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Christie Investigations Continue

Aired January 20, 2014 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. And welcome to a special edition of "AC360 Later."

Tonight, we are devoting the hour to allegations that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a man who many believe should be president of the United States, is running his state by bare-knuckle political payback. There is breaking news on that. You are going to hear only on this program new evidence from a New Jersey mayor.

She says that it bolsters her claim that the Christie administration held Sandy recovery money hostage to her action on a real estate development the administration favored. You will hear from those who say her evidence simply doesn't add up.

Finding the truth is tremendously important, of course, not just to Chris Christie's political future. People need to know whether their elected public servants are in fact serving the public and not carrying out vendettas.

As always, you can join the conversation. Tweet us using #AC360Later or weigh in at We will show your comments at the bottom of the screen during the program.

In a moment, Hoboken, New Jersey, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, the one leveling the payback allegations against the governor and his people. She talked with federal investigators about it over the weekend.

First, though, because the story isn't familiar to everyone, the background now from Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an ultimatum of epic political proportions: Support our development project or lose critical hurricane relief funding. Chris Christie's lieutenant governor calls it wholly and completely false.

LT. GOV. KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: Being a Sandy victim myself makes the mayors allegations particularly offensive to me.

BASH: Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer described a scene to CNN's Candy Crowley right out of a movie, saying Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno approached her in a parking lot last May, threatening to withhold much-needed Sandy money unless the mayor supported a Christie-back redevelopment project in her town. DAWN ZIMMER (D), MAYOR OF HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: This project is really important to the governor. And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor.

BASH: That is a much more direct tie to Chris Christie than any allegations so far in Bridgegate, one the lieutenant governor essentially says the Democratic mayor made up.

GUADAGNO: Mayor Zimmer's version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false, but is illogical, and does not with stand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined.

BASH: A Christie spokesman said: "It's very clear 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."

Hoboken's mayor had publicly supported her popular Republican governor in the past. But Zimmer provided private journal entries to CNN telling a different story, which she also gave the U.S. attorney investigating.

Zimmer wrote at the time of Christie: "I thought he was something different. This week, I found out he's cut from the same corrupt cloth that I had been fighting for the last four years."

Being something different is Christie's political calling card, what drew hundreds of the country's wealthiest donors to Florida this past weekend. Sources who attended say Christie argued the way he's handled scandals so far should make them more confident in him, not less.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He said to those donors, if I ever put myself up for national office, you and everyone have an absolute right to know how I deal with problems. Lightning will strike.

BASH: But he also privately announced he's putting any potential 2016 race for president on hold for a year. Republican strategist Ana Navarro attended several Florida events.

(on camera): Talking to these billionaires, people who Chris Christie will need if he wants to run for president, what's your sense of how they feel about all this?

NAVARRO: I think Chris Christie has taken the initiative, putting 2016 on pause. I think this buys some time for other potential candidates who may be deciding what they do and not be at risk of losing donors and activists that commit to Christie.


COOPER: That was Dana Bash reporting. She joins us tonight, along with a bipartisan panel with some of the key players in the story, right after we hear from the woman at the center of it, Mayor Zimmer. She sat down with me for an exclusive interview on the 8:00 p.m. edition of "360."

Take a look.


COOPER: You sent a letter to Governor Christie on April 23 that you provided us -- we're showing it on the screen -- asking for funding for pumps, to help the flooding problem in Hoboken.

I want to read part of what you said. You said to the mayor -- to the governor: "Just as shore towns are not being asked for development in exchange for protecting them from future storms, the solution to Hoboken's flooding challenges cannot be dependent on future development."

Now, this was sent before your meeting with the lieutenant governor. Does this mean that you felt pressure already about future development?

ZIMMER: I mean, in various meetings that I had with their administration, I did feel that there was always a lot of discussion about development.

And I will say there wasn't -- in those meetings, there was not a direct connection made, but there was pressure. And, so, I do think that while -- I think what's interesting about what the lieutenant governor said today is she says that my -- it's illogical, what I said.

And when you look at the documents, you look at the letters that I have written, you can see that it wasn't illogical at all. It's actually a progression, leading up to something where they wanted to send me, give me a very direct message, because they felt like I wasn't getting the message clearly enough, so she was sent in.

COOPER: Because people close to the lieutenant governor -- as you said, the lieutenant governor calls the allegation completely false.

But I want to read to you what a source close to the lieutenant governor said about your conversation -- quote -- "Kim," meaning the lieutenant governor, "remembers in their conversation that she was talking about redevelopment and making investments in Hoboken," meaning you. "She remembers Zimmer pressing Kim for money for Sandy. Kim remembers saying, you can't tie the two together. And she remembers Zimmer continuing to pressure and showing her map of the city and pressing for Sandy."

So, she's saying it was you who was linking Sandy and development. Are you saying this letter, which is dated before that conversation, April 23, disproves that?

ZIMMER: Right. Well, that's the first time I'm hearing that. I didn't realize that she -- she didn't actually say that directly today.

But, I mean, this letter definitely makes it clear that I was the one on April 23 sent them a letter, and very clearly said, you can't connect the two, and it's not fair to connect the two.

And that was part of the conversation that we had. I said, you know, are you saying -- after she said to me, you know, that you got to move ahead with the Rockefeller project, I said, is any other town being asked to do development in exchange for help with the flooding?

And her answer was, well, the shore brings in $38 billion. So she was the one connecting -- she very clearly was connecting the development with the Sandy aid in our conversation. And I made it clear -- it's ironic that she's coming around and saying that when I sent a letter on April 23 saying these two things should not be connected, and that's not fair.

COOPER: So, you're saying, in the conversation you had with her in the parking lot, you point-blank said to her, is any other town being asked to link development to Sandy aid?


COOPER: So, you made that linkage clear that that was your interpretation of what she was saying, and she dispute it?

ZIMMER: She did not dispute it. She restated the fact that, I know it's not fair, but these things shouldn't be connected, but they are. So, that's in the journal entry that I gave to the U.S. attorney.

COOPER: So, you're saying the lieutenant governor actually said, these shouldn't be connected, but they are?


COOPER: Were those her exact words or...

ZIMMER: That's what I recall. That's what I wrote at the time. I wrote the journal entry a few days after the meeting with her.

COOPER: Also for the first time now, we're seeing another letter that you sent that you provided us on May 8 to the governor saying you were stunned that you weren't getting the funding requests. That's two days before you had the meeting with lieutenant governor.

What is that second letter? What do you believe it shows? What do you believe it proves?

ZIMMER: Well, I mean, again, back to her statement that it's all illogical, I mean, and when you look at all the events together, you can see that it was a progression.

It was a progression of pressure, and she was sent in to really make that final message to me. On May 8, there's a few important things that happened. On May 8, there was a planning board decision, where the planning board voted down the zoning that the Rockefeller Group wanted for their property.

And on May 8, we had again severe flooding. And the letter that I sent to the governor showed pictures of the severe flooding that we had again in Hoboken. And I -- on May 8, I sent a letter saying that these things cannot be -- that we really need the funding, and that basically I had received -- my office had received notice that we were not going to be receiving funding.

And I was writing saying, I hope this is not the final decision, because we really need help. Two days later, their office calls Friday afternoon and says, we want to do a Sandy business event on Monday, like 10:00 in the morning.

And it seemed a little -- the timing seemed a little bit strange. But we were fine with it, of course want to welcome the lieutenant governor if she's coming to Hoboken. We had already done the opening for ShopRite I think at least a month before, but certainly wanted to welcome her.

COOPER: So, you believe her coming down was specifically in response to this letter of May 8?

ZIMMER: I do. I do believe it's related, yes. I do believe that it was related.

I think that she -- that event was created so that she could come and have the opportunity to make a very clear message to me.

COOPER: When she said it to you, I mean, what was your immediate initial response and your immediate -- what was going through your mind?

ZIMMER: I couldn't believe it.

I just -- I couldn't believe that she was saying what she was saying, I mean, and she very clearly said these things shouldn't be connected, but they are. I know It's not right. And if you tell anyone, I will deny it.

COOPER: She said that?


COOPER: She said, if you tell anybody, I will deny it?


So, this is not something that you forget. When the lieutenant governor of the state of New Jersey tells you in a parking lot, if you tell anyone, I will deny it, you remember it.

And I was very upset.


COOPER: My conversation with the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer. We will have more of that conversation coming up.

I want to bring in the panel, Dana Bash, chief political analyst Gloria Borger, New Jersey State Assemblyman and Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick, also Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is leading the investigation into the George Washington Bridge traffic investigation.

Let me ask you first, what do you make of what the mayor is saying there? She is saying point-blank that the lieutenant governor said to her, if you reveal this, I'm going to deny it.

Do you believe her?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY STATE ASSEMBLYMAN: They are very troubling allegations.

And we have seen the lieutenant governor has acknowledged that she did have a conversation with the mayor.

COOPER: But she says point-blank the mayor's perception of that conversation is completely wrong and offensive.

WISNIEWSKI: And that's where we need to get to the bottom of it. Clearly, there is a dispute as to who said what.


COOPER: Someone is lying.

WISNIEWSKI: The mayor has made very serious allegations.

They are very difficult, in the light of the redevelopment, the Port Authority money being used for a redevelopment study, the fact that those things are linked together with the redevelopment and the words that the lieutenant governor is said to have used linking it to the governor.

I think that it's something that we have to carefully consider. There's a lot of facts that we don't know, Anderson, and it would be premature to rush to any conclusions. But they're very serious allegations.

COOPER: Assemblyman Bramnick, obviously, you a supporter of Governor Christie.

I mean, do you believe that the lieutenant governor would say that to the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey?


Simply put, these are two former federal prosecutors, the lieutenant governor and the governor. They prosecuted hundreds of corrupt politicians. These are the last two people who are going to get involved in any kind of repugnant that activity, conspiracies, conspiracies to do land deals.


COOPER: So, if the lieutenant governor did say that, you would say it would be repugnant? You would say this is inappropriate?

BRAMNICK: I don't know about a hypothetical.

I don't before she said that. I can't discuss what would happen if she said it, because I don't believe she did. But let me say this. Here's a mayor who says, this is corrupt activity. Actually, this mayor replaced a corrupt mayor. She knows that U.S. attorneys can investigate this.

She could have taken -- if she was so upset, she could have taken that to the U.S. attorney, worn a wire, gone back. Instead, she tweeted out months later that he is a great governor. If you offered me a bribe or you have put me in that position, I wouldn't -- look, maybe I would say nothing about you, but I sure wouldn't put out compliments out about -- that would be troublesome for a jury.

COOPER: Well, she still to this day says Governor Christie -- later on in the interview, she says Governor -- she thinks Governor Christie has done good things.

BRAMNICK: But if you're that troubled and it was so upsetting and you believe that your person you thought was an idol is now corrupt, and now you're putting that out, I think a jury -- if you put that before a jury, I'm a trial lawyer, I'm not sure a jury would buy it.

COOPER: Assemblyman Wisniewski, do you raise questions about why she didn't come forward? Does that attack her credibility?

WISNIEWSKI: There are a lot of questions. And one is the timing. This is something that didn't happen yesterday. It happened in May.

And now we're in January of 2014, a half-a-year later and now this allegation comes out. It could be very well exactly what she is saying. But, obviously, one of the questions out there is the time frame.

COOPER: Dana, some people are going to say, look, this is just business as usual. This is how politics is done. You see it on television shows all the time. Is this just politics as usual? You cover this stuff.

BASH: Yes, I think, in some ways, the idea of a quid pro quo is as old as the beginning of time. Right.

This is just sort of the way that politics goes. However, when you get down to the specifics of this, not so much. I mean, you are talking about, as you all know more than anybody, a very devastating event in New Jersey, where the people of her city in Hoboken, 80 percent of them were underwater.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: This is not just not just rewarding a pet project.

BASH: Yes, this is not just rewarding a pet project, as you said, a bike path or something. This is something that is critically important to her constituents. So the allegation is something that is well beyond politics as usual. But is it an allegation.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If it were true, if this actually occurred -- you're the lawyer. I'm not the attorney. Wouldn't this be some form of extortion? You called it corrupt, if true.

BRAMNICK: No, this is what the mayor called it.

She said that she was disappointed that this governor, who she worshiped, thought was great, was now corrupt. When you say someone's corrupt, you are unlikely then to compliment that person. It's one thing if you disagree with them.


BASH: You're a Democrat in New Jersey.

From the outside in, it certainly looks like Chris Christie was so and still is incredibly popular. It is very difficult for a Democrat to say anything bad about him.

COOPER: She said she didn't think people would believe...


WISNIEWSKI: When you are a mayor in New Jersey, when you are a mayor in New Jersey, so much of what makes your town succeed or fail is the money you get from the state of New Jersey.

And so you have to be careful about what you say, because you get municipal aid. And that municipal aid can be changed, it can be modified. There are a lot of things the state of New Jersey...

BORGER: So, who are you worried about offending? Are you worried about the governor of the state?

WISNIEWSKI: If you're a mayor?


WISNIEWSKI: If you're a mayor, you are worried about offending the administration.

BORGER: The governor.

WISNIEWSKI: The governor, the commissioners, all of the people who have some influence on whether your town succeeds or fails. BORGER: What about the fairness of your ask? What about you're saying, OK, Hoboken was 80 percent underwater, we need X-amount of dollars? I know there was billions of dollars in requests for not a lot of money.

BRAMNICK: I saw a press release from the governor's office that said over $70 million has been approved for Hoboken.


COOPER: The mayor, though, says that a lot was from insurance stuff.


BRAMNICK: The concern is, you have taken an allegation from a mayor.

And it seems to me it has gotten national attention because this governor has been so very popular. Let's look what Frank Pallone said, the congressman. He came out and said, all of a sudden, there is an investigation into these Sandy commercials. Then it turned out the next day it was just a routine audit. I think we have got to be a little careful taking any allegation...


COOPER: But it's rare that you have a situation where a mayor and the lieutenant governor, one of them is lying or completely deluded in their interpretation of a conversation.

BASH: And the fact it is so directly linked, from the perspective of the mayor, back to Chris Christie.

We obviously would not be sitting here at this table talking about this if it were not...


WISNIEWSKI: ... have a mayor come out and make a very specific allegation against the governor and his lieutenant governor.


WISNIEWSKI: It's too early to look at whether the committee is going to investigate. We don't have all of the facts. We need to get all of the facts. And so we have a lot of work ahead of us before we can say the committee is going to actually look at it.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to have more with the assemblymen in just a second.

Next, more of my conversation also with the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer.

And, later, he says he is not a bully. Not everyone agree. The question is, what does the record show? We will take a closer look when this special edition of "360 Later" returns.


COOPER: Hey. Welcome. We're back, devoting the hour tonight to a special report on Chris Christie and allegations of payback politics, first the bridge scandal, now the charges and countercharges that the Christie administration threatened to withhold Sandy rebuilding money for Hoboken, New Jersey, because the mayor would not fast-track a piece of real estate development.

More now of my exclusive conversation tonight with the mayor in question, Dawn Zimmer.


COOPER: When you see the lieutenant governor in a press conference announcing now saying point-blank your memory of -- your recollection of the conversation is offensive, is completely inaccurate, and as a victim of Sandy, she's offended, what do you -- you're saying she's lying?

ZIMMER: Well, I -- yes, I'm -- she said she would deny, and she's denying it, so part of me is not surprised.

And my reaction, in fact, is, you're offended? How do you think I feel and everyone in Hoboken feels? We haven't really -- we haven't been given that many -- much Sandy funding. And we have been told that there's a connection between the two when there's a push to get one particular project through.

COOPER: You have subsequently tweeted positive things about Governor Christie. Why would you do that if you felt he was strong- arming you?

ZIMMER: I mean, believe me, I have felt torn about this.

He has done very good things for Hoboken. I mean, I think he's done terrific things for the state overall. I do think that he has been a great governor.

COOPER: But to not mention this sooner and now mention it, given all his other obstacles, people have said this smacks of politics. To you, are you saying you didn't mention it because, A., you thought he did some good things in general? And were you concerned, were you afraid to mention it?

ZIMMER: I didn't think people would believe me.

And I also...

COOPER: You didn't think people would believe you?

ZIMMER: I didn't think people would believe me.

And I didn't want -- they still -- they didn't make their final decisions on the hazard mitigation funding until much later. And so I wanted to -- you know, I wanted to keep some chances out there to try and get the funding for Hoboken. So, if I was to come out and make these accusations, then I'm hurting our chances of getting the funding.

COOPER: Does it worry you now to make these accusations? I mean, is it -- what's it like to make these accusations?

ZIMMER: Oh, it's a challenge.

Let's face it. I'm someone that got into politics because I care about my town. I was actually a stay-at-home mom before I got into politics. And I did this because I cared about bringing balanced development, bringing a park to my neighborhood, which is something that we're really -- we're about to make happen.

And, so for me, like, I'm out here. I feel like I had to come tonight, even though I would rather be home in bed. I'm losing my voice here. But I need to get my voice out there and have people know I'm doing this because I really care about my town.

COOPER: Is it scary, though?


ZIMMER: Yes. It's hard, because obviously there's very powerful people across the country all giving their opinions on me.

COOPER: Has anyone pushed you to come forward and talk about this, the DNC, other Democrats?

ZIMMER: No, I don't have -- that's the thing. I have been considered -- the Democrats were frustrated with me, because how could I support the Republican governor for four years?


COOPER: You know why I'm asking, because obviously people will say...


ZIMMER: No, I don't have these massive connections to the -- I don't know who's head of the -- I don't know. I'm a Democrat.

COOPER: So, the DNC hasn't called you up and said...

ZIMMER: No, They haven't called me at all. So, no, They haven't called me. I have no connection to them.

COOPER: This pressure, what you said is pressure from the lieutenant governor on this conversation, that's not a one-time thing? This is sort of a -- you're saying there's a pattern of this?

ZIMMER: Right. Well, it's not a one-time thing. I mean, that pressure is -- was continuing until I came forward. And that pressure was going to continue. COOPER: Have you heard from the governor's office directly now, subsequently, since you have come forward? Has anybody said anything to you?

ZIMMER: No, they -- I haven't talked to them at all.

COOPER: This is a dumb question. I assume I know the answer. I assume you're not going to Governor Christie's inauguration tomorrow?

ZIMMER: I don't think I'm invited.


COOPER: All right.


COOPER: Hey. We're back with the panel, joined also now by senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, what do you think about this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm a little underwhelmed by this accusation.

COOPER: You think this is just politics as usual?

TOOBIN: Look, he is the governor of the state. A big part of New Jersey politics as well as most states is state aid to municipalities.

You give money to a municipality, but you are still the governor. You want to control how the money works, how the money is going to be used. And suppose in the Sandy situation he said, you know what, we're going to give you this Sandy money, but only if you do the following environmental things so that we don't have this kind of disaster again. I think everybody would say...

BASH: That's different, though.

TOOBIN: Well, it's different, but it's a matter of degree.

And once you start getting into what precisely was said between these two people, I suspect it's probably going to get a lot more muddled.

COOPER: You guys are lawyers. Do you believe that somebody is lying?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, the stories aren't the same.

COOPER: Right. So, either lying or just...


WISNIEWSKI: Everybody is using words like version, my version, my recollection. And so there is clearly a mismatch. And what we don't know is which set of facts is actually what happened.

BRAMNICK: We lose the big picture, though.

Here's a governor that comes to New Jersey, does historic reforms. No one can make these changes in New Jersey before Chris Christie. And then there is a little bit of a problem -- or, should I say, a big problem at the bridge, which John Wisniewski found out, and then it explodes.

So, every allegation becomes a national issue. And that's my concern. And once you take any allegation and blow it up into a case, I have a concern with that, as opposed to...


BORGER: Go ahead.

BASH: No, I was just going to say, but, big picture, here we are on the eve of his second inaugural, going to happen tomorrow, where he won by a landslide of epic proportions, with huge Democratic support, and this is what we're talking about, where he is supposed to be beginning to have conversations about education reform and things that he can take onto the national stage, which we know he's interested in doing.

BRAMNICK: He had to be tough to make those changes.

There's no question he had to shake up a system. When they ran, they said, we are going to turn this state upside down. And they did. This is a very difficult political environment, New Jersey. And there's no question, you know, it's a bruising sport in Jersey. And I can understand the reaction. He became popular. He was ahead in the polls over Hillary Clinton. It's risky business to get that popular.

WISNIEWSKI: Oh, I don't think has anything to do with that.


WISNIEWSKI: I don't think Dawn Zimmer made her allegation because he was close to Hillary Clinton.


BRAMNICK: Would anybody go on a national show talking about an allegation of one mayor if he wasn't so incredibly popular?


WISNIEWSKI: You are making the implication that Dawn Zimmer did this because Chris Christie was close to Hillary in the polls.


BRAMNICK: Oh, no, no. I'm sorry

WISNIEWSKI: I don't think there is any connection. BRAMNICK: She is getting the attention because he is a national figure.

COOPER: When she says the DNC is not behind this, she doesn't know who is head of the DNC, do you buy that?

BRAMNICK: I have no idea. I don't know many people in the DNC up there, except Chairman Wisniewski.

But here's what happening in Trenton, so you should know. The chairman started an investigation. And I said he did a good job to turn out information that showed some bad stuff at the bridge. Now it's expanding to the point where they have got a criminal prosecutor leading a prosecution out of the legislative branch.


WISNIEWSKI: It's not a prosecution.


BRAMNICK: Wait, if an -- wait -- investigation. It's supposed to be policy-directed.

WISNIEWSKI: It is policy-directed.

BRAMNICK: OK. The problem is, they hired a prosecutor who sent out...

BASH: The guy who put Rod Blagojevich in jail.

BRAMNICK: Right. Great. And he's a great prosecutor. My question is...

WISNIEWSKI: We are not supposed to use him because once he was a prosecutor?

BRAMNICK: No, no. That's fine.

WISNIEWSKI: He's got a lot of good credentials.

BRAMNICK: My question is this. And as a lawyer, you understand this.

Once you start bringing in thousands of documents, let's assume some of it irrelevant or it's problematic for some person. It's all going to become a public document, as opposed to a prosecutor, who can decide which is important for the public to see or not. And my concern there is, people can get hurt who have absolutely a collateral interest...


BASH: Is that your concern, or is it more that things are going to come out that you don't want to come out?

BRAMNICK: Let me tell you something. There may be a lot of Democrats coming out in those documents.

WISNIEWSKI: And what comes out comes out. I mean, what you are saying, Jon, is that we ought not continue an investigation because unintended information may come out. And I don't know that that's an appropriate way for the legislature to succeed.

BRAMNICK: They should have a federal prosecutor take over this entire matter, all these allegations.


COOPER: What sort of inappropriate information might come out? Don't people have a right to know what their government is up to?

BRAMNICK: Oh, the government, absolutely.

But if I send out a subpoena, every -- let's assume a reporter contacted someone at the Port Authority and that comes out. That's not a part of this investigation necessarily. If you had a prosecutor...

TOOBIN: But Paul Fishman is conducting a grand jury investigation.


TOOBIN: That's a secret proceeding.

And if he doesn't bring charges, as seems entirely possible to me, because I haven't seen any crimes here yet, no one will ever find out anything that he learned. It seems to me that the legislature is serving a different function, which is informing the public and trying to tell people what happened.

And both of those seem entirely appropriate. But if you leave it all to Fishman, nobody finds out anything.

WISNIEWSKI: So, this was -- there was an abuse of power here. There's no doubt about it.


WISNIEWSKI: Somebody sent an e-mail they shouldn't for a purpose that they shouldn't have been using their office for.

What we in the legislature need to find out is why it happened, who authorized it, and, most importantly, how do we stop it happening from -- in the future?

I mean, the fact that four people have lost their jobs doesn't stop this from happening again. So, it's different than a prosecution. We have a legislative inquiry to fix the problem.

COOPER: We've got to take a break. Up next, Governor Christie's alleged bully tactics. That's how some of his enemies describe him. He'll deny that's how he does business. Others disagree. I'll talk about it with the panel.



GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Politics ain't bean bag and everybody in the country who engages in politics knows that.

On the other hand that's very, very different than saying someone's a bully. I think you asked me the question after the election: are you willing to change your style in order to appeal to a broader audience, and I think I said no. Because I am who I am, but I am not a bully.


COOPER: That was Governor Christie at his marathon press conference about a week and a half ago addressing allegations that he is a bully. It's a reputation that, of course, has dogged him for years, one that at times he's been able to laugh off. Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): born in a state with a long history of heavyweight brawling, Chris Christie learned that his ways could be costly. In 1995 he tried to win an assembly seat and was crushed at the polls, leading to years of quiet work in the political background.

Yet after being elected governor in 2009 and reelected in 2013, the tough guy once again took center stage.

CHRISTIE: Maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now to see how it's done.

FOREMAN: Christie has famously battered reporters.

CHRISTIE: Did I say on topic? Are you stupid? On topic. Next question.

If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, well, then, I have no interest in answering your question.

FOREMAN: Voters are fair game too.

CHRISTIE: I don't ask you where you send your kids to school. Don't bother me about where I send mine.

FOREMAN: And he spoons out advice like bitter medicine.

CHRISTIE: And it me tell you something: after you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end's going to be thrown in jail, idiot.

FOREMAN: And through it all, he walks political tight rope. STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Some people don't like his style. They see him as too tough, too angry, too obnoxious.

FOREMAN (on camera): So there is a risk in being this brusque and brash about things?

ROTHENBERG: Absolutely. But that's more -- more than outweighed by his reputation as a straight talker, a straight shooter, not your typical politician, and in this day and age, that is a huge plus not to be a typical politician.

CHRISTIE: I don't hide my emotions from people.

FOREMAN (voice-over): So although Christie is apologizing over the bridge incident now, sorry is a word that fits him like a bad suit and one he seldom says.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Chris Christie is not the first politician to be called brash or brusque. Neither of those things, by extension, necessarily makes him a bully. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has never been called a shrinking violet. I recently asked him where he thinks Christie's image of a bully comes from. Here's what he said.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: I don't see anything in his background that suggests that he takes advantage of people or that he pushes them around, that he's nasty to them in terms of his personal contact. I have been with his family many times. I don't see anything different about him compared to other people that I know. But it is a stereotype, and unfortunately, I think for Chris is, and this has been true for me, if something happens that reinforces your stereotype it becomes a big deal.


COOPER: Joining me now, former New Jersey state senator Barbara Buono. She ran against Governor Christie in 2013. Also political commentator and Republican strategist Kevin Madden. And back again, New Jersey state assemblyman Jon Bramnick and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So Gloria, I appreciate you being with us. Mark Halperin reports that you actually had, while running against the governor, a commercial calling him a bully prepared to go and didn't run it. Do you think he's a bully?

BARBARA BUONO, FORMER NEW JERSEY STATE SENATOR: We had a few commercials, and we didn't have the money to run all of them. But I think the real issue is, you know, when I was running, people would say to me, "You have so much courage running against this guy and I didn't get it."

But the fact is, what we're seeing now is evidence of the fear of retribution that permeates New Jersey politics.

COOPER: You believe what the mayor of Hoboken is saying? You believe that the lieutenant governor had this conversation with her, saying, "Report this development or else."

BUONO: Let me say two things. One thing is that I believe that the U.S. attorney needs to fully investigate it. He spoke to Dawn Zimmer for several hours yesterday. He is certainly taking it very seriously.

What do I think? As a former criminal defense attorney, I will tell you that her testimony that I heard have the ring of truth. This is someone who, you know, can put it in writing fairly contemporaneously with this experience. And for me, that gives her additional added credit. I mean, why would she come out now and, knowing that she was seen h two mayors before her that were subjected to such ridicule and criticism. She knew that was going to happen.

BORGER: It could be -- it could be a part of piling on to play the devil's advocate here because she can come out because she has company.

BUONO: It gives her courage. Is it hard being the only person out there. I was the candidate that was out there, and I was on the stump, talking about all of this, talking about the Sandy relief funds being misused, talking about the unexplained closures of lanes on the G.W. Bridge, and people didn't believe me.

BRAMNICK: They talk about him being a bully. What he really did is changed the landscape in this country. Political speak, he changed political speak and it became a straight-talking language. And that it's why people loved him. It's tough but it's straight-forward. And that's why he is so popular.

COOPER: I want to bring in Kevin Madden, who was obviously with the Romney campaign. Kevin, it's good to have you on the program.

It's interesting. Obviously, for the Romney campaign, there was -- in the book "Double Down," there's a passage I want to read to our viewers who haven't read the book. "The list of questions about Christie to which the vetters wanted answers were extensive and troubling. More than once Romney admirers reported back that Christie and Palatucci's response was 'Why do we need to give you that piece of information?' Myers told her team, 'We have to assume if they're not answering, it's because the answer is bad.'"

Is it fair to say in your experience, the experience with the Romney campaign, that in dealing with Governor Christie it's kind of his way or the highway?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No. I think that -- I think that -- I think, fundamentally, he is a very strong personality. I think he's -- I think that's what made him a good politician. It's also what made him a pretty good governor.

He's a strong executive. You have to have a very strong vision and strong opinion about where you want to take your state or where you want to take your particular campaign.

I think in that sense, he was never really going to be a really good fit as a vice presidential candidate. Because a lot of role of the vice president is that you have to play a No. 2 role.

So I think that was something that, when you're measuring the dynamics of the campaign, was weighed pretty heavily on the campaign's mind when they were looking at him.

BORGER: The thing is that, to your point, Jon, is that Chris Christie was known as somebody -- always known as somebody who uses power effectively. And the truth telling...

BUONO: Or misuses.

BORGER: Well, but has used his power -- I mean, you heard Dawn, the mayor, say -- Dawn Zimmer say that she thinks he's a good governor. So even she thinks, and she's not his political ally. She thinks he's used his power effectively.

I think the problem right now is that honesty that you were talking about, and the truth telling that you were talking about, maybe not answering the questions of the -- of the Romney vet...

COOPER: There's also a difference between being seen as a tough guy or even a bully if you're for the little guy and you're bullying against the powers that be and trying to transform something. But if you are -- if you're actually doing stuff that's bullying that affects the average citizen, that's...

BORGER: Right. And that's the point.

BRAMNICK: But for four years there wasn't any indication of scandal in this administration. Some people did some real stupid stuff. And all of a sudden, this guy who was perfect had some problems, and that's -- what happened at that point was it was a national attack. This is in newspapers around the world.

COOPER: Kevin, how do you see it?

MADDEN: Well, to Mr. Bramnick's point, yes, I think if you talk to Democrat operatives, they will tell you that -- that all throughout '13 they knew they were going to rue the day where they didn't have a chance to define Chris Christie negatively and that, ultimately, he would build a political profile that was a very positive one among national Republicans, and in a way, that threatened the national Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

So let's be very clear here. The DNC is -- has decided that they're going to negatively frame Chris Christie as a bully. They are doing it relentlessly every single day. And a large part of the focus on Chris Christie here is because national Democrats are doing exactly that: they're making up for lost time in 2013.

BUONO: Let's not get away from the facts here. There is a pattern of bullying that, now with respect to Dawn Zimmer, has morphed into, really, either influence peddling or a shakedown. And the bullying becomes even more serious when the impact is to hurt people's lives, to endanger people's lives like they do with respect to the bridge closing, to hold hostage...

COOPER: Again, there's no evidence that he had direct involvement in the bridge closing.

BUONO: Well, we're talking about...

COOPER: His administration.

BUONO: Right.

BRAMNICK: When you need 41 legislators in the state of assembly to change the laws with respect to pension and health benefits, you better be real tough. You can call it bullying, but I have to tell you, without a really strong hand, it's not getting done.

BORGER: But doesn't it hurt his bipartisan credentials because you have Democrats now coming out of the woodwork...

COOPER: The other question called her housewife (ph) on the national stage.

BRAMNICK: I think there are Democrats in New Jersey who still support him. There's a group of Democrats who don't, and Democrats who do.

COOPER: We've got to take a break. Up next, supporters of Chris Christie are venting their anger at what they call the liberal media, claiming that some reporters are out to get the governor. We'll look at some of the coverage and ask the panel if it's over the top.


COOPER: Welcome back. Some Republicans complain the so-called liberal media has whipped up a fury against Chris Christie in the bridge scandal, because the governor's a lead figure in the GOP.

Take a look at a graph posted by showing coverage of Chris Christie on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News. The yellow bar shows the many times he's been mentioned on air since January 9 when the story broke through last Friday. The liberal MSNBC clearly dominated the coverage there. The orange bar showed how often Christie was talked about before then. Those bars barely registering.

His supporters point to coverage like this.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: He did not get the endorsement of the Democratic mayor of Ft. Lee, who then just so happened to discover one morning that ordinary life had been suspended in his town.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: But again the question: Who's looking out for all those -- all those that had things wrong done to them? Things that were killing the people in these traffic situations? It sure wasn't Governor Christie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is exactly why Chris Christie is so dangerous.

MADDOW: But now, no, screw you, Jersey City, fend for yourself. Your mayor didn't kiss the ring. Now the town will pay.


COOPER: This morning on "NEW DAY," a former Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour, who also served as chairman of the RNC, harshly criticized the media in a discussion with CNN's Chris Cuomo. Take a look.


CHRIS CUOMO, HOST, "NEW DAY": The latest suggestion by a local mayor, you know what it is. Does it give you more concern about the atmosphere and culture in Chris Christie's government?

HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: I'll tell you gives me concern about this. The news media is willing to leap at any far- fetched story with the basis in fact unbelievable.


COOPER: Joining our panel are CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter and legendary journalist Carl Bernstein.

Carl, what do you make of this? I mean, clearly, there is -- there are more liberal channels that are engaged in a lot of interest in this story, but it seems to me this is a legitimate story, particularly when you have the mayor of a town like Hoboken, New Jersey, coming forward and saying something that's so at odds with what the lieutenant governor has said.

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: It's not just about the mayor of Hoboken. This is a huge national story and should be. The same way Benghazi should have been a huge national story, the same way Watergate was a huge national story.

You have allegations that seem very serious that need to be run down about serious abuses of power.

There is a great Republican leader in the U.S. Senate who said, well, what did President Nixon know and when did he know it? I would hope that the Republican leader of the Senate who was on your broadcast here would say the same thing: What did the governor know and when did he know it?

And that's part of what he needs to do in real reporting, investigative reporting and a proper investigation, nonpartisan investigation by legitimate committees of the legislature. This is a serious business.

COOPER: Brian, when you look at the coverage, what do you think?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: I think this may be showing the value of an actual liberal media. Conservatives like to say all the media is liberal. It's not. MSNBC is liberal with the exception of maybe "MORNING JOE," where the hosts are very close to Governor Chris Christie.

The liberal reporters for MSNBC did real reporting. They did real investigating. Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken, understandably cooperated with them providing documents, providing evidence to get the story into the press. And for the same reason that it's great to have consecutive reporters at conservative outlets, it's important to have real liberal reporters coming from the point of view of expressing what they think.

BORGER: Can I say the easiest political strategy for any party ever is to run against the press. And so, you know, so the Republicans will say, OK, you know, this is the liberal media. And the Democrats have been in the same position when they talk about the consecutive media.

COOPER: I mean, in your opinion, is this a legitimate story -- Kevin?

MADDEN: You know, I don't think it's a -- I wouldn't agree that it is a legitimate national story. I mean, if every abuse of power that happens in the state house is going to be a national story, I mean, everybody is going to be really busy. I think that...

COOPER: But not every governor has a potential to become president of the United States.

MADDEN: I think that is a reason -- I think that is a reason there's a focus. I think there's a real reason -- there are two real reasons why I think there's been a focus by particularly national cable networks.

It's an actual -- as far as resources it's real easy to send a satellite truck up I-95 to cover this. So, you know, it's a lot easier to cover.

And the simple fact is that Governor Christie has a national political profile now. And I think that that, coupled with the fact that the DNC and some of the national Democrats are actually going out there and feeding this story, it has become a national story.

COOPER: But you also -- you also rarely have a story, I mean, people talk about politics and bare-knuckle politics. It's rare that you have an e-mail chain where, you know, an aide to the governor is saying, "Well, we need to have a traffic problem," and the guy who's the Port Authority is like "Got it" as if -- you know, as if this has been an ongoing discussion. BERNSTEIN: Richard Nixon tried to make the conduct of the press, the conduct of the "Washington Post" the issue in Watergate. And it's a very easy thing to do. And it's not going to work here any more than it worked there.

We have some sets of facts that need to be investigated. Both by reporters and by the legislature. Let's see where the facts take us. And incidentally, I'm not sure that news organizations calling this Bridge-gate is very fair to Governor Christie, as well. I think we could do with a little less of that also.

COOPER: But I do think TV likes -- and finds, you know, people find interesting an ongoing story that's -- it's not something that happened in the past. It's something that's still -- it's like peeling an onion.

BRAMNICK: People are wondering what the next revelation is.

BORGER: And Chris Christie is a great character. I mean, he is somebody -- and I have to give him a lot of credit here. This is a man who went out. He had a two-hour press conference. He was determined to answer every question that every reporter wanted to ask of him, and he left himself absolutely no wiggle room.

So now the question is, OK, the governor left no wiggle room on this. He said he knew nothing. So now let the journalists have at it, right?


BERNSTEIN: Can we be realistic here for a moment?


BERNSTEIN: ... with one thing.

COOPER: Go ahead, Carl.

BERNSTEIN: Let's be realistic. He's one of the five most important politicians in the country. He may be the next president of the United States.

The idea that we should not be reporting on this as extensively as we possibly can; the idea that legitimate commentary, whether on FOX, MSNBC, CNN, is not part of the news picture is absolutely absurd.

There is a long history in this country of political commentary in all kinds of media. And to have a chairman there or a strategist saying, "Oh, this is out of bounds." And Haley Barbour is my friend. But Haley Barbour knows that this is a real story. It's not going to go away. It needs to be investigating, and it will be.

COOPER: Kevin, I want you to be able to respond. Then we've got to go.

MADDEN: Yes, well, I'm not saying it's out of bounds. But it's clearly that there is an overemphasis on this as a national story.

People out in, you know, Centerville, Ohio, aren't sitting around with a recognition or understanding of what's happening at the Port Authority in New York. So the idea that this is a national story that people at water coolers are talking about it around the country as it affects them, that's simply not true. Is it something that could affect them as...

BERNSTEIN: I doubt that you're right about that, incidentally.

COOPER: But also...

MADDEN: I think they're talking about it now. But it's not as if it directly affects their life the way -- the larger issue is about the economy and immigration, education.

COOPER: We should leave it there.

BERNSTEIN: That was said in Watergate, too: the larger issues were other, rather than the...

MADDEN: Yes, this is exactly the same as Watergate. Exactly the same. That's absurd.

BERNSTEIN: It's not. No. I said the use of the term Bridge- gate is unfair. What I'm saying is what is the same is that there have been allegations of an abuse of power, and they need to be looked at it very seriously and not -- and not thrown away as if they amount to nothing.

COOPER: Kevin, appreciate you being on.

Carl Bernstein, as well.

Brian and Gloria, thanks very much.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: Thanks for watching AC 360 LATER. Coming up at the top of the hour, you can see my full interview with Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer. That's on 360, coming up in about two minutes. And tomorrow, make sure to stay with CNN all day for live coverage. Chris Christie's inauguration. We'll see you tomorrow night.