador. I'm Dennis Rodman, an individual, just showing we can get along and be happy for one day. I'd love to see --

VALENCIA: Those closest to Rodman say the pressure of being a so- called basketball diplomat in North Korea left him an emotional wreck. With at least four prior stints in rehab already, Rodman supporters hope this time he gets clean and sober.

DAVID SUGERMAN, DENNIS RODMAN'S FRIEND: I think he probably had an awakening. What happened in North Korea was a big deal. It was a big deal. It doesn't look good and it back fired on Dennis. I think he genuinely needs help.


VALENCIA: Dennis Rodman is expected to stay in that rehab facility for about 28 to 30 days. Alcoholism, drug addiction, lifelong struggle, it's a disease, something he's battled with himself for so long. Everyone in his camp is hoping this time is different hopefully.

WHITFIELD: Of course, I'm sure everyone is hoping the best for him. All right, thanks so much, Nick. Appreciate that.

All right, big birthday celebration last night for Michelle Obama who just turned 50 and the president threw her a really great party, fabulous food, star-studded guests. You name it. We'll have details coming up.


WHITFIELD: It's just three weeks until the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Russia. New video just released is raising serious concerns over the security at the games. While Russian President Putin is giving assurances, some U.S. lawmakers are throwing up flags. We'll go live to Russia with breaking news at the top of the hour.


DONNA BRAZILLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Amazing lady, credible party. She had her childhood friends there, of course, people from the administration. The most important thing is that Beyonce performed. I have to tell you John Legend sang happy birthday. The most moving tribute came from Barack Obama who talked about the woman he met and fell in love with. That was an amazing show.


WHITFIELD: That was CNN political commentator, Donna Brazile talking about the first lady's 50th birthday bash. The president threw her a dance party to remember, for everyone to remember. It was a star- studded affair. National correspondent, Sunlen Serfati has more.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After the sun went down, the stars came out.

SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR: Looking forward to are good old school dance music.

MAGIC JOHNSON, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Have a good time. Thank you, guys. I'm going to have a ball. This is great.

SERFATY: Beyonce performed. John Legend and Stevie Wonder among many who sang happy birthday to the first lady. The hottest ticket came with a blunt presidential directive. This would be a dance party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the first lady asks you to cut a rug, you cut a rug.

SERFATY: No dinner, no formalities, loosen that tie, come with a full stomach and wear comfortable shoes.

(on camera): Have you got your dancing shoes on?



SERFATY (voice-over): The entire White House state floor transformed into a dance floor. The bar was set high. The first lady is known to bust a move, with Ellen, at White House events, even doing the Dougie. Last night it was President Obama though who stole the show.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beyonce was pretty good, but seeing Barack Obama do the Dougie was even better.

SERFATY (on camera): Once the guests got through the gates, they were told no pictures, no cameras. The White House wanted privacy, but they also wanted people to let their hair down on the dance floor.

KATHERINE SKIBA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "CHICAGO TIMES": She's got a really fun loving streak. She loves to dance. She loves music. Why not? You only turn 50 once.

SERFATY: That milestone toasted in front of hundreds of guests by the president.

JAMES TAYLOR, SINGER: A wonderful speech, moving, and inspiring. And he raised the bar for all of us. I don't know how we'll live up to it.

SERFATY: Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.