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Hoboken Mayor Accuses Christie Of Withholding Sandy Funds; Obama Gives Unusually Candid Interviews On Race In "New Yorker" Interview; Video Of Kenneth Bae Released; Documentary Film Freedom Summer Included In Sundance Festival

Aired January 20, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, says the controversy swirling around his administration represent a learning opportunity. But Christie's key wasted no time firing back against the latest charge that they threatened to withhold superstorm Sandy relief funds to push for a development project.


LT. GOV. KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: Any suggestion -- any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false.


BLITZER: Joining us now, our chief Washington correspondent, the anchor of CNN's "the LEAD," Jake Tapper.

And Jake, very strong denial from the lieutenant governor. You heard it. She went on to insist that there was absolutely no truth whatsoever in these latest allegations. The mayor of Hoboken, though, standing by her story, so how is all of this playing out?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting. The mayor of Hoboken met with the U.S. attorney yesterday. She described her take on the story, her version of events, and also provided copies of her journal in which she said she had contemporaneous descriptions of what was going on when she had the conversation with the lieutenant governor, and also with another official from the Christie administration.

The Christie administration says none of this is true. And while the mayor, Mayor Zimmer, says that she will testify under oath, everyone else involved in this story says they are excited to participate in the investigation, and have all the truth come out. The Christie administration is going to hold a conference call within the next hour to talk specifically about Sandy relief funds and describe what Hoboken did receive and what the mayor was asking for.

BLITZER: Now, he's going to be having -- celebrating his inauguration tomorrow, Governor Christie, in Trenton, in the capital of New Jersey. What do we expect to hear from him in light of these latest developments? TAPPER: I think the remarks that we'll hear from him will be largely what we heard from him in the state of the state, which is talking about working in a bipartisan way, moving forward. How no one side has a monopoly all of the answers? But I would not expect to hear him address this scandal or controversy in his inaugural address.

He is holding a big reception for supporters and donors on Ellis Island tomorrow evening. He's hoping to put this behind him. But I think he knows, he and his staff know, that as long as there are Democratic mayors out there with stories like Mayor Dawn Zimmer's to tell, the scandal is not going away any time soon.

BLITZER: It certainly isn't. I just spoke, by the way, with Democratic Congressman, Frank Pallone, of New Jersey. And he says if, and it's a huge if, if all of these allegations are proven true, Governor Christie he believes should resign or even being impeached. Those are very, very strong words.

TAPPER: They are. But so far there is no evidence of anything tying Governor Christie, even with these allegations, if you believe all of them; Mayor Zimmer says the lieutenant governor said something to her about tying this development project with Sandy relief funds. She says that a different official in the Christie administration made a similar statement about how relief funds will flow to her if she OKs this development project.

But although she said that the lieutenant governor said that message was from the governor, nobody has made the case that the governor said something specifically. It's all hearsay at this point. So I think talk of impeachment or resignation is premature. Although, you know, every day there is a new charge, there are questions about the Christie administration, I think there will be more of a clamoring for him to address some of these issues himself and talk about his version of events and why he rejects Mayor Dawn Zimmer's version of events.

We should note that she was very supportive of Governor Christie last year. And, in fact, just slightly over a week ago when CNN was talking to Mayor Zimmer about her relationship with the Christie administration, and whether or not her frustration with Sandy funds, which she had spoken about before, whether that was tied at all to her refusal to endorse Governor Christie, she said she didn't think so, she hoped not. She did not think it was an act of political retribution. Then a few days later, she goes on television and talks about a different act of political retribution.

There are different stories here, although she says she was intimidated before, now she's gotten the courage to come out and speak publicly about it. There are those questioning her version of events now, because of what she said then.

BLITZER: Jake is going to have a lot more at 4:00 p.m. eastern on "the LEAD." We will see you then, Jake. Thanks very much.

TAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: President Obama gave a very candid interview to the "New Yorker" magazine. He even talked about racism and the oval office. We are going to tell you what he said, when we come back.


BLITZER: As I mentioned earlier, President Obama gave a wide-ranging interview to the "New Yorker" magazine to mark this the fifth anniversary of his taking office. It's an interview where he talks very candidly about a whole bunch of issues.

Let's bring in Van Jones to talk a little bit more about one part of the interview. Van is the host -- one of the hosts of "CROSSFIRE" here on CNN. He is a former special adviser to president Obama.

Van, thanks very much for coming in. Let me read to you one of the quotes from this wide-ranging interview.

There's no doubt that there's some folks who just really dislike me because they don't like the idea of a black president. Now, the flip side of it is, there are some black folks and maybe some white folks, who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt, precisely because I'm a black president.

So when you heard that quote, what did you think?

VAN JONES, HOST, CROSSFIRE: Well, I thought that was actually a pretty honest and accurate assessment. I mean, one of the things that is very interesting here, you know, I'm a ninth generation American. I've been -- my family has been here for literally nine generations. We had about 300 years of enslavement, 100 years of Jim Crow.

I'm the first member born with all my rights in my generation. So, it's not surprising to me race comes up when you have the first black president and like so quickly after the civil rights movement.

One thing that's really interesting to me is we have actually, in some ways gone backwards. It's actually easier for us now to talk about lesbian and gay issues, thank goodness. It's easier for us to talk about immigration issues, thank goodness. Even marijuana, thank goodness.

But on issues of race when it comes to African-Americans, there's still this discomfort. And I think President Obama does bring that out in people.

BLITZER: Well, explain that because we're celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King today, what he did for our country.

JONES: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Just elaborate on that point you're making.

JONES: Well, I mean, it's just an interesting situation, because the civil rights agenda has gotten broader, including more and more people. It is including lesbians and gays, including Latinos, Asians. That's all really good. And yet, if you look at the African-American community, a year ago the president was giving this great speech, everybody was happy. A year later, our numbers are very, very bad. I'm not talking about poor African-Americans. The black middle class, the majority go to work every day, 85 percent of black Americans are employed but struggling. Like much of the rest of the middle class. But nobody talks about the fact that the public sector jobs, the black folks used to get, manufacturing jobs black folks used to get, the housing that we invested in, all that stuff has gone away and yet there is a discomfort to talk about that.

You don't want to seem like you're playing the race cart card, especially when you got a black president. So the black agenda has actually in some ways stopped. You see a reversal of progress for the middle class African-Americans.

The black president can't talk about it. Civil rights community doesn't want to say anything, we don't want to like we are being mean to the president. White folks don't know what to do. So in some ways, ironically, we're actually maybe moving backwards on black racial issues, even as we move forward on other civil rights issues.

BLITZER: So, how do we fix that, from your perspective?

JONES: Well, I think what we need to do is look at the African- American communities where there are assets, where people are trying, and recognize, we're wasting some genius here. I think the president should be using his bully pulpit. He has talked about stem education, science, technology.

Everybody knows the jobs of the future are going to be in technology and science and computing. Let's have a big initiative to get all low-opportunity kids, Black, Latino, Appalachian, whatever, learning how to use computers, learning how to code and engineer. We can have a new conversation about a future that includes all kids, but doesn't leave out those black kids. We know are struggling and talk about building a future that works.

The problem has been whenever this president mentions the word race, it becomes a headline, as opposed to a huddle to get together to figure out how we can make real progress.

BLITZER: Give me, if you were helping the president write his state of the union address, which is going to be coming up in only a few days when he addresses a joint session of Congress, addresses the American people. On this sensitive issue, give me off the top of your head right now a line or two you would like to hear from the president.

JONES: I would like him to say, let's stop wasting genius. We have got this obstruction economy, not an Obama economy. It's not a GOP economy. It's an obstruction economy. We're at logger heads. So basic stuff we could be doing. Roads and bridges that would put people back to work. We're not doing it because we are stuck.

I would say stop wasting genius. And I would point to all the genius that's being wasted in black America, white America, Latino, low- income rural. And talk about a way that we could put this next generation on track to succeed. Fundamentally, I think the politics of the United States has become a politics of nostalgia and lament on both sides. Everybody talks about their favorite decade, talk about the '60s as liberals. Apparently the Republicans, you know, which we go back to before of the new deal. But we need a politics of a future.

Dr. King gave us a future 50 years ago. He didn't say I have a complaint, I have a critique, I have an attack on the other side. He said, I have a dream. If President Obama would put forward a dream that includes all kids being able to succeed, but don't shy away from the black kids, I think the country could embrace him in a different way.

BLITZER: Van Jones, one of the co hosts of "crossfire," which airs weeknights, 6:30 p.m. eastern right after "the SITUATION ROOM."

Van, thanks very much for coming in.

JONES: Thanks.

BLITZER: Today there is a new video showing an American -- an American captive, Kenneth Bae, in North Korea. He makes a startling Admission. Was it coerced? I'm going to talk about that. The former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., bill Richardson, has been to North Korea, standing by to join us live.


BLITZER: There's new video of the American captive, Kenneth Bae, prisoner in North Korea. In it, he admits to committing what he calls a serious crime against North Korea, but the government there has a long history of owe coercing false confessions. Bae, a Christian, father of three, was arrested in November 2012. At the time, he ran a company specializing in tours to North Korea. Bae is pleading with the U.S. government to quote "stop worsening my situation by making vile rumors against North Korea, adding, quote, I want to be pardoned."


KENNETH BAE, AMERICAN IMPRISONED IN NORTH KOREA (through translator): 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.


BLITZER: Bill Richardson is former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He's joining us now from Santa Fe.

What do you make of this latest development? I ask you, because you've been to North Korea on several occasions.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, I'm going go out on a limb and say this is possibly a good sign. If you look at the pattern of Merrill Newman, who was released before Christmas, the American -- the veteran, 85 years old, this is what happened with him. He had a video, he confessed, he said he had made a mistake, probably coerced. Then he said it was coerced when he got home.

Possibly, the North Koreans are sending a signal, OK, we have had Kenneth Bae for 15 months. We're ready to negotiate. We're ready to deal. What do you have in return? I think that's a signal pushing Kenneth Bae to say what he did. This man has suffered.

I think the U.S. and other countries, possibly China, other relief organizations that might be helpful in securing this release, possibly interpret this as a sign that maybe the North Koreans are ready to negotiate and let him go.

They let Merrill Newman go without an emissary like you or Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter going in to bring that American out. Would you anticipate that if, in fact, it is, and let us hope it is a good sign that they're ready to release Kenneth Bae, will they just let him leave, or do you think it would require someone of stature going back there and bringing him out?

RICHARDSON: I believe that North Koreans want something in return and possibly the trip of this human rights coordinator, the state department. I think his name is King. He was going to go get Kenneth Bae, but he was then told to get back some months ago. So I think they want something in return, some way to express a message that possibly they're ready to talk. Not necessarily in our terms. What we want the North Koreans to do is renew talks but talk about reducing or terminating their nuclear weapons program, and they have not been ready to do anything.

BLITZER: As you know --

RICHARDSON: This new young leader -- yes.

BLITZER: Finish your thought.


No. But what is so uncertain, Wolf, is this new young leader, we don't where he is coming from. We don't know what he wants to do. We don't know about his power base. It seems he is being challenge dramatically within his own political circles. Maybe now, he has grab hold of the situation and realized that this Rodman intervention was a disaster for him PR-wise and every other way. Maybe now he wants to get to more normal channels and initiate a possible dialogue with Kenneth Bae as a bargaining chip.

BLITZER: Well, that's my assessment as well. Obviously, you and I were together in North Korea about three years ago, but my own sense is they were embarrassed. The North Koreans' Kim Jung-Un, because Dennis Rodman, all of the sudden now, he is acknowledging that he's an alcoholic. He is checking into some sort of rehab. He is becoming an embarrassment. Obviously, not only to himself, but also to the North Koreans who received him with open arms made him look like a hero, made him look like such a great guy.

My own sense is, and I wonder if you agree, the Kim Jung-Un understands what an embarrassment it is in order to try to resuscitate themselves a little bit, maybe they will release Kenneth Bae which would help them as far as their image is concerned. Let's hope they do, but what do you think?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think that's a good assessment, Wolf. You know these people too. You were there with me. My view is that they realize that Rodman, the whole intervention basketball diplomacy did not send any signals. In fact, it sent wrong signals that maybe of worse in the relationship.

By the way, I think it's good that Rodman is getting this treatment. I hope he is well. I hope he gets better. But he should stay out of basketball diplomacy and it could that their turn of reset new framework based on Kenneth Bae. And that's a legitimate way to do that. It would be a humanitarian gesture on the part of the North Koreans to release Kenneth Bae. They would get praise for doing this. And then possibly that inner locketer (ph) that brings back Kenneth Bae is able to receive a message. My sense is the North Koreans are now are saying OK, he's a bargaining chip. We want something in return, possibly a visit, possibly a message sent. We will see. But I think it's a good sign what just happened.

BLITZER: If they ask to you do it, let us know. You will watch you. I know you will be happy to go there and bring home Kenneth Bae. It would be a good deed on your part if you can do that.

Governor, thanks very much.

RICHARDSON: Absolutely. Thank you.

BLITZER: So if you were around way back in 1964, you know how far our country has come. Just ahead, a filmmaker looks back at a time when the -- a time called the freedom summer when blacks in Mississippi fought for the right to vote.


BLITZER: America was certainly a very different place in the summer of 1964. But a documentary of the Sundance film festival called "Freedom Summer" takes us back, back to a time when blacks struggled against the forces of segregation for the right to vote in Mississippi. An army of volunteers imported from the north went door- to-door to register people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we could get the entry point and into the community, black community, we will house then and also harbor them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The genius of the Freedom Summer is these volunteers were spread all over the state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Freedom Summer workers are everywhere. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The man that directed "Freedom Summer," Stanley Nelson, is joining us from Park City, Utah.

Stanley, thanks very much for joining us. Tell our viewers why you decided to tackle the subject.

STANLEY NELSON, DIRECTOR, FREEDOM SUMMER: Well, there is a couple of reasons. One of the main reason is it's the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer this year. And I think we forgot in large part, you know, how people struggled to vote and how hard it was to get the vote, especially in Mississippi.

BLITZER: It's not the first time you dealt with the sensitive subjects. Clearly, it's important for all of us to learn from what was going on then. You bring a lot of passion to the subject. Tell us why.

NELSON: Well, one of the things I try to do in films that I make it is not for the historical film to live in a bubble. We really want to inform the present by telling the past. I think that we can learn a lot about where we are by knowing where we've and we tried to do that in the film. So, when you walk out of the film, you kind of think about our lives now and where we are going in the future. That's what I'm really trying to do.

BLITZER: In the clip, Robert Moses, one of the organizers says, these volunteers would be house and harbored, but a lot of us forget and we shouldn't that a lot of these volunteers who went down to fight for civil rights in Mississippi, this was a pretty dangerous enterprise they were embarking on.

NELSON: It was incredibly dangerous. The first day of freedom summer, three of the workers, Cheney, Warner and Goodman disappeared. And that kind of was a shadow that was over the whole summer. So, it was incredibly dangerous. You know, there were over 100 beatings, church burnings. It was, in some ways, a terrible, terrible time in Mississippi, that summer of 1964.

BLITZER: A lot of these young people who came down there, they were blacks and there were whites also. They came down to Mississippi. Just explain a little bit, you have done an enormous amount of research that did this. What motivated them to leave New York or Chicago or Philadelphia and go down to Mississippi?

NELSON: You know, that's one of the hardest things to tell as a filmmaker because most of the people we ask say I just felt it was right? I just felt it was right, you know. And as a filmmaker I'm pushing it. I'm like, what does that mean? Why did you feel that? And then well, it was just in my heart. So, I think it was some things sometimes it was how they were raised. But a lot of times, they just saw wrong in this country and wanted to try to make it right.

BLITZER: It's an amazing film and amazing summer of the summer of 1964. And you document beautifully in Freedom Summer.

Stanley Nelson, thanks very much for what you have done.

NELSON: Thank you so much. It's great. I feel like I have been given an opportunity to tell the story. So, I'm very fortunate.

BLITZER: Good that we talk about it on this very, very special day here in the United States.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back at 5:00 eastern in "the SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.