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More Controversy for Chris Christie; Olympic Terrorism Threat; Interview With Kurt Russell

Aired January 20, 2014 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But the mayor of Hoboken, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, is sticking to her guns. That's Zimmer there right there on the right side of your screen in the white coat.

She says Christie sent her a message through his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, that she had to support a development Christie wanted if she wanted Hoboken's share of Sandy relief funds.

Here is that strong reaction today, a solid denial from the Chris Christie camp.


LT. GOV. KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: 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.


BALDWIN: That was the lieutenant governor just this morning, but the big picture here is Governor Christie's presidential ambitions matched against this growing cloud of controversy, and it all began with the charge that Christie aides took revenge against yet another mayor by creating this traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge and spilled off the freeway and clogged the mayor's streets.

And as to the new charge and today's denial, the mayor of Hoboken says -- and I'm quoting her here -- "I am genuinely disappointed that the lieutenant governor lived up to her promise that she would deny linking Hoboken's application for Sandy funding with expediting a private development project."

So charge and countercharge. It sure sounds as though someone is not telling the truth.

Joining me now, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg. She is the Senate majority leader and she also chairs the committee that is investigating Governor Christie.

Senator Weinberg, welcome.


BALDWIN: We know that Mayor Zimmer said she has talked with U.S. attorney who has his own investigation, this preliminary investigation. Senator, has she gotten in touch with your committee yet and do you want to hear from her?

WEINBERG: No, I have not spoken to Mayor Zimmer, and as far as I know she has not reached out to our committee, but I read the same reports that you just reported that she did have a lengthy meeting with the U.S. attorney, I believe yesterday.

BALDWIN: Would you like to talk to her?

WEINBERG: Well, I think if I talk to Mayor Zimmer, it will be in the context of our committee hearings. There have been allegations and there are denials of those allegations.

And part of what our committee is charged to do is to get to the bottom of what happened at the George Washington Bridge, its implications for the environment in New Jersey and further in terms of its geographic reach.

BALDWIN: Senator, one of your colleagues and fellow Democrat who has taken the lead on all of this and addressed these fresh allegations yesterday. Let me just play part of that.


JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY STATE ASSEMBLYMAN: I think we have to give the allegations serious thought because it is a pattern we have heard time and time again throughout New Jersey. She is perhaps one of the first mayors to actually come forward and say this specific thing happened.


BALDWIN: The Democrats keep saying this is a pattern with Christie. Can you give me other examples of Governor Christie trying to muscle his adversaries or are they relevant if they are not actually illegal?

WEINBERG: Well, I'm not going to pass judgment on the legality or the illegality.

Those are some of the charges that our committee will be investigating. However, what I have said is that there is an environment in New Jersey that I thought the governor was partially responsible for, and that's an environment of maybe thinking some of his employees or his high-ranking appointees think that certain kind of behavior is acceptable, the kind of behavior that we have seen proof of in the George Washington Bridge issue, "Time to create traffic," the infamous or famous e-mail from the deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly.

The context of this, the idea that somebody might be sitting in an office someplace and putting thousands of people in jeopardy by the kind of action that was taken at the George Washington Bridge, does that show a pattern of punishing innocent people if the elected officials who represent them do not follow whatever it is the administration feels they should be following?

BALDWIN: I know that e-mail blows the mind of many, but I just have to ask as you talk about the pattern and about maybe even the leadership of Chris Christie, doesn't this environment that is New Jersey politics, the negative stereotype, does that not though predate Chris Christie, to be fair?

WEINBERG: Well, to be fair, no. Have we had our share of corruption? Yes. Have we had our share of corrupt individuals be arrested? That has all been done publicly, certainly.

But I am very proud of the state of New Jersey. I'm a proud New Jerseyan and I'm a public official of the state Senate. And, no, I don't think we had that kind of environment existing in our state directly related to the administration or so the allegations are. And that's exactly what our committee is going to be looking at.

BALDWIN: We will be watching for that. Loretta Weinberg, state senator there, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it very much.

WEINBERG: Thank you, Brooke. Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Now to breaking news concerning the Olympic Winter Games and security out of Sochi, just two-and-a-half weeks before team USA, their families, the trainers and tens of thousands of American tourists arrive in Russia for the Winter Olympic Games.

And the host city is under a terror threat. Reports are now emerging that Russian authorities are hunting a woman who may be planning an attack on the Winter Games. Take a look at this picture. She is reportedly a black widow. She's part of Russia's extremist female terrorist group so-called because some of these women seek to avenge the deaths of their husbands.

This news comes as another threat surfaces from beyond the grave. These two men here in this chilling video are believed to be the bombers behind a deadly suicide blast in the city of Volgograd last month. That killed dozens of people. And in this just-released video, they are promising something similar for the Olympic host city of Sochi.

One U.S. senator said the terror threat is so serious, he would not go.


SEN. ANGUS KING (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 a rich target in an area of the world that has -- they have almost broadcast that they are going to try to do something there. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: In a moment, I will talk to a former Olympic athlete who is heading to Sochi, Tara Lipinski. Also, we will talk to Mike Baker, former CIA covert operations officer, in just a moment.

But, Evan Perez, let me begin with you here and our CNN reporting here and the reports about this black widow. What more can you tell us about this woman?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, at this time, U.S. law enforcement is working with the Russians. The Russians have handed out these flyers to hotels and other people in the region to see if anybody has seen her and they're trying to track her down.

U.S. officials obviously are very worried about these Games. There is the location of Sochi in Southern Russia not far away from the Caucasus region and the scene of a lot of bombings in recent years gives them a lot to worry about. The problem is that there is not much U.S. officials can really do.

This is Russian territory. They can render -- they can offer some assistance, but they are really dependent upon the Russians sharing information. And, as you know, there is still a lot of distrust between the Russians and the U.S. authorities.

We know that the U.S. is aware of this effort to try to find this woman. But it's not clear that they know more than that and they can even verify that she may be planning something at this point.

BALDWIN: Mike Baker to you, as I'm reading our reporting, that we have confirmed that police handed out flyers to hotels in the area and asking staff to be on the look out for this woman. What do you make of this report? What do you make of this?

MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIONS OFFICER: Well, I can guarantee you that they identified this one individual, but they have a lengthy list of suspects in operations that are under way, counterterrorist operations.

This is not the only black widow or individual of concern that the Russians are looking for. And this is part of the problem. We don't have enough understanding right now of the threats, the active threats that the Russian services are acting on. And we would love to have more insight.

But people think of Dagestan and just a couple of days ago, the Russians carried an operation in Dagestan and killed one black widow and several other militants. We don't have to go very far back in our own activities here in the U.S. Think of the Boston Marathon bombings. We have got a connection to Dagestan with the Tsarnaev brothers.

And we know for a fact that the Russians didn't share the level of information that they had on the Tsarnaevs early on. There is no surprise that there is not the cooperation we would like to see. But I guarantee you they are talking about this one black widow, there others that they're also worried about.

BALDWIN: Tara Lipinski, you're listening to all of this. I want to talk to you as a sports commentator who is going to hop on a plane and head to Russia, but also as a former Olympian. But, first, you are going to Sochi and when you hear us talk about black widows and lack of cooperation between governments, et cetera, how concerned are you?

TARA LIPINSKI, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Well, I would be crazy to say that it's not scary to hear about these threats, but at the same time I have been to many Olympics and the security is so intense and so high that I do feel safe.

BALDWIN: As a former Olympian, just try to, if you can, help us jump into the mind-sets of these current Olympians, because this is the moment of their lifetimes thus far, their Olympic career, performing at this level. Can they compartmentalize any possible fears with just needing to perform?

LIPINSKI: Yes, I would say athletes are probably the best at pushing away outside influences and just focusing on your training. And, as you said, this has been a dream of theirs probably for so long and they have been waiting for this moment and they're also thinking about their personal performance.

You would hope that there is so much going on in their mind that this is not really seeping in and affecting their experience in Sochi. If you look back, there has been so many threats at the Olympics. I think athletes are used to that and they know that, OK, we are going to hear about this, but when we go, we will have people that are surrounding us and telling us where we should and where we shouldn't be. And hopefully they do feel safe.

BALDWIN: Do you think Team USA is -- if you were an athlete let's say going over and you were competing let's say in figure skating this year, would you or your teammates be having a conversation with the coaches or with the larger organization that if and when something happens, you have a plan to get out?

LIPINSKI: I'm sure you have to take precaution. You can't take this lightly. I'm sure all the athletes know what's going on. But at the same time, being at the Olympics, I have never experienced security that high. Hopefully, that will put the athletes at ease. There is a lot of security.


LIPINSKI: It's scary, but I'm hoping that the atmosphere is not overshadowed by this.

BALDWIN: Mike, I just want to you comment on what she was saying, because you have to presume and I have seen reporting on evacuation plans. What kind of discussions do you think of happening now behind the closed doors given all the news we are reporting?

BAKER: There many layers here. One is we want the cooperation with the Russian contracts so in part we can offer our resources and our capabilities and our intelligence gathering and help them develop the best possible security plan. Part of that is also that we want that cooperation because we want to take all of that information and all of that assessment back here to the U.S. and our own personnel can use that to enhance and better protect our team as they go over.

There is a give-and-take here that takes place. I think Tara is absolutely right. The athletes, they're on their way, they are going to go and they're going to have the time of their life, enormous opportunity, but at the same time, underlying all of this is the very real fact that here in Sochi, unlike in a number of other places, you have got a very long-term, highly motivated insurgency almost, an Islamist fundamentalist insurgency going on in the backyard of Sochi.

And no matter what the Russians do to try to tamp that down, the problem with counterterrorism is it's not a zero sum game. You never get the risk down to zero.

BALDWIN: It's not just the athletes, of course, and, Tara, we wish them well and want Team USA to win, win, win. But it's also the journalists and the writers and the fans just holding a collective deep breath that everything goes off OK.

Tara Lipinski, Evan Perez and Mike Baker, thank you all very much.

Coming up, we will take you live to the Sundance Film Festival and I get to talk Kurt Russell about his baseball career. You heard me right. You see this picture of him? That's coming up.

Also, a Kentucky hospital plans to open a children's heart surgery unit where five children died without regulators, without explaining to regulators or really anyone what's different now vs. what happened before everything went wrong. CNN senior medical correspondent been looking for answers. We will talk to her.

Also next, a mother accused of murdering two of her children and seriously wounding two more allegedly says she was attempting an exorcism, but there obviously a lot of questions here. A busy day in the newsroom. We will be right back.


BALDWIN: A mother believes her children are possessed by demons and so she repeatedly stabbed them in this attempted exorcism. That is what Maryland authorities say happened in a Germantown townhome last Friday.

Now two small children, ages 2 and 1, are dead, their siblings ages 5 and 8 are in the hospital. Authorities arrested the mother, 28-year- old Zakieya Avery, and charged with first-degree and attempted first- degree murder. A second woman who police say lived at the home, 21- year-old Monifa Sanford, is also charged.

Investigators found the children's bodies inside after a neighbor dialed 911 and reported seeing suspicious activity and a knife inside a car. Avery's former pastor told CNN affiliate WUSA that she never discussed or preached about exorcism and that her kids seemed quite happy.


DAN THORNTON, PASTOR: They were confident and happy kids. You kind of get a feel for kids that are abused or neglected and that just did not fit these children.


BALDWIN: CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin joins me here.

You heard from the pastor. From his perspective, at least, no obvious warning signs of neglect. Where do investigators begin?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't know if they know where to begin.

This certainly -- this story is still coming out and I think it sort of shocks the conscious, right, any time you hear about a mother killing her own children. And I think it shocked people when we heard about Susan Smith and it shocked people when we heard about Andrea Yates.

And I suspect that what we are going to learn is perhaps a mother with mental illness. We see this oftentimes in law enforcement when we see this kind of crime. And I spent sort of the morning and looking at this case looking at mothers who kill or mothers who have killed. You sort of see that I think the certain trends and a lot of it has to does have to do with mental illness.


BALDWIN: Trends like what?

HOSTIN: You see -- well, when I say trends, you do see overwhelmed mother with little support at home and possibly a history of mental illness.

There have also been mothers unfortunately who kill because they want to get into a new relationship and that new person doesn't want someone that has children and that sort of responsibility. And there are cases when mothers that kill -- fortunately, Brooke, we know it is unusual and it is rare.

But I suspect in this case from what I am learning, this has a lot to do with mental illness.

BALDWIN: We know that this family, just looking into this, hit on hard times and parents are separated. But do we know anything more about this other woman who is facing murder charges, this Monifa Sanford?

HOSTIN: That's the fascinating thing about it. We don't know much.

We are learning that they met in church. And that's about it. Again, the investigation is very new. It's ongoing. But it really shocks the conscience, I think, when you hear about a mother killing her 1- and 2-year-old, injuring her two other children, and this other woman just sort of involved.

And I suspect we will hear again a little more about a woman with not much support and overwhelmed and perhaps a mental illness.

BALDWIN: Sunny Hostin, thank you.

HOSTIN: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Coming up, a CNN investigation into a hospital's program for infant heart surgery. It was shut down after little five babies died and now that hospital reopening that program with zero explanation of what went wrong. That's later.

Coming up next, actor Kurt Russell joins me live from Park City, Utah. He's in a new film at the American Sundance Festival. Did you know at one point he had actually a career in minor league baseball? We will have a little fun with him and his family coming up. Stay here.


BALDWIN: As the saying goes, if you scripted it, no one would believe it. I'm talking about the Portland Mavericks. This was this minor league baseball team formed back in the early 1970s by former Hollywood actor Bing Russell.

This ragtag roster of has-beens and wannabes and one rising film star and Portland, Oregon, fans bought tickets in droves. That rising film star, you heard of this guy, Kurt Russell? He joins me now alongside his nephews, filmmakers Chapman Way and Maclain Way. They are the co- directors of the documentary about the Portland Mavericks. It's called "The Battered Bastards of Baseball." It's premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.

So, gentlemen, welcome. And Congratulations.


BALDWIN: Got it, guys. There left-wing be a quiz lately. There will be a quiz for me.

Kurt Russell, right there in the middle, I have got this. Let me begin with you, because your dad owned the team. Your nephews are making a movie about it.

Growing up, how big of a deal was baseball in your house?

KURT RUSSELL, ACTOR: Baseball was really important in our house. My dad played pro ball. I played pro ball. My cousin -- I mean their cousin and my nephew Matt Franco played 20 years of pro ball and eight years in the big leagues. It was taken very, very seriously. But my dad had this idea when I was playing to possibly take a team, if it came available to him, to create a team that was not affiliated with a Major League team. And he recreated, as it were, the idea of independent baseball for the first time in 39 years. So, that was where it started. These guys found out about it 40 years later and said this is actually an interesting story.


Yes, Maclain, why did you want to do it?

MACLAIN WAY, FILMMAKER: Yes, absolutely.

Bing was a huge part of our lives. We grew up very close to hi, literally. He was four houses down from where they grew up.

And so we always knew that Bing kind of had this storied life. He was a bat boy with the New York Yankees. He acted with John Wayne and Ronald Reagan and Loretta Young. He had a very storied acting career.

BALDWIN: "Bonanza," anyone?

M. WAY: "Bonanza, exactly. He was Deputy Clem on "Bonanza" for 13 seasons.

And the project actually started when Chapman came across a team photo of the 1973 Portland Mavericks. And it was kind of a team photo that was very different with team photos today with baseball players. They are very kind of clean-cut. This baseball photo, players' jerseys were on backwards, they were drinking beers, there was a dog in the photo. And at first, I think we just kind of wanted to know more. Right?


BALDWIN: Maybe Chapman wanted to play with these guys, it sounds like.


CHAPMAN WAY, FILMMAKER: Yes, absolutely. It was definitely a team that I would have rooted for, for sure.

Yes, so we just did initial research and started to find out more about the team and the different characters that were connected to the story. And we just kind of uncovered this great family story that we wanted to tell.

BALDWIN: Tell me -- beyond the backwards baseball jerseys and the beer chugging, guys, tell me, what kind of players were the Mavericks? What did it do for the city?

C. WAY: Absolutely.

So, a lot of the players, because the team was an independent team and wasn't affiliated with Major League Baseball, Bing had to put together a team of players that nobody else wanted. These were players that had been maybe cut from other teams. They had been rejected from other teams. Some of them never even drafted in the first place.

He had to put together this kind of ragtag team of players to compete against these bonus babies that were being paid lots of dollars to perform for Major League teams. That's kind of the players we are in.

When we were talking to Kurt, a lot of these players were really good baseball players. Maybe they had personality problems.


RUSSELL: That's putting it lightly.


C. WAY: That's putting it lightly.

But Portland was this one area where all these guys could converge on and have a second chance at playing professional baseball.


RUSSELL: My dad had a really good eye for ballplayers.

And there were a lot of guys that I had played against and with. He knew he could put a team on the field that could compete. Little did he know at the time that he put on a team that would also create a sensation in Portland and really turn around the view of baseball itself.

BALDWIN: Not only did you play in Portland. Little did I know half my day would be spent looking at stats for you, Kurt Russell, in baseball.

Not that I'm trying to embarrass you, but we pulled up this picture. Let's see. We found on the Bend Rainbows minor league teams, switch- hitting infielder, 1971.

RUSSELL: Yes, first team I played for, yes.

BALDWIN: Batted .285, then batted .325 the next season for the Walla Walla Islanders. Am I getting this right?

RUSSELL: Islanders, yes.


BALDWIN: What happened this to guy? Where did your baseball career go?


RUSSELL: You failed to mention that I made the all-star team twice. And then I got -- those teams were affiliated with the San Diego Padres. And then I went to the California Angels at the time and played in the Texas League in El Paso.


BALDWIN: So, Hollywood, baseball, how did you make...


RUSSELL: It was in our world.

Well, at the time, I just didn't work in the picture business during the baseball season.

BALDWIN: The picture business.

RUSSELL: I played baseball.

M. WAY: Yes. The story kind of came together at a really interesting time.

Portland, Oregon, had just lost their longtime minor league affiliate.


M. WAY: And being a bit -- Bing, who is Deputy Claim on "Bonanza," production had just down from them. Kurt had just torn his rotator cuff, which back then basically meant you were done as a ballplayer.


M. WAY: So, kind of these interesting factors were kind of converging.

And there was a lot of skepticism at first. People in Portland didn't know who Bing was. They didn't think he had a baseball background. It was an independent baseball team. Where was going to be the financial support from Major League Baseball?

At first, there was kind of this really deep skepticism. And I think what our documentary covers is kind of this blossoming love story between the community of Portland and these Portland Mavericks. And it just -- it absolutely took off. And it was a wild five years.

BALDWIN: Guys, good luck at Sundance.

RUSSELL: I love that they got a chance to find out about their -- their grandfather.

BALDWIN: I think that is wonderful. I can't imagine all the little stories you guys find out in the conversation over beer or coffee or what have you, just talking about you guys and your dad and your granddad. It's fantastic.

Kurt Russell, Chaplain and Maclain Way, guys, thank you so much. It's called "Battered Bastards of Baseball."

RUSSELL: Thanks for having us.

BALDWIN: Say that five times fast.

Thank you so much.

Back after this.