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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript: New Jersey Port Authority Scandal

Interview

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Well, New Jersey state assemblyman John Wisniewski is the chairman of the
transportation committee, joins us now, and he`s the one investigating the
bridge closure, his committee. And Heather Haddon is covering this story
for "The Wall Street Journal," which has been doing a hell of a job on the
story.

Let me go to Mr. Wisniewski. Assemblyman, what do you make of the new --
you`ve named a fellow here, Reid Schar. He`s got experience prosecuting
Blagojevich successfully out in Illinois. You went national in your search
to get a top-flight prosecutor, investigator.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NJ ASSEMBLY TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We went national. We wanted to get the best counsel we could get. This has
become a very complicated issue. We started in a very simple investigation
into the Port Authority, and we followed the trail right into the
governor`s office. And so now we have a lot of issues we have to deal
with. We want to make sure they`re dealt with properly.

We want to make sure that we`re not crossing any lines, but we`re doing it
effectively. And we believe having somebody like Reid Schar on our team is
going to give us the guidance and the counsel we need to make sure this is
done well, quickly and effectively.

MATTHEWS: I`ve been watching the former U.S. prosecutor in that state,
that`s Chris Christie, very carefully construct his defense. Now, true or
not, assume we can assume it`s true, perhaps, as he offers it up -- he made
a point to say he thought the whole bridge thing was about the traffic
survey. Then he said, of course, I quizzed my staff for an hour, they
didn`t come clean, so don`t blame me.

And then he points to the fact he only had two direct reports, O`Dowd and
McKenna. Do you think he`s going to try executive privilege on those two
people that he admits to having talked to during these months?

WISNIEWSKI: I don`t know what his tack will be. I mean, I`m curious about
his choice of the word "appropriate" yesterday. I mean, the day he made
his apology, he said he wanted to cooperate. Yesterday in the state of the
state, he said he was going to cooperate with all appropriate inquiries.
I hope he`s not parsing his words or starting to construct some kind of
defense. The assembly committee is an appropriate inquiry, and he has to
cooperate with that. We would expect his cooperation.

We have a lot of questions to ask, and Mr. McKenna and Mr. O`Dowd are among
many people that we need to hear from. What really perplexes me here,
Chris, is the lack of curiosity by this governor --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WISNIEWSKI: -- who is a former U.S. attorney, a lack of curiosity when
Bridget Kelly was terminated and he never asked her a question, lack of
curiosity when he asked his entire staff but he gave them a total of 60
minutes to report to him. It just seems like he doesn`t want to know or
maybe he`s afraid that there`s something he knows that he doesn`t want to
get out.

MATTHEWS: And also, when Wildstein went down, and of course, when Baroni
went down, and also that questioning of his staff, which looked to me like
it was Nixon with John Dean. I`m telling you, it had this -- it smacked of
it. If he wanted the truth, he would have asked for it anonymously. He
would have said, Anybody who knows anything, put it in this box, tell me
what I ought to know. No, he said, Unless you`re willing to come forward
and take the personal blame for this, I don`t want to hear from you.
That was an amazing way to get not to the truth, but to be able to blame
his staff for not giving him the truth. It seems to me he set a very high
wall there. My thought. Your -- what`s yours?

WISNIEWSKI: Very high wall. But I think the thing that`s most amazing is
he knows now exactly the name of the staff member on his team that sent the
e-mail that closed the lanes, Bridget Kelly.

MATTHEWS: And who authorized her to do it?

WISNIEWSKI: And when she was terminated, he didn`t want to hear from her.
Apparently --

MATTHEWS: OK --

WISNIEWSKI: -- Charlie McKenna didn`t want to hear from her. I would
have wanted to ask the question, What gave you the impression that you
could close these lanes? Who told you you could close these lanes? And
that`s very disturbing. As I said, a man who`s a former U.S. attorney for
New Jersey, a lack of curiosity on a very important issue for him really
raises my suspicions.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Let me go back to Mr. Wisniewski. Mr. Wisniewski,
it seems to me -- Wisniewski, rather -- it seems to me you`re in a position
-- and I was somewhat familiar with this back then, when Peter Rodino was
in -- back when the great congressman who was chairman of the House
Judiciary Committee, U.S. House, had to handle the impeachment of Richard
Nixon. He was no left-wing guy. He was a very regular Democrat, a very
patriotic guy, as we know, Peter Rodino.

WISNIEWSKI: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: And he wanted to make sure -- as you know the history, I`m sure
you know. It`s so -- it`s so proud, New Jersey must be, the way Rodino
handled it. Tip O`Neill, my old boss, pushed him and pushed him and pushed
him. Finally, he said, I`m going to pick a guy who`s going to be above
reproach, and he got John Doar to handle those hearings.

You pick -- it seems like you`re taking this damn seriously, to pick the
best guy you got, or best woman -- in this case, a guy, that looked like
you`re going to take this -- this is going to a big deal for New Jersey,
one way or the other. Either you`re going to get a good case here, get the
information out, or you will fail to get all the information out. It`s a
high -- it`s high -- high stakes.

WISNIEWSKI: It`s a serious matter. It`s a serious matter because public
resources were abused, and then there was a real effort to conceal that
abuse of resources. We need to get to the bottom of it.

This really did one important thing that`s not good, and it erodes public
confidence in government when they see people can use the George Washington
Bridge essentially as a plaything to stymie a town or to exact political
revenge.

And so our responsibility is serious because, number one, we have to make
sure it doesn`t happen again. We have to restore public trust, and that`s
a very big task for us to do. And so we have to do it right. We have to
have --

MATTHEWS: Right.

WISNIEWSKI: -- the right resources, and having the right legal counsel -
- as Heather pointed out, this has become a lot more complicated because
we`re now in the governor`s office, because we`re now looking at possibly
more agencies to look at and more people to talk to. We need to make sure
we get it right.

There`s also other investigations going on. We want to make sure we
respect all the jurisdictional boundaries that are applicable. And so we
need the help that we can get. We looked for the best help, and we think
we found it.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think you`re on the right course. Thank you so much for
taking this time to be with us. Thank you, Assemblyman John Wisniewski --

WISNIEWSKI: Thank you.


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