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Christie Lt. Gov. to Deny Sandy Claims; Is Sochi Games Safe?; President Obama Opens Up on Issues; Richard Sherman Blows Up After Big Win; Kenneth Bae Urges U.S. to Secure His Release

Aired January 20, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Take some time to reflect. It's a good day to do that.


CUOMO: That's what the day is about.

Thanks for joining us here. A lot of news. So let's get you to the "NEWSROOM," Miss Carol Costello.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You're right about that, Chris. Thanks so much.

NEWSROOM starts now.

Hey, good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello.

This morning there is a new scandal overshadowing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his possible bid in the next presidential election.

The latest embarrassment now surrounds his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno. She's accused of strong arming the mayor of Hoboken, saying if the Democrats did not support a re-development plan backed by Christie, the town would get shortchanged on Hurricane Sandy relief funds.


MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER (D), HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: She made a direct threat to me. She came and when the lieutenant governor comes, pulls you aside in a parking lot and says that these two things are connected, I know it shouldn't be, but they are and if you tell anyone I'll deny it. And then she felt almost guilty about saying it. She knows it's wrong. But that is exactly what they are trying to do.


COSTELLO: That was Mayor Zimmer. Mayor Zimmer says she turned over her journal and other documents when she met with federal prosecutors for several hours yesterday.

Just minutes from now the Lt. Gov. Guadagno will address those claims as she takes part on volunteer events to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

CNN investigative correspondent Chris Frates joins me now with some details first on CNN.

Chris, what is the lieutenant governor expected to say?

CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Carol. And what I'm being told by a source is that the lieutenant governor is expected to, quote, "categorically deny these allegations."

Now remember this weekend Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said that the lieutenant governor told her that Sandy relief funds for Hoboken would be withheld unless she backed this re-development project that Governor Christie supported.

Now the source tells me that the lieutenant governor remembers talking to the mayor that day. But she recalls a much different conversation. Guadagno recalls discussing the development or the redevelopment of Hoboken and says Zimmer is the one who pressed for Sandy funds during that discussion.

Now this source tells me that the lieutenant governor told the mayor that, quote, "you can't tie those two things together." So in these two events you have the mayor of Hoboken saying that she believes that -- she believes that going forward here -- that -- let me break it down.

Mayor of Hoboken believes that the lieutenant governor forced her to take this redevelopment deal. The lieutenant governor saying that in this case that's not the case that the mayor was the one who brought up these funds.

COSTELLO: OK. Well, the question -- I mean, there are so many questions surrounding there. So Mayor Zimmer says she has this diary. No one knows when that diary was written, right? And you spoke to Mayor Zimmer what, January 11th? Did she ever bring this issue up to you then?

FRATES: Well, that's exactly right. And I was asking the mayor about her endorsement whether she felt like there was any retribution because she didn't endorse the governor and she said no, that's not the case. She thought that while she wondered if it was the case she didn't have any reason to believe there was retribution here.

And she didn't bring up this redevelopment project at all or say that she had other reasons to believe there might have been retribution for anything else. So that was new development this weekend when I talked with her on the 11th she didn't mention it at all.

COSTELLO: OK. Well, we'll see what the lieutenant governor has to say in just about 45 minutes.

Chris Frates, thanks so much.

As I said, lieutenant governor is expected to address United Way volunteers at any moment. When she does we'll bring you her remarks live.

With all the worries about security, would you send your family to the Olympics in Russia? One U.S. lawmaker telling CNN he would not.


SEN. ANGUS KING JR. (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 -- you know, they've almost broadcast that they are going to try to do something there.


COSTELLO: This morning despite temperatures well below zero the Olympic torch reached Volgograd in Russia. That same city was hit by two terrorist attacks just last month and the possibility of an attack during the games has many worried especially since the "Wall Street Report" report this morning claims the United States will send fewer security personnel to Sochi than in past Olympics.

CNN's Phil Black has more for you.


BLACK (voice-over): Mounting concerns in Russia this morning as the Olympic torch relay makes it way through the bomb stricken city of Volgograd. Two extremists in this video claiming responsibility for two back-to-back suicide bombings last month that claimed 34 lives, and warning that more attacks could come during the Sochi Olympic Games.

In the hour-long video, the purported suicide bombers are seen constructing explosives and explaining their motives all before heading into their targets triggers in hand. The two men, apparently part of an Islamist militant group, vowing to prepare a present for the Olympics and all the tourists who'll come over. Members of Congress are very concerned.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: If something does happen, what is the evacuation plan and emergency response plan that would think twice?

BLACK: Others worried about Americans heading to Sochi.

KING: I would not go and I don't think I would send my family.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR: I am very concerned about the security status of the Olympics. I do believe that the Russian government needs to be more cooperative with the United States when it comes to the security of the games.

BLACK: Russian President Vladimir Putin deploying a security force at 40,000 police officers and soldiers to the region. In an interview with ABC News, Putin says that he will do whatever it takes to keep athletes and visitors safe. And pledging that Russia has adequate means of security. Security around the Olympic venue on high alert. Metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs are visible as the games get underway in just over two weeks.


BLACK: Carol, Russian officials say they are not changing their plan for the Sochi games because of these Volgograd attacks. They believe they have everything necessary in place. But that doesn't mean they have taken anything away from what happened at this train station here behind me.

It seems the lesson is that even if you lock down Sochi successfully there's still many other potentially vulnerable targets across the country, and I think we saw a reaction to that this morning when the Olympic flame arrived at this train station here. There were many more members of the police, members of the security forces than there were members of the public here to welcome the torch as it began its relay through this city -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Phil Black reporting live from Volgograd, Russia where it's very, very cold. Do you believe it's 6 degrees below zero?

Thank you, Phil.

Just moments ago we learned that Syrian opposition is stepping up its threat to pull out of this week's peace talks in Geneva. The opposition is upset that Iran, a staunch supporter of the Assad regime, accepted the United Nations invitation to attend those talks. The opposition is giving the U.N. until 2:00 p.m. Eastern today to rescind the invitation or for Iran to meet three conditions including pulling its troops from Syria.

If the talks do go on as scheduled it'll be the first face to face meeting between the Syrian government and the opposition.

And American missionary jailed in North Korea for more than a year now is speaking out this morning. Kenneth Bae urged the United States during a news conference in North Korea, mind you, to cooperate with the reclusive nation to secure his release. He also admitted on camera to committing serious crimes against Pyongyang. A North Korean court sentenced Bae to 15 years of hard labor for committing hostile acts against the state. The U.S. has said Bae is being held for no reason at all.

The year of weed rolls on the heels of Colorado legalizing pot sales and polls reporting most Americans now support legalizing the drug. President Obama broke bad and talked in a historic way to "The New Yorker". He said quote, "I smoked pot as a kid and I view it as a bad habit and a vice not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my life. I don't think it's more dangerous than alcohol. End quote.

All right. Mr. President, you might want to update those talking points on that say pot is still harmful, addictive and as bad as heroin and ecstasy.

Our senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar joins me now with more on this.

Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Pretty wide ranging interview that President Obama did with "the New Yorker". He talked about his 2014 priorities. He talked about Edward Snowden, sports and yes, marijuana, where he said that recent laws in Colorado and Washington state are, quote, "important for decriminalizing a commonly used substance.

But he also worries that this is a slippery slope that could lead to other more dangerous drugs being made legal.


KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama getting real in the pages of the "New Yorker" about his battles in the White House and opening up on a personal level, telling editor David Remnick in an interview if he had a son he wouldn't let him play football for fear of concussions. He also revealed new details of his own views on marijuana, calling pot use a vice but adding, "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear --

KEILAR: Five years ago today Obama was sworn in, vowing change no matter the obstacle.

OBAMA: With hope and virtue let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come.

KEILAR: Come those storms did. Last year alone saw a controversy over NSA spying, a government shutdown, and the botched roll out of health care reform. And now battered by those struggles a more realistic Obama, describing himself as swimming upstream, admitting he may end his second term without accomplishing some of his biggest goals.

Obama likens himself to a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids. He says at the end of the day we're part of a long running story we just try to get our paragraph right as he talks about reducing income inequality. It's a goal that he's recently made a hallmark of his second term.

OBAMA: We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that's at the heart of America.

KEILAR: Obama also revealed that like other presidents he will write a memoir of his time in the oval office and that the first lady has already begun working on hers.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR: And President Obama when talking about income inequality, Carol, also referenced it when he was talking about marijuana. He said middle class kids don't get locked up for smoking spot and poor kids do. And he said African-American kids, Latino kids, they're more likely to be poor and don't have the resources them avoid harsh sentences.

COSTELLO: All right, Brianna Keilar, reporting live from the White House this morning. Thanks.

The Super Bowl is set, Peyton Manning's Broncos will face Russell Wilson's sea hawks in New York but this morning Wilson's teammate Richard Sherman is getting all the attention with an epic rant. After saving the game for Seattle. Listen.


RICHARD SHERMAN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS CORNERBACK: Well, I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Who was talking about you?

SHERMAN: Crabtree. Don't you open up your mouth about the best, or I'm going to shut it for you really quick. LOB.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: All right. And Joe, back over to you.


COSTELLO: I think he needs some anger management courses, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: He won the game, right? Carol, he should be happy.



SCHOLES: Well, you know, Richard Sherman, he's known as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He's also, I guess, one of the best trash talkers as we're finding out today. And he and Crabtree went in the game. And he made the game-winning plays so of course he was pumped up. And I'm guessing him and Crabtree had been going back and forth all game.

But that wasn't the end. They went into the post-game press conference and he actually took on some of the fans on Twitter, too. Take a listen.


SHERMAN: I'd like to also say something to the a-hole fans that write on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and talk crap. Because we appreciate the motivation. We appreciate it. You helped us win this game. So thank you very much. Appreciate it.



COSTELLO: He's calling other people an a-hole?

SCHOLES: A-hole. Well, I think it's all his critics. But at least he was smiling in that one. He was (INAUDIBLE). He also apologized to Erin Andrews, I guess, for yelling at her in that interview but --


COSTELLO: I love her face. She's like what?

SCHOLES: Now some people thought it wasn't very classy of him to go after Crabtree like he did after the game. Get in his face like hey, ha-ha, you just lost this game. But I guess that was in the heat of the moment. But Crabtree, he responded to this on Twitter. He tweeted out during all of this post-game madness, "Film don't lie. NFL network, ESPN, pull up the tape of that game and show me where this guy is the best, #fake, #fake."

It didn't end there, though, Carol, Sherman of course, you know, as the trash talker he is wanted to get that last word in. He followed that with a tweet of his own, saying a lion doesn't concern himself with the opinions of a sheep.


COSTELLO: And with that sportsmanship officially died in America.

SCHOLES: We'll have to see how loud Sherman is talking when he takes on Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

COSTELLO: That's right.

Andy Scholes, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Governor Chris Christie and his second- in-command at the center of a brand new controversy with a different Democratic mayor. A live report from New Jersey next.


COSTELLO: To Union Beach, New Jersey, now. This is Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. She's speaking to a group of United Way volunteers and we believe she's going to mention this latest scandal surrounding Governor Chris Christie and her alleged role of withholding Sandy relief funds if Democratic mayor did not support redevelopment project.

Let's listen.

(APPLAUSE) KIM GUADAGNO, N.J. LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Now, when it is Martin Luther King Day, there's two things. First, I'm going to talk a little bit about Martin Luther King and then I'm going to let you guys go out and pound nails. Then, I'm going to catch up with you in a little while.

And then I'm going to answer some questions that I suspect people in the back are here to hear me. I'm not going to answer any questions, I'm going to make a statement to that.

So, if you don't mind let's talk about Dr. King for just a second.

Now, most of you remember Dr. King for his "I have a dream" speech. Now, what we now (ph) remember as Dr. King because she heard him say the "I Have a Dream" speech on the lawn in Washington, D.C. --

COSTELLO: OK. So, while the lieutenant governor makes her initial remarks, I want to bring in CNN's Alexandra Field. She's in Union Beach, New Jersey, where you heard the lieutenant governor will soon talk about this latest scandal.

Also joining me, Democratic Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle of New Jersey, and Melissa Hayes, State House bureau reporter for "The Record" newspaper.

Good morning to all of you.

So, Alexandra, first of all, set the scene for us?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. The lieutenant governor is now inside firehouse. You just saw her. We were not able to see her arriving. She slipped in possibly a back door but that firehouse is packed with people eager to hear what the lieutenant governor has to say.

She just laid out sort of an outline of the program this morning. She's beginning her remarks talking about Martin Luther King Day and this day of service. She also alluded to answering the questions that are on a lot of people's minds, although she will not directly take questions from the media, she will be making a statement.

The goal of the program today actually has to deal with helping the victims of Sandy, that as this controversy swirls concerning Sandy funding for the city of Hoboken. Right now, the governor is talking to volunteers who plan to head out to three or four different homes in Union Beach that were affected by the super storm. We're also told the lieutenant governor will be traveling to one of those homes and helping to make some repairs.

So, her speech is under way right now. She's addressing to about 100 volunteers. We'll be listening to see what she has to say about the allegations lodged very publicly against her this weekend, by Hoboken's mayor, Dawn Zimmer -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. You're going to continue to monitor her. And when she makes her statement about this scandal, Alexandra, you'll just yell to us and we'll stop. I want to bring in the assemblywoman right now -- because you're part of this panel investigating Bridgegate. What do you want to hear from the lieutenant governor?

STATE REP. VALERIE HUTTLE (D), NEW JERSEY: Quite frankly, these revelations that the mayor disclosed, I believe, Saturday morning or Friday morning, is shocking and disturbing but they are serious allegations, and serious enough that the U.S. attorney requested the mayor's contemporaneous diary notes and other documents.

So, at this time, it is so new. We're really a fact-finding committee. We need the facts. I can't really comment or have an opinion until we hear the information from both sides.

COSTELLO: Melissa, the lieutenant governor's home was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Sources tell CNN she was forbidden from discussing the storm because of that. So, why would she allegedly do such a thing?

MELISSA HAYES, THE RECORD: I'm sorry. Can you repeat the question? I'm having a little bit of problem hearing you.

COSTELLO: Oh, no worry. So, Melissa, the lieutenant governor's home was damaged by Hurricane Sandy and because of that she's not allowed the say anything at all about it. So, it just defies credulity that this actually happened this latest scandal.

HAYES: I -- you know, I didn't really expect her to say anything today. She's at an MLK Day event. But I think the governor's office has been denying everything on her behalf. So, they have been out there on this issue. I really wasn't surprised we didn't hear hearsay anything specifically today.

COSTELLO: Well, she said she was going make some sort of a statement. First, she made it sound like she was going accept questions from reporters and then back tracked no I'm going make a statement after we talk about Dr. Martin Luther King on his special day, for all of those people who have such questions.

So, we're still awaiting that statement. I hope you stick around because once she makes that statement, I'd like to get your insight once again.

So, Alexandra Field, New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle and, Melissa Hayes, reporter for "The Record" -- thank you very much.


COSTELLO: All right. We're still monitoring the situation at the Union Beach firehouse.

We expect Chris Christie's Lieutenant Governor Guadagno to come out and talk about this scandal, the latest scandal surrounding allegations that Christie administration withheld Sandy relief funds because the mayor of Hoboken would not support a redevelopment project that Christie supported when Lieutenant Governor Guadagno makes her statement to address this scandal, of course, we'll bring you back to the Union Beach firehouse.

Right now, the United Way is talking about building a playground and helping others rebuild third homes after Hurricane Sandy.

In other news this morning, an American missionary jailed in North Korea for more than a year is speaking out. Kenneth Bae urged the United States during a news conference a short time ago to cooperate with the reclusive nation to secure his release. He also admitted on camera to committing serious crimes against Pyongyang.

Paula Hancocks is in Seoul, South Korea, with more for your.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol, he was escorted in and out of the room by two military officials. The U.S. imprisoned citizens Kenneth Bae said he wants to be freed and go home to his family. He's calling on the U.S. government to do their best to secure his release.

And speaking to those reporters in Pyongyang that he did say that he wanted to make another public apology to the North Korean government and also said recent media reports made his situation quite complicated.

The assumption is that this is referring to comments that have been made from certain officials saying that Bae had not carried out any crime in North Korea -- in fact just last month the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that he was being held for no reason.

So what we heard from the U.S. citizen who is still being held in North Korea today was basically he said, "I have committed a crime. I apologized to the North Korean government" and he also said that North Korea does not abuse human rights. He said that he has been given a lot of humanitarian support. He had asked for the press conference to be held.

But we have seen from recent events, from U.S. citizens who have just been released from North Korea that they have been making these apologies and these statements under duress. So, at this point, we have to take this at face value. Bae is basically saying he does want to be released and he is looking forward to spending time with his family.

He's being detained in North Korea since November of 2012. The North Korean government said he carried out hostile acts against the regime itself. It's known he's a former missionary and assumption his faith may have something to do with the reason he's being held in North Korea.

Of course, back in April and May, he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years hard labor. But, of course, he's only served three months of that. For the last five months he's been held in hospital because of deteriorating health. So his family wants him back as soon as possible -- Carol. COSTELLO: All right. We're going to go straight back town Union Beach in New Jersey on the Jersey shore. We expect Lieutenant Governor Guadagno at any moment to speak about the latest scandal surrounding the Christie administration.

They cleared all of the United volunteers from the firehouse so that the lieutenant governor could make her comments. She's expected to categorically deny that she ever threatened to withhold sandy relief funds from a Democratic mayor in Hoboken, New Jersey because that mayor would not support at that redevelopment project that Chris Christie supported.

Alexandra Field is covering this from union beach. Set the scene again for us while we await the lieutenant governor's remarks, Alexandra.

FIELD: Sure, Carol. Well, the decision was made because this is a small firehouse to let the volunteers out, let them get to the work of helping the Superstorm Sandy victims. They're repairing some homes.

So, while they have cleared out about 100 volunteers, the lieutenant governor is now getting ready to make her statement. There are a lot of cameras and reporters inside. This is the first time we heard a senior Christie administration official address the allegations that were made over the weekend by the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey.

So, we're all waiting for her comments that point. We've been told that she's going to be making some kind of a statement. Doesn't seem as if she will be entertaining questions at this point? Certainly will be trying. A lot of people have a lot of questions for her considering the allegations that were brought against her this weekend by the mayor of Hoboken.

But, right now, again, we are waiting for those remarks to begin, that as these volunteers are able to get to work here in Union Beach, an area that was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy. Lieutenant governor we're told will be leaving the Union Beach firehouse following her remarks and we're told they are will also be joining in with the volunteers --

COSTELLO: Alexandra, I got to interrupt you. I'm going to interrupt you. Here's the lieutenant governor.

GUADAGANO: We'll join them as soon as we finish here today. What I'd to do right now is address some of the suggestion made by the mayor of Hoboken over the weekend.

I am not going to take any questions. I will repeat that. I am not is going to take any questions.

You know there are ongoing inquiries. I'm sure all the facts will come out at the appropriate time but right now I think in short you need to hear me say this out loud and I will. In short, Mayor Zimmer's version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false, but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined. Any suggestion, any suggestion that sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false. Standing in Union Beach, as we are today, with some of the mayors whose towns were devastated.