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Lieutenant Governor: Mayor's Sandy Claims "False", "Illogical"; New Black Female Comic Makes SNL Debut; Christie's Lt. Gov Denies Sandy Claims

Aired January 20, 2014 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Just about an hour ago, Chris Christie's lieutenant governor strongly defended herself against some serious allegations of political retribution. The Democratic Mayor of Hoboken accused Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno of withholding Sandy relief funds unless Mayor Zimmer supported a redevelopment plan supported by Mayor Chris -- or by Governor Christie rather. Here's what the Lieutenant Governor had to say.


LT. GOVERNOR KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: Mayor Zimmer's version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false but it's illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined.


COSTELLO: Add in facts about the money involved and the Mayor's previous support of Christie that former Mississippi Governor, Haley Barbour, told CNN, make him question the validity of Mayor Zimmer's claims.


HALEY BARBOUR (R), FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: I tell you what it gives me concern about that the news media is willing to leak any far- fetched story with the basis in fact unbelievable. This is a lady mayor who asked for $142 -- $127 million of hazard mitigation money from the Governor to give that to her from the federal money when the state was only receiving in its entirety $300 million. It is absurd to think that one town would get well more than a third of the total amount of money.

I think you've got this problem. A journal is written and can be written any time. I'm a recovering lawyer but I do still remember that from when I practiced law. And why was she sending out all these tweets that have been preserved on the Internet that said one thing that was totally different from what she was saying and then she comes back and says, well, I'm hoping I'm putting enough pressure on him that he is going to fold and let me have my $127 million. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Larry Sabato is the director for the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia. Matt Katz is a reporter for WNYC Radio, he covers the Christie administration. And Matt I want to start with you about what Haley Barbour just said. Not only did the Hoboken Mayor tweet praise for Christie. She told CNN about a week ago that she didn't think retaliations play any role in whether Sandy funds were withheld and now she's coming out with these allegations. What do you make of that, Matt?

MATT KATZ, REPORTER, WNYC RADIO: Well she told us over the weekend that it took her some time to come this point. She said it was a -- it was a pretty difficult thing to do. And -- and she's come to believe that there is some sort of connection here.

But it leaves her open to attacks, both from Christie's people and his surrogates, like Haley Barbour. I mean it has the sense at least the way they're framing it that they are piling on now, the Democrats and the so-called liberal media are piling on.

I spoke to Christie's people right after the Bridgegate scandal broke. And they said their biggest hope was that Democrats could be seen as overreaching. And what happened over the weekend let's credit to that and allowed them to really go on the offensive and attack her and attack Democrats and attack the media like they hadn't before all in this scandal.

So it's interesting what this does. But it's damaging to him. But it also gives him more ammunition to fight back.

COSTELLO: Yes well Larry, let me ask you about the Democratic overreach. Chris Christie was in Florida raising money for the Republican governor there who is up for reelection and Republicans greeted him warmly. It seems that they are rallying around him with every new scandal that comes up.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Carol some of the party elites are. And I you know I like Haley Barbour a lot. But he is a big Christie advocate like many of the establishment members of the Republican Party. Why because they think Christie is the kind of moderate conservative candidate who could win a general election. They are worried about some of the other candidates running for the Republican nomination in 2016. They think they are too conservative to win.

So you have to remember what their motives are. Look Carol what's -- let's leave aside the investigations and maybe this will be all be sorted out. But I'll tell you what's really coming across and what is damaging to Christie, it is that New Jersey politics is being projected probably correctly as mean, tough, vicious, Byzantine.

And people at some point are going to ask the question is this what we want to transfer from the New Jersey governor's office into the Oval Office at the White House. That's what's hurting Christie in the long-run if he runs for president and I assume he will. COSTELLO: Well is it -- well I guess the -- you know let's talk about the people of New Jersey because they are the ones being directly affected by all of this. So Matt is that happening in New Jersey, because Chris Christie's opinion polls seem I mean -- seem to be pretty high still.

KATZ: Yes people -- people in New Jersey have a certain degree of understanding about the way these things work. They have also seen Christie himself when he was federal prosecutor, send over 100 politicians to jail for taking like $5,000, $10,000 bribes. So there is a certain degree of tolerance for low-level corruption.

What happened over the weekend, though, in addition -- first, you have the traffic jam thing -- and that's like got people -- raised people's eyebrows. But what happened over the weekend was almost a little bit more worse than that because you're messing with Sandy money. And Sandy had a tremendous effect both physically on the coast and other areas on other in-lying areas but also on the psyche of the state.

And the fact that there is an allegation that the governor was messing around with that money, it's almost more damaging to the Christie brand. Well fortunately for Christie though there is no smoking gun. There is no e-mail from Christie saying, you give us this development or we're taking away your Sandy money. Whereas with the bridge scandal, there was a smoking gun.

So he has that going for him but if this turns out to be true in anyway, it's almost worse because messing with Sandy money is beyond the kind of corruption that New Jerseyians are accustomed to.

COSTELLO: Larry Sabato and Matt Katz, thanks so much for being with me. I appreciate it.

We're back in a minute.


COSTELLO: It was perhaps the most anticipated "Saturday Night Live" episode of this season. Not because of the host although Drake was a bomb but because for the first time in more than six years, a black woman became part of the SNL family. Welcome Sasheer Zamata.


SASHEER ZAMATA, ACTRESS: Dad get out of here. You're embarrassing me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry my little Anne, I just wanted to stop by and gossip with the ladies.

ZAMATA: No, dad. I told you to sit in the bathroom all night. Go away.


COSTELLO: All right. SNL, as you know, hired Zamata after much criticism over its lack of diversity. She is now only the fifth black woman to be part of the cast in "SNL" to be part of the cast rather in nearly 40 years. Comedian, actress, Kim Coles joins me now. Welcome back. Welcome back Kim. Nice to see you. Can you hear me? Oh, no, we're going to have a technical problem on my most anticipated segment. We're going to fix that all up and then we'll talk about SNL.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: As we were saying before the break, Sasheer Zamata made her debut on "Saturday Night Live", the first African-American woman on the show in six years.

Kim Coles joins me now. Thank you so much for being with me again.

KIM COLES, ACTRESS/COMEDIAN: Thank you for letting me come and play with you, Miss Carol.

COSTELLO: I love it. OK, so first of all, critique? What did you think?

COLES: I thought she was -- first of all, I think she is beautiful. I think she's funny. I think there's a sparkle in her eye. I think she has a beautiful smile and I can't wait to see more. They gave us quite a few tastes of her throughout the show. She was really sprinkled nicely throughout the show. I just have great promise and great belief that she is going to knock it out of the park.

COSTELLO: She was featured in nearly every sketch in the first half hour.


COSTELLO: A lot was made at the end of the show when Drake, the host, gave her a big hug. Most new cast members aren't treated that way.

COLES: well, listen, she is welcomed with open arms because the people have spoken. The people said we want to see a sister on the show. There needs to be more diversity on the show. They came up with lots of auditions and they came up with someone who I think is going to be perfect for the show. I think she's got -- like I said, she's got a lovely sparkle in her eye. As a comedian, from comedian to comedian, I think she has got it. I really do.

COSTELLO: It was interesting, because as I was watching it, they had Drake -- right. His first sketch was about his Jewish and African- American background. The whole first hour of "Saturday Night Live" was about diversity. It was sort of like "Saturday Night Live" saying, see, we fixed it, see, we fixed it. I had that feeling.

COLES: You know something too, I think it was really fortunate for Sasheer that Drake was on the show because that way she would have an opportunity to be folded into even more sketches. So maybe that's what they were saying. To be honest with you, I don't think that there is a whole lot of "let's be diverse right now. Let's do it the right way." I just think it's -- they made a good choice. I don't think there is a whole lot of, hey, guys, let's get it together here. I think the spoke and they answered.

COSTELLO: But I also think by treating her out of the norm, perhaps they put more pressure on her to be funny, funny, funny.

COLES: I thought about that too. I thought to myself, whoever they hire, she is going to really have to be sort of the Holy Grail and speak for all of us. The truth is, I have a feeling this girl is going to be able to hold her own and be able to withstand the pressure of just be really, really funny. Trust me they would not have hired her if they didn't think that she could handle it. I'm sure she will be able to.

COSTELLO: That's why I kind of wish that she was in a lot of taped segments -- right. I kind of wished she was just in one really good, funny, live sketch. I know she was in that one but she didn't have a large role. I kind of wanted to see that more than little tiny bits and pieces of her.

COLES: Well, if you notice with featured players, they are folding her in as a feature. I am using the term fold here. They are sort of starting her off as a feature player. Featured players don't get big, huge sketches to begin with. I think they gave us all a little taste, a little bit of a lot -- like sort of a pooh-pooh platter. A pooh- pooh platter of Sasheer.

Somebody is going to tweet that; I am going to get in trouble for that. But you know what I'm saying. It gave us a lovely little taste of who she is and it will be -- time will be the true test. But this girl comes from a very strong background. She is with the Up Right Citizens Brigade Theater. She comes from good training. She'll be able to hold her own. I can't say the name of where she comes from.

COSTELLO: She is good.

COLES: "Upright Citizens brigade". It is early for me, too. I'm sorry.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for being with us, Kim Coles. We appreciate it, as always.

COLES: Thank you.

He has been in more than a dozen movies, been featured on hit TV shows. Now, he is out with two new films that are debuting at the Sundance Film Festival. You're checking out "The One I Love". His other movie is "Skeleton Twins". It started SNL alum's Kristin Wiig.

Mark Duplass joins me now live from the Sundance Film Festival. Mark -- thanks for joining us.

MARK DUPLASS: Thanks for having me. How is it going?

COSTELLO: It is going pretty good. Tell us about somehow getting two films into one of the most prestigious festivals in the world.

DUPLASS: Well, it is always a tricky thing being as talented and awesome as I am. But you really just have to be born that way. I think it's what I've discovered in the long run.

COSTELLO: Seriously, you have to be seriously talented to be able to do that. Were you surprised by it?

DUPLASS: I was shocked. I came to Sundance 12 years ago with a tiny, short film that I made for $3 with my brother. And they have basically made my career. So being able to show up here with two films with these amazing actors, Elizabeth Moss and Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig and they let me even be in one of them. It's a big honor.

COSTELLO: That's awesome. OK. So let's talk about "The Skeleton Twins" because they star two of SNL's beloved alums, Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader -- how did they get involved?

DUPLASS: Well, you know, Kristen and Bill have known each other for years. And my brother and I are known for making movies that essentially take comedic actors and give them a lot of their first dramatic turn, as it were. We loved the idea of seeing Bill Hader and Kristin do what we watched Jonah Hill do in our first movie "Cyrus". And then go on to make "Moneyball" and go on to make and go on the "Wolf of Wall Street".

And I feel like Bill and Kristin definitely have that sort of breakout potential to let people see them do something else they haven't seen them do before.

COSTELLO: "Skeleton Twins", tell me a little bit about what it is about. And is it a dramatic, is it comedic? What is it?

DUPLASS: Yes, I would call "Skeleton Twins" a comedic drama. It is about two twins who have become estranged and they are in a really bad place in their lives and they sort of come back together and figure out how they're going to move forward with their lives.

It' very-- it's very dramatic. But I would say it has that comedy drama that movies like "The Kids are All Right" or "Beginners" have. It is a nice blend.

COSTELLO: Awesome. Before I let you go, I would really like to ask you about SNL and its newest cast member, the first African-American woman in six years. Did you catch her debut?

DUPLASS: No. I have been at the Sundance Film Festival trying to watch as many movies as I can but, no, I haven't heard about it yet.

COSTELLO: Well then, I won't ask you more, because it would be unfair. Mark Duplass, thank you so much for talking with me I really appreciate it and good luck. We'll be right back.

DUPLASS: Thank you.


COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 54 minutes past the hour.

An American missionary jailed in North Korea for more than a year is calling for the U.S. to help secure his release. Kenneth Bae spoke during a news conference in North Korea.

KENNETH BAE, PRISONER IN NORTH KOREA: I would like to ask the U.S. government once again. Now it's been 15 months and there have been several efforts made. But now I request for immediate help by taking actions, not just by making words so that my problem can be solved.

I would like to plead with the U.S. government, press and my family to stop worsening my family by making vile rumors about North Korea and releasing material related to me which are not based on the facts.


COSTELLO: Bae he is serving 15 years of hard labor for committing hostile acts against Pyongyang. The United States has said Bae it's being held for no reason at all.

President Obama is jumping into the weed legalization debate telling the "New Yorker" that despite still viewing the drug negatively, he does not think it is any worse than alcohol or cigarettes. Quote, "I smoked pot as a kid and I view it as bad habit and a vice. It's not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is any more dangerous than alcohol."

Obama also says he encourages his daughters to stay away from marijuana, because it is a waste of time and not very healthy.

Just last hour, we heard New Jersey's lieutenant governor wholeheartedly deny allegations that she threatened to short change Hoboken on Hurricane Sandy relief money. Kim Guadagno says she did deliver an ultimatum on behalf of Chris Christie.

The Hoboken mayor Democrat, Dawn Zimmer says she was told if she did not support a redevelopment plan backed by Christie, her town would get short changed on hurricane Sandy relief funds. The accusation as I said drew a sharp response from the Lieutenant Governor.

LT. GOVERNOR KIM GUADAGNO, NEW JERSEY: Yes, I am very surprised by the mayor's allegations. And I deny wholeheartedly those allegations. I deny any suggestion made by Mayor Zimmer that there was ever any condition on the release of Sandy funds by me.


COSTELLO: CNN's Erin McPike is in Trenton and CNN's national political reporter, Peter Hamby is in Washington to talk about this.

I want to start with you. There is a federal and state investigation in this matter right. ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, that's right -- but these two stories are a little bit different obviously with the Lieutenant Governor. This is more of a he said, she said kind of story. We haven't really seen anything in the way of evidence or document yet where as in the Bridgegate controversy as we're calling it there are thousands of pages of documents.

But while all this is going on Chris Christie has his inauguration tomorrow. There is this big cloud of scandal covering it. I want to point out what's happening in the last hour since we last spoke. I'm going to step aside here. A couple of demonstrations have formed. Over here, you have "Occupy New Jersey"

I want to read some of the signs for you. One says, jail Christie. Another says, "shame on "you. The other one says, just recovery, not cronyism. Over here, we also we have an education protest going on, a little bit separate.

But all of this is going on as Chris Christie gets ready for his second inauguration tomorrow. And I want to read to you a couple of comments he has made in the last few days. In an interview with Yahoo News that just posted also this morning. He said, part of politics is trying to have sharp elbows publicly in order to make a deal privately. That gives you a little bit of an idea of the broader context.

He also said in reference to the Bridgegate controversy, you know what one of the scariest things about being governor, every day, 65,000 people have letterhead with my name on it and I don't know what they are doing all day. So lots of developments Carol but obviously he's got to get ready for inauguration tomorrow. So this is going to be another busy week here in New Jersey.

COSTELLO: Obviously, Peter, Chris Christie is trying to repair his image as fast as he can. His aides are also coming to his rescue. What are they saying?

PETER HAMBY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, what is really striking to me about these latest developments in the whole tangled Christie storyline is the reaction to this Mayor Zimmer story. Unlike the bridge scandal when you saw a chastened Christie, here you have Christie and his aides and his allies coming out full bore criticizing democrats saying they are trying to politicize the scandal.

And that suggests to me two things. One, they think that Mayor Zimmer is lying. And two they think they can score a political win here. Democrats need to be careful about not overreaching with this scandal. If this is seen as a partisan scandal, it might wear on New Jersey voters. Remember, Christie is taking a hit in the polls. But he did win reelection just a few months ago by 22 points. So he is operating from a reservoir of good will.

Here, in this case, Christie and his team really see an opportunity if they can portray Democrats as being too partisan and not telling the truth. They think they can see a glimmer of hope and escape this swirling controversy, Carol.

COSTELLO: Peter Hamby, Erin McPike, many thanks to both of you. Of course we will be talking about Chris Christie and the two scandals surrounding his administration today.

For now thought, I'd like to thank you for joining me.

I'm Carol Costello. "LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.