MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript: New Jersey Port Authority Scandal

Interview

By:  John Wisniewski
Date: Jan. 8, 2014
Location: Unknown

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE REP. JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: The documents that have
been published are both shocking and outrageous. They show government at
its worst. Among other things, they call into serious question the honesty
of this governor and his staff.

As a result of what has been revealed today, this governor has a lot
of explaining to do. There`s two possibilities, I mean, either he doesn`t
know what`s going on in his front office or that there`s lying going on.
We were concerned for your continued employment at the Port Authority
if you said something outside of the chain of command?

ROBERT DURANDO, GENERAL MANAGER: I respect the chain of command.

WISNIEWSKI: That`s not an answer to the question.

The question is, you just expressed to me you do have a certain amount
of discretion when it comes to requests made to you about the bridge, but
in this particular case, you chose not to exercise that discretion. My
question to you is, is the reason you chose not to exercise that discretion
because you feared for your employment?

DURANDO: I was concerned about what Mr. Wildstein`s reaction would be
if I did not follow his directive.

WISNIEWSKI: As to whether it`s political retribution, look, it`s
either gross incompetence on the management of the nation`s busiest bridge,
or it`s political incompetence by people who thought they could get away
with something like this in broad daylight. Either way, it stinks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The New Jersey assembly man who has been at the center of the
investigation of the scandal from the beginning is Democrat John
Wisniewski. As chairman of the state transportation committee, he`s had
the subpoena power to compel testimony and to compel the release of
documents in this case. Those documents include the e-mails released today
in which Governor Chris Christie`s deputy chief of staff e-mailed David
Wildstein, a Christie political appointee at the Port Authority and tells
him that it`s, quote, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Mr.
Wildstein responds to that e-mail by saying, quote, "Got it."

Tomorrow, David Wildstein is scheduled to testify under oath. He`s
scheduled to appear before Assemblyman Wisniewski`s committee to explain
what exactly happened here. Mr. Wildstein today filed a lawsuit trying to
quash that subpoena so he doesn`t have to appear. One of the ways his
lawsuit is trying to get him out of testifying tomorrow is that he`s
challenging the validity of the signature of Assemblyman Wisniewski on the
subpoena itself, which is in the technical sense, what you call a reach.
Joining us now for the interview tonight is Assemblyman John
Wisniewski. He`s chairman of the New Jersey State Assembly Transportation
Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here.

WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, thank you for having me on.

MADDOW: As far as you know, is David Wildstein going to have to
testify to your committee tomorrow?

WISNIEWSKI: I don`t believe the court`s going to give him any relief.
It`s outside the court`s jurisdiction. It`s a separation of powers issue.
We have the ability to issue subpoenas under our rules, under the state
constitution. And we have a validly issued subpoena and he should show up
and testify.

MADDOW: Today, these 22 pages of e-mails and text messages between
the Christie administration and Port Authority executives were released.
What do you think the public should take away from those documents? What
do you think is the bottom line of what was revealed?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, what was revealed was, what we`ve all suspected but
not had proof, that this was a political operation. It became clear by what
was released and the other documents that I`ve seen, that there was no
valid governmental reason. This was purely a political operation.
And it came out of the governor`s office. After it came out of the
governor`s office, and it was put into effect, there was an effort to try
to concoct a rationale for doing it, and then an effort to diminish
anybody`s credibility who dared challenge or question it. It`s government
at its worst.

I mean, for everybody who thinks government can`t be trusted, Chris
Christie gave everybody 10 more reasons to believe that, and for everybody
who wants to see government do the right thing, it`s a very frustrating
day.

MADDOW: One of the things we saw as the public for the first time
today in these 22 pages that were released were the heavy redactions. Now,
that wasn`t you and your committee redacting those lines. Who redacted
that? The Port Authority?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, we don`t know. Those documents -- most of the
redactions in documents we received came from the documents supplied by Mr.
Wildstein`s attorney. There was some redactions in documents supplied by
Mr. Baroni`s attorney. So, of the 20 some that you`re talking about, I`m
not sure where they came from, but what`s frustrating is there`s no
explanation, as to why they are redacted.

Are they claiming privilege? Are they claiming some type of exception
to providing them under subpoena? We don`t know. We`ve asked that
question. We`ve asked that question. We`ve received no answer.
With the 22 pages released, we have heard that hundreds of pages have
been turned over. As somebody trying to report this story, I get nudgey
about reporting partially released documents. Should we expect that those
hundreds of pages will be released to the public? Is there any reason to
hold them back. And should we see these 22 pages as representative of what
you have learned? Are we going to get the rest of it?

WISNIEWSKI: There`s thousands of pages of documents, and Mr. Wildstein`s commission, for instance, is 907 pages. Mr. Baroni`s almost at
the similar number. And what we want to do is have this hearing tomorrow,
and provide Mr. Wildstein an opportunity under oath to answer questions.
There`s an August 13 e-mail about trying to create traffic problems in
Fort Lee. He says in a very tryst response, got it.

Well, you won`t know what that means unless you`ve had a conversation
about this topic beforehand. Who did he have that conversation with, was
there a meeting? Who was involved in that meeting? Was there a discussion
as to the rationale?

Those are questions we need to ask and get answers to. But I think
that at the conclusion of tomorrow`s hearing, there will be more documents
made available to the public and ultimately the goal of the committee is to
share all of this information with the public, because they ought to know
what happened here, and they ought to be able to make their own judgment.

But this is very embarrassing for government and this is very
frustrating because it`s an abuse of power, where people who were entrusted
with enormous power, and used it for partisan political purposes that
border on petty and childish.

MADDOW: In terms of the governor himself, he has released a statement
saying in a million different ways it wasn`t me, it wasn`t me, it wasn`t
me, saying that people who did this will be held responsible. He -- it was
unsanctioned conduct. He knew nothing about it.

First of all, what`s your reaction to that? And second of all, do you
intend to rebuff the governor? Do you have evidence that suggests that he
did know or it did go further into his office that has been disclosed thus
far?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, we know it`s in his office. We know it`s in
Bridget Kelly. She wrote e-mails, not only to start it, but to monitor it,
and then to engage in the rationalization as to why it took place, there
are also e-mails from other members of the governor`s administration.
Michael Zuniak (ph), the governor`s chief spokesperson is on some of these
emails. The governor`s campaign manager, there`s references to the
governor`s chief counsel, and other folks in the governor`s office. What
were they involved with?

There`s references to Port Authority chairman David Sampson. And so,
we need to understand how this came about. There was a meeting between the
governor and chairman Samson right before the August 13 email, was that a
meeting in which this plot was discussed or talked about. There`s lots of
information that`s now coming my way by people who are observing this and
saying, you ought to ask this question, you ought to check this out.
So, the hearing tomorrow would provide an invaluable opportunity to
get to the bottom of it. If Mr. Wildstein wants to come in and clear his
name, it`s an opportunity for him to come in and explain exactly how this
happened.

MADDOW: Let me also just ask you. You remit at the transportation
committee is clear because of what was released today, there are some
political leaders in New Jersey, at least two state senators who are
calling for the U.S. attorney, to potentially convene a federal grand jury
to look into criminal charges being filed here. Do you have anything to
say about that?

WISNEIWSKI: Clearly, public assets were used for a political purpose,
to exact retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, to do improper things.
That seems to me to be a violation of law. Pat Floyd, the executive
director of the Fort Authority, in his scathing e-mail of September 13th,
said violations of not only state but federal law have occurred. A
prosecutor ought to look at these allegations and they ought to decide
whether a law has been broken.

MADDOW: A federal prosecutor, or state prosecutor?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think a federal prosecutor, because clearly, we
have to question whether there will be an opportunity to get a fair hearing
when the New Jersey prosecutors are appointed by the governor.

MADDOW: Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly
Transportation Committee, which is investigating this matter -- thank you
for your time tonight. Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day. Please
stay in touch.

WISNIEWSKI: I will. Thank you very much.