Face the Nation Transcripts February 2, 2014: Giuliani, Wisniewski, McDonough, Cantor

(CBS News) --  Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on February 2, 2014 hosted by CBS News' Major Garrett. Guests included Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The panel included Michael Gerson, David Gergen, Kim Stassel and Bob Shrum.

GARRETT: Today on FACE THE NATION, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and more on the intensifying bridge closing scandal involving New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Christie, (INAUDIBLE)?

GARRETT (voice-over): With a former associate claiming there's evidence Governor Christie knew about those closed traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge earlier than he said he did, Christie goes on the offensive.

We'll talk to Christie ally and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani plus state assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is leading the investigation into the bridge closing scandal.

And just after the State of the Union speech, House Republicans met to plot their own plans for 2014. Immigration reform emerged as a priority, setting the stage for a big debate to come. Republican leader Eric Cantor is here with details. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough will tell us about the prospects for compromise.

And we'll have analysis on all this, 60 years of news, because this is FACE THE NATION.

GARRETT: Welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm Major Garrett, filling in for Bob Schieffer.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani starts us this morning. He is in New York.

Mr. Mayor, good morning.

RUDY: Good morning.

GARRETT: So --

GIULIANI: It's an exciting day in New York today.

GARRETT: Indeed.

With Governor Chris Christie, the question seems to be what did the governor know and when did he know it? As you know, that has -- those two questions have sort of a historical echo to them.

GIULIANI: Right, they sure do.

GARRETT: Now Dave Wildstein, his attorney, says there is evidence that Governor Christie knew more than he has disclosed and knew earlier than he has disclosed. Not thinking about this politically, but thinking about it as your former role as a U.S. attorney, does this strike you as legally significant?

GIULIANI: Well, no, it isn't. I think "The Times" kind of acknowledged that when they kind of pulled back on the story. They first played it as a big bombshell evidence. Here's what it is. It's an offer from a guy who says he has evidence, hasn't given the evidence yet. However, you have to take that in context. This is a lawyer who is writing for a man who wants somebody else to pay his legal bills and he can't get them paid unless the governor was responsible. And he's a guy that's seeking immunity. You factor all those things in, well, first of all, it's not evidence. It's the suggestion, the tantalizing suggestion that there may be evidence. And then you've got at least two big credibility issues with it. So my advice to everyone would be, instead of overplaying it as a bombshell, which "The Times" did and then had to back off, I would say put this in context. This is a long investigation; it's going to take a while. There's going to be stuff like this that just jumps out and everybody's going to exaggerate. They're going to back off. The governor has denied it. So far there's no evidence to suggest that he's not telling the truth. I think the governor knows the consequences. If he's lying, it's a really bad situation. If he's not lying, then something very unfair is being done to him. So let's see what happens.

GARRETT: How bad a situation, Mr. Mayor? The Newark "Star- Ledger" said Friday, in this is true, two words must encroach in this conversation: impeachment or resignation. How do you factor that?

GIULIANI: The important words there are if it's true. That's where, you know, I can do about 50 different situations where, if it's true, this guy has to be impeached, this guy's got to resign. This guy's got to -- the -- if it's true is the kind of unfair part. The reality is we don't know if it's true. All we have is this allegation with a lot of questions about it, ratcheted up from just an allegation and the suggestion to evidence, which it wasn't. So the if it's true thing is really unfair. Of course if the governor didn't tell the truth, the governor is in serious trouble, we all know that. But we shouldn't jump to that conclusion until there's evidence to suggest that.

GARRETT: For the time being, should the governor resign from his leadership position of the Republican Governor's Association? As a loyal Republican do you believe he's hurting the party's image and should step down from that position?

GIULIANI: No. No. If I were a governor I would vote to keep him there. Look, Major, maybe I suffer from this having been a Republican office holder in a Democratic city with lots of newspapers coming after you, some that have real biases. If we have our guys step down any time they do this let's get a Republican, let's get the Democrats to have a special committee with a guy running the special committee who announces that he believes the governor is lying before he begins the investigation, they're going to harass us during this entire campaign. There's nothing wrong with saying the following: until and unless there's evidence to prove he did something wrong, we'll take the governor at his word and let him do his job. I believe it will come out all right. If it doesn't, there's always time to take action then.

GARRETT: What I hear you saying, Mr. Mayor, is that you believe this is something of a political opposition witch hunt against the governor, is that what you're saying?

GIULIANI: I believe two things there, Major. First of all, I think there's a real incident that was unfortunate and bad and the governor apologized for that. I don't want to minimize that. What I'm saying if you take that real incident and now you got pile on. You have a Democratic legislature with a guy who'd like to be governor, who very, very oddly announces at the beginning he doesn't believe the governor. And no Democrat in the state seems that it's odd that he should be running an investigation when he's already announced that he knows the answer that none of us know the answer to. He knows the answer that the governor's lying and should not be running that investigation.

GARRETT: And do you believe --

GIULIANI: That tells me -- that tells me -- that tells me all I need to know about the credibility or the motive, the political motive of what's going on. But I don't want to minimize the fact there's a real issue here. That's a serious one.

GARRETT: OK, very good. Super Bowl security, are you satisfied with where things are and what is your prediction for today's big game?

GIULIANI: I'm very satisfied. I think both on the New York side and on the New Jersey side, and I've seen a lot of it -- I was walking the streets yesterday, took a look at it on Friday, a few people have come to me to ask me some advice about it -- I think it's really, really good security. I think that --

GARRETT: Who is going to win?

GIULIANI: Well, first of all I think the New York police and the New Jersey police are going to win. I think Commissioner Bratton is going to win and Chris Christie is doing a great job. And then you want to know who I think is going to win? I think Peyton Manning is going to win. I think that's the key -- the key to the game --

GARRETT: Very good.

GIULIANI: -- two evenly matched teams. One guy that's been there before and is the -- maybe the greatest guy at that position except for Joe Montana in the history of football.

GARRETT: Very good. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. Great having you on FACE THE NATION.

GIULIANI: Thank you.

GARRETT: We turn now to New Jersey assemblyman John Wisniewski who was the Democrat leading the state investigation into those lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last September. Assemblyman, good to have you with us.

WISNIEWSKI: Major, good to be here.

GARRETT: React to mayor Giuliani. He says you have prejudged this investigation and are unfit and lack credibility.

WISNIEWSKI: He's prejudged everything that's been said. What I have said is I have skepticism about the governor's statement. I haven't said that the governor has responsibility for this. I haven't said that the governor knew when this was happening. That's something Mr. Wildstein said. What I said is the government made a statement about when he knew and I said that I have my doubts about that timeline. He could have known at any time, but I have my doubts about what he said.

GARRETT: Your committee will begin receiving information tomorrow, subpoenas and other data.

WISNIEWSKI: That's right.

GARRETT: Will you release it publicly, how will you process it and what is it going to mean?

WISNIEWSKI: We're not going to release it publicly. At the beginning the committee needs to see it, evaluate it, decide what next steps have been to be taken. Are there other subpoenas, do we bring people in for testimony? Ultimately this will become part of a public record. It's too early to say when that will be.

GARRETT: When will it get to the state attorney?

WISNIEWSKI: I don't know; I mean, that's up to them. They're running a separate investigation. The U.S. attorney's office has been sending subpoenas out. They do their own thing and we're doing our own parallel investigation. Remember, ours is a legislative inquiry. It's not a law enforcement inquiry. We want to fix the problem that led to this abuse of power.

GARRETT: Impeachment, resignation: what do those words mean to you in the context of your investigation?

WISNIEWSKI: One word: premature. There's a lot of talk about that. People are asking the hypotheticals. We don't have enough facts to even going to that conversation. We need to get all the facts on the table. We need to make decisions about who knew what when. And when that's done, maybe it might be appropriate at that time to have that conversation, but clearly we're way ahead of that right now.

GARRETT: Rudy Giuliani called this tantalizing, this promise of evidence. Do you believe what happened on Friday constitutes a major breakthrough in this case or possibly just immunity shopping?

WISNIEWSKI: I'm not sure. I mean, I think it's an interesting question because the words used in the letter were carefully crafted to say that his client knows of facts or information that would contradict the governor. It doesn't say that he's in possession of it. I mean, the question I had naturally is we had a subpoena out to him. If he has stuff, it should have come to the committee. So maybe this is material he doesn't have possession of.

GARRETT: Do you believe there's any risk in criminalizing hardball government in your investigation?

WISNIEWSKI: No. I think New Jersey politics is played as hard as it gets anywhere. But when you cross the line, when you use public resources to exact what appears to be a political vendetta against the mayor of Fort Lee, that crosses a line. And it shouldn't be allowed to happen.

GARRETT: Will you call the governor to testify before your committee?

WISNIEWSKI: We're not there yet. We don't have any reason to do that. We need to find out the facts about who else in his office had knowledge. How did this get authorized? We don't have any answers to those questions, and so we need to take it one step at a time.

GARRETT: What is the next move your committee will make as far as getting this tantalizing evidence? How are you going to get it and what do you think it might lead to?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, I would like to see the material that Mr. Wildstein's attorney talked about. We need to get all of the subpoenaed documents that we're supposed to start receiving tomorrow and start answering some of questions that are out there. Why did Bridget Kelly send this e-mail that closed the lanes? Who gave her the authority to send that e-mail? What made her believe it was OK? There's a lot of unanswered questions that will then determine the next step the committee takes.

GARRETT: Assemblyman John Wisniewski, New Jersey legislature, heading the committee looking into Governor Christie's tactics and actions, thank you very much for joining us on FACE THE NATION.

WISNIEWSKI: Thank you.

GARRETT: And we'll be back in just one minute.

GARRETT: And we're back with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Denis, thank you so much for coming in.

MCDONOUGH: Thanks for having me, Major.

GARRETT: Your colleague in the White House, John Podesta, told Bloomberg something interesting recently about the Governor Chris Christie scandal, quote, "I think it's a killer, really. If that was true, I don't think there's any coming back." The White House is now getting involved in the Chris Christie scandal?

MCDONOUGH: Oh, I think John was just reacting to news of the day and to a question...

GARRETT: Do you agree?

MCDONOUGH: ... that was asked to him on Friday afternoon. And so we've been pretty clear that this is a New Jersey matter to be resolved in New Jersey. We don't have a role in it.

GARRETT: Politically, do you think it's a killer, if true?

MCDONOUGH: Again, this is a New Jersey issue. We'll let them resolve it up there.

GARRETT: Would you prefer John not have commented on that?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think John was just reacting to a question.

GARRETT: Very good. Keystone: there was a report from the State Department on Friday. How does the White House interpret that? What's the schedule to decide up or down on the pipeline?

MCDONOUGH: Well, this is one -- this is one of many important inputs into that process. It's an important one.

GARRETT: How close are we to the end?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I'm not going to prejudge that right now. What's important, the president laid out last summer in his speech at Georgetown his standard for what he thinks should govern the decision on Keystone, which is that it should not significantly exacerbate what is a significant climate change crises we face in this country. A very chilling story in the New York Times today about the impact of climate change on droughts in the West, California, which is now seeing some pretty serious developments as a result of climate change. So we'll be looking at that. But what the president's role is now is to protect this process from politics, let the experts, the expert agencies and the Cabinet secretaries make their assessments both of the study that was put in on Friday as well as its impact on the national interest. So we'll resolve that over the coming period of time.

GARRETT: Let me talk to you about Syria. The United States government says only 4 percent of the chemical weapons due out of that country by June 30th have been removed. Is this falling apart?

MCDONOUGH: Not falling apart, but we would like to see it proceed much more quickly than it is, Major. This is a very important development. We've seen one of the world's largest stock piles of chemical weapons not acknowledged until last summer. Now we're seeing it begin to be secured and dismantled, moved out of the country. We think that's important. But it has to be done along...

MCDONOUGH: It has to be done along the timeline that the Syrians decreed. Secretary Kerry has raised this with his counterparts as recently as this morning in Geneva. We'll keep pushing on that.

GARRETT: And we're dependent on the Russians to exert their influence, are we not?

MCDONOUGH: Well, we're not dependent on anybody in particular. We're going to make sure that the Syrians live up to their obligations. They have an obligation to the international community to do exactly what they said they'd do. GARRETT: Or what?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I'm not going to get into any "or what"s here, Major, but they ought to do exactly what they said they'd do?

GARRETT: Speaking of Russia, how do you feel about security at the Winter Olympic Games? What's the latest the president's been told? Are Americans and will Americans be safe?

MCDONOUGH: We are tracking this very, very closely, as you would expect. You have heard the president talk about this (inaudible) extensively, obviously, with you and your colleagues. We are in close touch with the Russians. When we get new information, we share with the American people. Our request is not that people do not travel. In fact, they -- we have said that people could travel to the Olympics. We just want them to stay in touch with the State Department while they travel, watch the website for updates. When we have information, we'll share with the American people. But we feel good that the Russians are taking serious steps right now. We'll continue to track that closely.

GARRETT: Speaking of information, two weeks ago it was widely said at the White House the Russians were not giving up enough, not sharing enough about new threat matrix information. Has that improved?

MCDONOUGH: We always want more information. That's the life blood of how we keep our people safe. And big international -- big international events like this, as you've heard the president say, are also times for us to be concerned. I know that Mike Morell and others on this network have suggested as much. So we're going to stay on top of this. More information is always better than less.

GARRETT: Immigration: Republicans in the House put out principles. You can read it one of two ways. I'm curious how the president reads it. You could read it as a permanent second-class status for certain Americans who are here now illegally. They could stay here legally but may never become citizens. Is that good enough for the president?

MCDONOUGH: Here's -- we're not going to jump to any conclusions on this. You know the president's principles, which is that we ought to see a pathway to citizenship for people. We don't want to have a permanent separation of classes or two permanent different classes of Americans in this country. We're just not going to -- we're just not going to live with that. So this is an important first step. We'll see how this plays out. Our job now is to stand back, see how the House Republicans handle this. And I think we see some important progress here. We'll see how it plays out.

GARRETT: But it sounds like you're saying House Republicans need to evolve to that position where it's citizenship, at least eventually, or it's no deal?

MCDONOUGH: Look, that's the president's principle, which is he's laid out his principles on this. We should not have two classes of people in this country. I'm not prejudging exactly how the Republicans will handle this in Congress. I know the Democrats in Congress are going to have a view on this, too, and they have been very clear about that over the course of this debate over the last many years.

GARRETT: Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said that the Iranians are not prepared to give up their higher-tech, more ambitious centrifuge purification of uranium. Is that a deal-killer? MCDONOUGH: I'm pretty confident that this is not the first negotiation where people have public positions and private positions. So we'll let Foreign Minister Zarif talk about what he wants to talk about publicly. We'll make clear what we expect from him privately...

 

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