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Hoboken Mayor: Christie Aide Made Threat; Court: Killer Inmate Has Right To Sex Change; Jamaican Bobsledders Need Cash For Sochi; Obama: Pot No Worse Than Alcohol

Aired January 20, 2014 - 14:30   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Coming up, also the controversy surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He just returned from Florida, a fundraising trip meeting with big, big donors down there. We are learning more about what the donors said to the New Jersey governor about these swirling scandals.


BALDWIN: We are at the bottom of the hour. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We have some back and forth in New Jersey today on one side now you have Governor Chris Christie and his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno. And then on the other side now, you have the mayor of Hoboken who is claiming today that Christie sent her a message through Guadagno to either back a development project or lose out on Sandy relief funds. Let's begin here with the mayor of Hoboken.


MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER, HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: The bottom line is she came and she made a direct threat to me. She came and when the lieutenant governor comes and pulls you aside and said these two things are connected, I know it shouldn't be, but they are. If you tell anyone, I will deny it.

LT. GOVERNOR KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: I deny any suggestion made by Mayor Zimmer that there was ever any condition on the release of Sandy funds by me.


BALDWIN: Now to update it further and bring it full circle, we have a response to that from Mayor Zimmer. Let me read this for you, "I am genuinely disappointed that Lieutenant Governor Guadagno has lived up to her promise that she would deny linking Hoboken's application for Sandy hazard mitigation funding with expediting a private development project."

Keep in mind, the big picture here, this is, you know, Christie's presidential ambition now playing out amid this width of scandal and it began with the similar allegation that Christie confidants arranged revenge against another New Jersey town whose mayor had declined to endorse him. Peter Hamby is with me now from Washington, CNN's political reporter. Peter, without trying to judge, you know, who exactly is lying here because it seems like someone is, either Mayor Zimmer or Lieutenant Governor Guadagno. Without taking sides, isn't this what the Christie team fears most, people coming out of the woodworks saying, you know, I too was bullied by the governor?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, this is certainly a byproduct of the scandal and a weakened governor. Look, he was bullet proof before the scandal politically and had worked across party lines with a number of Democrats, you know. So there were probably some Democrats who were afraid to say critical things about him because they had to work with this guy who was just re-elected by 22 points.

But what's interesting to me about this, Brooke, is how aggressively the Christie team is responding to this story, the Hoboken story as compared to the George Washington Bridge story. They have been very, very aggressive in denying these allegations, which suggests to me that they are confident that the mayor of Hoboken is lying about this.

But they also sense I think a little bit of Democratic overreach here or they are trying to portray this as Democratic overreach. Look, if they can somehow spin this controversy into a partisan matter, this is just Democrats going after Republicans. I think they can probably win some sympathy here.

Remember Christie's poll numbers have taken a bit of a hit in the wake of these scandals. But he was re-elected by astounding margins. He is sort of operating from a position of general goodwill among the voters assuming no other shoes drop here. So I think the fact that they are going out so hard against the mayor of Hoboken and MSNBC for that matter. They are trying to score some points and see an opportunity here. They are playing offense as opposed to defense -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: What about over the weekend? We know Chris Christie was down in Florida and raising funds for Governor Rick Scott and met with a bunch of wealthy donors and a possible look ahead, of course, to 2016 and the White House run. Do we know, Peter, whether or not those donors pressed him on the controversy swirling in Jersey?

HAMBY: I talked to a bunch of donors who attended some of these events. There are a number of them for the RGA. There was a meet and greet yesterday in Palm Beach at the home of Home Depot founder, Ken Langone, a big Christie supporter, a big Republican donor. The issue did come up.

I talked to Langone earlier today. He said that Christie felt chastened and I will read one of the quotes that Langone said to me. He said he talked about how personally hurt he felt by the people who let him down and at the same time felt that he had to take responsibility. In Langone's words, Christie was terribly, terribly disturbed by what happened.

He was not pressed on the matter, but it did come up. The 2016 also came up, but again Christie expressed, you know, regret about these things, but he was greeted by two standing ovations apparently and there were 750 Republicans, donors who showed up to this event yesterday, Brooke.

So I mean, this story just adds to the level of intrigue around Chris Christie and one of the people who is in the room was Jack Welch, Ray Kelly, the former New York police commissioner was in the room. Al Wolfman, big Republican donor so there are some big names here who were interested in seeing Christie yesterday. It was a big weekend for him in Florida -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Two standing ovations. Peter Hamby, thank you very much in Washington for us. On the story about 20 minutes from now, we want to talk live to the woman who heads the committee who is investigating Chris Christie on the state level. Don't miss my interview with New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg.

It would be the first court ordered state funded sex change for a prisoner in this country. A federal appeals court upheld a judge's ruling granting this taxpayer funded sex change operation for a transgender inmate serving a life sentence for murder.

I am talking about Michelle Kosalek, previously known as Robert Kosalek, who was convicted of murder back in 1990 of wife, Cheryl. Kosalek has a gender identity disorder and her request for medical care date way back when she was first incarcerated. The court now said the surgery is the only adequate care and failing to provide it, violates Kosalek's constitutional rights.

So joining me now on the phone from Massachusetts, Boston Globe reporter, Milton Valencia. So Milton, with the back and forth and now with the federal appeals court upholding the Boston judge's ruling, is this a done deal?

MILTON VALENCIA, "BOSTON GLOBE" REPORTER (via telephone): It could be. The state -- it depends on the state. The state has spent a whole lot of money challenging this unsuccessfully for over a decade now. They are avenues. They can bring this before a full appellate court where you had nine judges sitting on the panel.

They can bring this to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court can decide whether to hear this, but it's a balance. Does the state really want to take this or they brought a million dollars in legal fees.

Does the state really want to continue what has been a losing battle or do they want to provide what has been ordered by the courts? That's where we stand now. They are looking at this and that's where we stand.

BALDWIN: This has been Milton's long fought battle for Michelle Kosalek, who as you point out in your "Globe" article this morning and struggled for years and years feeling that she was a woman inside of a man's body. Do me a favor for people who is not familiar, walk me through the back story.

VALENCIA: Yes, well, Michelle Kosalek was convicted of murder in 1990, murdering her wife. He was Robin at that time and she changed her name and she identifies as a woman. She said this has been a lifelong battle really. When she was imprisoned, she said, you know what, when she started to received treatment for her, she started to improve.

She did try to twice try to kill herself in prison. She tried to castrate herself, but once she started to get some treatment in prison and it was court ordered, she started to improve and her doctors and herself are saying now that the only way she can treat a severe form is to have this surgery.

The courts have long held that jails and prisons have a responsibility of treatment for prisoners and recent years they said gender identity disorder is diagnosable disorder that can be treated through hormone treatment and through surgery, sex change surgery. The judge ruled that this is at this level. The only adequate treatment for a life- long illness is the sex change surgery.

BALDWIN: How much, first of all, would this kind of surgery cost taxpayers?

VALENCIA: It ranges. It could be as much as $50,000. It could be as little as $5,000. It really depends on the cosmetics that go with the surgery after that.

BALDWIN: So then I have to ask. How are people in Massachusetts reacting to this? And specifically the family of the victim here who was murdered, are they saying anything?

VALENCIA: A lot of people are outraged at the basic concepts that one would think of that the state would be paying for surgery that a lot of people couldn't afford on their own. A lot of people who weren't convicted of murder and not serving life sentences wouldn't be able to do on their own. You have the state going to do this.

The argument is, you know, prisoners still have rights. Well, officials are saying, you know, Michelle Kosalek lost her rights when she took her wife, Sheryl, in 1990. That's really the battle here is how far do you go?

It is noted that one of the justices said we are talking about cruel and unusual punishment while not providing the sex change surgery for her and would not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Families are outraged, but it goes back to the constitution of what the state's obligations are.

BALDWIN: Milton Valencia, "Boston Globe," we'll follow this with you, Milton there in Massachusetts. Appreciate you for calling in.

Coming up next, it's 12 years since the Jamaican bobsled team qualified for the Winter Olympics. And now there is one thing stands between them and the Sochi Winter games, money.

Coming up, we will talk to the team captain, the driver here of this sled about a big push to get them there. But first, actor, Matt Damon, working to get clean water to those in need in West Virginia. Chris Cuomo shows us how the academy award winner is impacting our world.


CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": This celebration in India has a very special guest, Matt Damon. But the Oscar-winning actor is not the big news of the day. The new water pump is stealing the spotlight and Damon's charity made it happen. helps bring water and sanitation to those in need.

MATT DAMON, CO-FOUNDER, WATER.ORG: Water really kind of under pins everything. Every 20 seconds a child dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation, every 20 seconds.

CUOMO: This hits home for Damon who has four daughters.

DAMON: When you have kids it's impossible not to see their face in every child you see.

CUOMO: provides small loans to help people get access to water.

DAMON: People were paying money for water already. Sometimes 15 to 20 times what you and I pay for our water to a local water mafia and if you can get the money to connect to the municipality, you give them their time back so that they could work at job and pay a loan off.

They are now in control of their destiny in a way they weren't. It's not only about the millions of children who actually die every year, but the quality of that somebody can have if they have access to clean water.



BALDWIN: It is being called Cool Runnings, the second generation. Remember the early 90s heartwarming Disney movie about the Jamaican bobsled team beating all the odds to qualify for the 1988 games in Calgary? Remember this? The team made history and now another generation is trying for a repeat. Jamaica learned Saturday that its two-man team qualified to compete in Sochi.

But just like back in 1988, money could keep the team out of the running and now there is this massive push to try to help get them to Russia. This is the first time a Jamaican bobsled team has actually qualified for the Winter Olympics since 2002.

Joining me in now is the captain and the driver of the bobsled team, Winston Watt from Wyoming. Winston, congratulations to you. Who is in the picture? Who are your friends?

WINSTON WATT, CAPTAIN AND DRIVEE, JAMAICAN BOBSLED TEAM: These are my teammates. These other guys made this happen. It's not a one-man team. It's a two-man bobsled team. Two men cannot just do it. We have to have alternates to travel with us also. These two guys are as important just like myself here. BALDWIN: OK, so we have the team in the picture. With the team here, we are talking and I'm hearing $80,000 is how much you need to get to Sochi? Is that right?

WATT: It should be more, but -- I'm just kidding. That would help us to get the better equipment that we can choose from whenever we go over to Russia. The temperature fluctuates. The thing is, you can use certain temperatures on certain temperatures. You have to have the right temperature runners for that temperature that day.

BALDWIN: I will take your word for it. I've never tried it, but you are the professional. I'll take your word that you need at least this amount of money. From what I have seen, there are multiple web sites and groups of people who are trying to help you guys raise the money to get you to Russia. So I'm clear, these people did this on their own. Have you talked to these people who are trying to help you all out?

WATT: Yes. What I tried to do, I followed everything to the president of the Jamaican Bobsled Federation. He is dealing with that. I'm dealing with you guys here, with the media. This is much better for me right here.

BALDWIN: We appreciate you dealing with us because, you know, we all want to see you get to Sochi. I have to ask the obvious question and forgive me for asking a question. I'm sure you feel it many times. But how exactly does a Jamaican get into bobsledding, may I ask?

WATT: Well, in Jamaica, we have a competition there that goes down the hill. They call it a car derby. If you watched the movie, it's in the beginning of the movie where a guy raced with a wood cart. These two businessmen used to live in Jamaica that have that idea and said it looks like a bobsled.

They came back to the United States and approached the U.S. Bobsled Federation, asked about bobsledding and they get all these information, went back to Jamaica searching for athletes. They couldn't find athletes on the street. They turned to the military to search for athletes. That's where most of the athletes are. That's a helicopter pilot and a couple of other more guys, from there and here we are.

BALDWIN: And here you are. I'm curious, I remember being younger and waiting in line for quite a while being a kid and meeting the original team. The 88 team once upon a time. Have you been in touch with any of those guys, any advice from them on how to pull this off when you get there?

WATT: I joined 1993. Those guys were my teammates.

BALDWIN: Those were your teammates? We wish you luck and we will watch you. Hopefully, the numbers grow to get to the $80,000 market to get you to Sochi. Best of luck to you, Winston Watt, from Jamaica.

WATT: Hopefully, the people donate to us so that we can fulfill our dreams. BALDWIN: Thank you, Winston.

And now to this, marijuana proponents may have found a new ally in President Obama. In this new article, he suggests it may not be as harmful as some may think. Now he has a message for lawmaker, we will explain, next.


BALDWIN: I know today so many of you are not working. It is Martin Luther King Day. It's also a day of service and so we just around some video. We found the president at this community kitchen in Washington. He's at D.C. Central Kitchen. Take a look.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are noting the 25th anniversary of this outstanding institution and very proud to be a part of it. We wanted to thank everybody who is here and all the great work they do. We ran out of burritos or tortillas.


BALDWIN: Looks like both the daughters are there. Michelle Obama also there at D.C. Central Kitchen also making news today with regard to the president in this interview published Sunday. President Obama went about as far as any president ever has towards suggesting marijuana is not so bad after all.

In this lengthy 16,000 word article "The New Yorker," the president said he didn't think pot was any more dangerous than alcohol and the lawmakers should reconsider drug laws when most people have broken the law at some point, but only a few are punished.

CNN's Joe Johns joins me now from the White House and Joe, no, you know, it's taking a lot of people by surprise, what the president said to the "New Yorker," but it's not like he is saying legalize it, big difference.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. That's absolutely true. He is keeping the complexity in there and not really making it any easier for Americans. He said I don't think it's more dangerous than alcohol. It's less dangerous in terms of the individual impact on the consumer.

But then he carefully restates the other side, which is about the slippery slope whether it would be a good idea to have a negotiated dose of cocaine or even of meth. It's clear this president is to grappling with the idea of legalized marijuana -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, Joe Johns, for us at the White House. Again, if you want to read this article in its entirety, go to the New Yorker.

Breaking news, on the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, we are just now learning about a black widow that may be planning an attack there and now police are actually handing flyers, asking people to be on the lookout for this woman. Who are we talking about and what do we know about her? Stand by.


BALDWIN: Hour two, I'm Brooke Baldwin. We begin with New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie's people are pushing back today against the second New Jersey mayor who is claiming that Christie tried to bully her. A top Christie associate is calling that claim, in a word, offensive. But the mayor of Hoboken, Mayor Dawn Zimmer is sticking to her guns. That's Zimmer on the right side of your screen in the white coat.