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updated 1/12/2014 12:24:57 PM ET 2014-01-12T17:24:57

What a week in politics, playing defense, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie right there, responding to the bridge scandal rocking his administration, raising questions about the impact on a possible presidential run in 2016. Good Sunday morning.

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Special program for you this Sunday. Two big stories to talk about: The nastiness of politics and the rough and tumble of government, as well. The New Jersey scandal, and also, the tell-all book by former defense secretary Robert Gates. Our key issues: Politics and punishment. Is Bridgegate, as it's being called, simply an example of the everyday retribution in the nasty world of government? Or did Governor Chris Christie set the tone and create the culture that led to the scandal?

Truth or betrayal, some tough questions in Washington, as well. Robert Gates' book is raising doubts about President Obama and Vice President Biden's foreign policy leadership at a crucial time for the United States in the world. Is the former defense secretary right in speaking out while they are still in power?

And the toll of poverty, millions of women struggling with their dual roles as breadwinners and caregivers. My colleague, Maria Shriver, is here with her exclusive report on why so many people are on the economic brink, groundbreaking work that she's done. And what are the unique pressures that women face? And some possible solutions. We'll get to that later in the program.

But first, I'm here with our chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd. Time Magazine's Mark Halperin, who wrote about-- the '28 campaign, and of course Double Down, the 2012 campaign, as well, writes about Christie in game change 2012. Democratic Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, is also here. She's the secretary of the Democratic National Committee, as well. And Kim Strassel, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal and a member of their editorial board.

So here is the latest on what we know this Sunday morning about the bridge scandal. There's been no smoking gun. That's important. No smoking gun found. You had no e-mails or correspondence that link Governor Christie directly to the scandal. The documents released, however, do show knowledge of the closures by Christie's closest aides.

The motive for all of these lane closures, by the way, of the bridge, remain a bit unclear. And investigations do continue, both at the federal and the state levels. Let me bring in everybody. Chuck Todd, the questions still, on Sunday morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

How much did Chris Christie know?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, or, "Why didn't he know more?" right? There is sort of like-- there really isn't a good answer for him in either way. Because his defense right now is, "I'm a hands-off manager. I did a lot of delegation." Well then, that raises the question of culture. And that actually becomes the bigger impact on him as a potential presidential leader.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Because you're testing him as a presidential candidate. You know, so far, you read all these e-mails, I mean there clearly is not a direct connection to the governor. So in the near term, this is a survivable, quote unquote, "scandal," as far as his governance of the state of New Jersey's concerned. But everything that this raises, it does make you question whether he has the judgment, whether he's got the culture that he can bring in leadership ability to be president of the United States.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let's remind everybody the key e-mail. A lot of players, a lot of e-mails. This is the key one, and it comes from his deputy chief of staff, Governor Christie's deputy chief of staff, to an official at the Port Authority. And it's cryptic in its nature. It's August 13th: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

And here's what's amazing is that both parties know exactly what they're talking about, and the response is immediate. But Chris Christie, on Thursday, in this epic press conference, Kim Strassel, responds unequivocally. He says this.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (ON TAPE):

I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution. And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.

KIM STRASSEL:

He better be telling the truth. (LAUGHTER) When you come out and you are that definitive, if anything does surface going forward that suggests that he does know, I mean that's the game-changer in this. Look, I think to what Chuck said, this is not-- I mean this has to be put in perspective, right? Okay, this is not Watergate. This is not even the I.R.S. targeting of last year.

In fact-- it's not even, if you think about this as a raw display of political power, it's not even this White House using the sequester and the shutdown to inconvenience millions of Americans, as they did, too, to make a political point. But what this is, is a teachable moment for Governor Christie. Because going forward, this is the level of scrutiny he's going to be getting from here on out, and if he decides to continue running for the presidency.

And so he's going to have to up the level of staff that's around him, and make sure that some of the things that came out of here, these questions, "Is he a bully? Does he have competent management?" those are the things-- he can't afford to have another example of those happen. And so he's going to have to reevaluate who he's got working for him and make sure that that doesn't become a theme.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Mayor Blake, you've seen-- you're a politician. You are a mayor. You know as well as anybody that politics ain’t beanbag. You also know that traffic matters a lot to people. I mean you start messing with it, it's more than just petty, it has a real impact on people's lives. What is this, and what is it not, at this point for Governor Christie?

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS BLAKE:

I’m going to start by saying I'm loathe to criticize Governor Christie, who was so helpful to our president after Sandy, in the election. I'm loathe to criticize him. But when you set up this--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, but you just hurt him with Republicans by praising him. (LAUGHTER)

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS BLAKE:

Well, when you set up this culture of callousness, and when you have a history of telling people to go, you know, "blank" themselves and calling reports idiots and things like that, you can't play it both ways. He set himself up as this gruff person that sort of, you know, plays by his own rules when it comes to, you know, being rough and tumble, and the way that he treats people.

So when you see the e-mail by one of his closest staff, it's hard to be that someone, after months and months of everybody else talking about it, that he doesn't know anything about it. He doesn't know because he didn't want to know. And at this level, under this scrutiny, that doesn't work anymore.

DAVID GREGORY:

He does say, when this thing comes out, when the e-mails come out, he says, Mark Halperin, "Everybody's got an hour to tell me whether we were involved." What he doesn't say, by his own admission, is, "Tell me everything at every level. I'm a former U.S. attorney. I want everything on this thing before I go out there tomorrow."

MARK HALPERIN:

That December press conference is, in some ways, more important than the press conference from last week. Because he was not only remarkably incurious at that time about what happened, he was dismissive of it. He tried to tell reporters, "Stop covering this story, it's not important."

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. Can I just interrupt you? Can we play a piece of tape from that December press conference? He is dismissive. He's making jokes. Watch this.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE:

I worked the cones, actually, Matt. (LAUGHTER) Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was in overalls and a hat. So I wasn't-- but I actually was the guy working the cones out there.

(OVERTALK)

MARK HALPERIN:

Let's talk about the investigation. Like, we don't know if there'll be a federal investigation of any significance. We look at this legislative committee and think it's like a Congressional committee with lots of subpoena power, depositions, a big staff. This is a very small operation basically being run by the assemblyman who heads the transportation committee.

They subpoenaed documents from the Port Authority side, but not from the governor's side. The governor pledged, in this week's press conference, full cooperation. He said, "We want to get to the bottom of this." I think we're headed towards a New Jersey constitutional crisis, very little precedent, maybe none, as best I can tell so far, of a committee in the legislature trying to subpoena a governor.

Will this governor hand everything over, including his own e-mails? Will he provide testimony? Will his top aides? Or will he assert executive privilege? I think that is going to be a real moment of crisis for him, not only in terms of governance, but in terms of 2016, because we've seen presidents have this problem.

You say you want to cooperate fully. But when their subpoena comes and they say, "Chris Christie, we want everything you've had." You know Kim suggested, said, "He better be right." I have been stunned in my calls this week to Republicans and conservatives and watching people on Twitter, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch, big supporters of Christie, everyone says, "He better be telling the truth. If he's telling the truth."

No one is taking him at his word, as best I can tell. And even Republicans who are huge supporters of him, they say, "Well, if he's telling the truth, he's fine." That is--

DAVID GREGORY:

So--

MARK HALPERIN:

--a striking situation.

DAVID GREGORY:

--this-- I think there's a part of this for me that is so interesting is understanding the D.N.A. of Chris Christie as a politician, as a leader. By the way, these were top aides. These were-- you pointed out in First Read, this is the equivalent a David Plouffe.

CHUCK TODD:

Plouffe --

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, you know, these are people that are very tight. I mean in many ways, bridges running operationally parts of the--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--of the state.

DAVID GREGORY:

So to that point.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

He's asked about what does it say about him, during this press conference, and I want to show that response, because this is what sticks out to me.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (ON TAPE):

What does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask about me, "What did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me?" And there's a lot of soul searching that goes around with this.

CHUCK TODD:

But can I just step back? If he were not a potential presidential candidate, we didn't view him this way, and this whole thing happened, we'd all say, "Well, that's Jersey. That's the culture of Jersey. Jersey politics is run very-- there are a lot of fiefdoms. It's always been this way."

And so, when we keep talking about culture, and everybody says, "Well, what's the culture that he set?" Honestly, and it's going to offend some people in New Jersey in politics. But there has been a past, a culture of this, of, you know, you rule with an iron fist.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

It's sort of old school politics.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--is just the way he ran things, too. And it's what everybody does in Jersey.

KIM STRASSEL:

Chris Christie--

(OVERTALK)

KIM STRASSEL:

--should he run for president, one of his biggest selling points is going to be, "I'm a competent executive of a big state." Okay? And that's why this is a particularly big question for him is because who did he have around him? Are they actually managing? Is he ready for prime time?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

KIM STRASSEL:

That’s the big thing. But to go back to work Mark said, too, and I think the fact that everyone is saying, "Is he telling the truth?" this is about-- I mean and this is why this issue is a problem, as well, is that we are living at a time when Americans have a lot of fear about government and whether or not government can be trusted. We're talking about the I.R.S. thing, the N.S.A. flap that's been going on, the Justice Department looking at journalists, people abusing their power and their authority. And so there has to be a level of confidence among Americans that Chris Christie isn't among that type of person.

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS BLAKE:

And at this level, people want to know that you're doing the right thing, whether people are looking or not. And that's where I think he falls into trouble, because when people weren't looking, he was full of denial until the light got shined on. And then, now, all of a sudden, he's, you know, contrite and looking inward. That's what people expect of their executives, their public officials, when no one's looking.

DAVID GREGORY:

You may not support him politically. Do you look at that two hours as taking every question? You think that level of crisis management was effective as a leader, as a mayor?

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS BLAKE:

I think he did the best thing on that day in December. He should have been asking more questions than he did. I think that was a joke. And to think, you know, with all of that scrutiny, that he says, "I don't know." Now he says there's nothing, you know, that, "I don't know anything?" He chose to turn a blind eye to what his closest advisors were doing. And he has to live with that--

(OVERTALK)

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS BLAKE:

--as a reflection of his leadership.

MARK HALPERIN:

He plays by his own rules. And sometimes people find that extraordinarily appealing. We wrote in Double Down about he was being vetted to be on the ticket for Mitt Romney, decided didn't hand in everything on a timely basis. He gives the keynote speech at the convention, gets some bad reviews, he brings the Romney campaign kind of to a halt at that moment, complaining that he thought they were leaking.

You look at the way he runs his office. The reason people think he might not be telling full truth is because anyone who's seen him in a Republican Governor's meeting or anywhere, he plays by his own rules. That can be appealing. But people realize that that means, in the context in New Jersey, sometimes things go wrong.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, more from all of you in just a minute. I want to turn here, I'm joined now exclusively by the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich. Talk about a man in the middle of this story. It was his town, of course, that suffered four days of traffic gridlock from the lane closures of The George Washington Bridge. The mayor met personally with Governor Chris Christie on Thursday. This is what he said after that meeting.

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH (ON TAPE):

We view his appearance here as very productive. It was a very productive meeting. It was a cordial meeting. Really, the most important concern that we had, or that I have on behalf of Fort Lee, along with the council and the folks that are behind me, are to make sure that this never, ever happens again in the future. We were unconditionally, unequivocally provided with that assurance.

DAVID GREGORY:

And Mr. Mayor, welcome to Meet the Press.

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to ask you about that meeting specifically. Did you put pressure on Governor Christie? Was there a question about all of this that you asked him about what he knew, when he knew it, that he didn't answer satisfactorily for you?

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH:

I think the beginning of the meeting was-- basically, a recant of, or a mini version of, the press conference, where he unconditionally expressed that he had absolutely no knowledge or no involvement whatsoever in this plot. We then went on to request that he provide us with adequate assurance that Fort Lee and the area will never, ever experience this again.

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you believe him?

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH:

I take him at his word. I've said that now repeatedly. You know, initially, he wanted to come up. I was discouraging of that because I thought that, in light of the ongoing investigations, allow them to ripen a little bit more and then come up. But you know what? Fort Lee always will open their arms to a sitting governor. He came. He was candid. It was, I thought, a productive conversation. So again, I take him at his word. There's just a lot of stuff out there, though.

DAVID GREGORY:

This weekend, talk about a lot of stuff out there, this weekend more e-mails have come to light. And I want to show one in just a second here that's a key one. It is from a Port Authority official, a Christie appointee, to one of Governor Christie's top advisors for all of the authorities, Port Authority, other authorities, within the state. And it's about the lane closures.

And he is saying, "I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision, which violates everything this agency stands for." This is a Port Authority official who is making it very clear that he thinks this was an abusive decision. And that conclusion, as the lanes are reopened back in September of last year, is getting to top Christie advisors. So my question to you: Do you think he knew then that he knew more than he was saying just a couple of days ago that he knew?

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH:

The issue is whether he knew. But if he didn't know, he certainly should have known. And I think that's the catch-22 here. That e-mail, what you just read, came from Executive Director Pat Foy. Look, I've always understood that the governor ran a very, very tight ship. Very tight ship in the sense that he was in control of a lot of things, and he would review everything, and he made sure that anything his name was even remotely involved in, he was involved in.

So, you know, look. It's a difficult pill to swallow, I will tell you. But you know what? I'm a Jersey guy. I don't appreciate the political jokes. I signed up to build Little League fields and lower taxes. And, you know, I don't want to be the brunt of a joke. So again, I'm taking him at his word, David. I really am.

DAVID GREGORY:

Taking him at his word.

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH:

I don't want to sound naive, here. But--

DAVID GREGORY:

He insists, as he looks at the support, 32% support among Democrats, including 20 Democratic mayors in New Jersey, he insists he's not a bully. Do you agree with that?

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH:

Based on what I heard, I would take issue with that. I would. I mean now what we're hearing, and the other unrelated stories to The George Washington Bridge closure, I would probably-- you know, he's certainly tough. He's certainly hard. He's certainly strict.

Whether it rises to bully, I leave that to your judgment. But he's tough and outspoken. And, you know, I think a lot of this he brought upon himself. I'm not so sure much of the issue and the attention that this is garnering would actually be the case if he hadn't conducted himself the way that his office has been conducting itself.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Mr. Mayor, I'm going to leave it there. I certainly appreciate your time this morning.

MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to turn now to the larger issue of 2016, Governor Christie's prospects for a possible presidential run. After a resounding victory in November, reelection, the national press labeled him a presidential frontrunner. The cover of Time Magazine, might remember, called him "The Elephant in the Room." So will the scandal impact the future Republican support?

Here with me now is the chairman of the Republican Party, and that is Reince Priebus. You might be a little bit cautious about weighing in on this. And I want to ask this question as a post-political observer. Is this a test of leadership for the chairman? Here is what a friend of his, a mentor, a former governor of New Jersey, Tom Kean told The Washington Post. This is Tom Kean speaking, who has known Christie since the current governor was a teenager, faulted Christie for establishing a culture in his tight inner circle, in which no one will ever say no to him, and that is dangerous. He also said that Christie's approach to governing is overly aggressive, and his agenda is personal. Is this a leadership problem for the governor?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

No, I don't-- in fact, I think what you saw the other day was leadership, was something that showed that-- look, everyone is fallible, David. I'm fallible, you are, everyone on this panel. We all make mistakes. But the real question is what do you do when mistakes happen?

There's no question, he admitted the mistakes happened. He admitted he trusted people that lied to him. Americans are forgiving people. But they're forgiving when you take ownership, you admit mistakes, you take corrective action. And that's what Chris Christie showed.

He stood there for 111 minutes, in an open dialogue with the press. Now only if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would give us 111 seconds of that would we find out some things we want to find out about Obamacare, Benghazi, the I.R.S.. I mean Chris Christie's--

(OVERTALK)

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--been (CHUCKLE) totally open here.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me pick up on that point, Chairman. So you had said about the president and the I.R.S. scandal, and there's been no direct tie, of course, to what happened to the I.R.S. to the president, just as there has not been a direct tie to Governor Christie here. But you said then about the president that he set a tone for these things to happen. Is that true here?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

But here's the difference, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is that true here? Did Governor Christie set a tone where the people who exacted this act of petty political retribution thought the boss would acquiesce?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Here's what he did.

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you think it was okay?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Here's what he did. And here's what he admitted. He admitted that he trusted people that lied to him, and he's asking a lot of questions about himself as far as why that happened.

(OVERTALK)

REINCE PRIEBUS:

And he-- wait a minute.

DAVID GREGORY:

Did he set a tone?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Wait a minute.

DAVID GREGORY:

Did he set the tone? Because that's what you said the president did.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

No. He-- no, he-- no. The-- here's the-- he trusted people that lied to him, and he fired those people. The president doubles down on Eric Holder. He doubles down on Hillary Clinton and Lois Lerner and Susan Rice. It's the opposite--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Listen. There's some deflection going on here, and I respect your position. You said in May of 20-- you're the one who brought up the president and the I.R.S. as a comparison. You said there, "There's no denying he, the president, he created a culture in his administration that encouraged the targeting of these groups." There's not evidence to prove that linkage. That's your assertion.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

But if it's good, if that's your assertion about tone there, why isn't it true of Governor Christie setting the tone?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Because Chris Christie-- here's why. Because Chris Christie gave us almost two hours of open dialogue and open--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--culture.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--examination with the press. Because you can judge a person. You can judge a person's character. We had an opportunity to do that. And so that's what Chris Christie offered, not only to the people of New Jersey, but the people across the country. The president never offered--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, but--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--that open dialogue so that people--

DAVID GREGORY:

You've given the--

(OVERTALK)

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--character--

DAVID GREGORY:

But you've given him a close look.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--of the president.

DAVID GREGORY:

You've given him a close look. You're chairman of the party. You dig in on these things. How would a rogue operation like this spring up underneath his feet without him knowing about it at all, or without those people who are close to him, and who have been close to him for a long time, thinking, "It would be okay if we did this?"

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Well, look. New Jersey is a huge, complicated government, and so is the Port Authority. People made decisions at the Port Authority that they shouldn't have made. And those people are gone. The person that oversaw, at least in part, some of the decisions at the Port Authority, seemed to have apparent knowledge of what was going on, she is gone. After the fact, the campaign manager made comments that were callous, and Chris Christie didn't like it, he's gone.

DAVID GREGORY:

There's been no direct link made to Governor Christie. Do you think there will be one?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

No. I don't think there will be one. Because I think we've got a really smart person in Chris Christie, who's a former U.S. attorney, who understands what's out there. And thousands and thousands of documents have been revealed, and not one single link to Chris Christie has been found.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me ask you about your potential opponents for the Republican Party in 2016, and that's Hillary Clinton. We'll talk more about the Robert Gates book in Duty. He writes this, in part, about the debate over Afghanistan: "Hillary," Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, "told the president that her opposition to the 2007 surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, then, in front of me was as surprising as it was dismaying." Certainly progressive/liberal Democrats may have an issue with her taking that position as reported by Robert Gates. How do you view it?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I think she's a political person. And I think what this country's starving for are real, authentic people that want to serve this country with a pure heart. And when they read these things about Hillary Clinton, when they examine her life, they question it. And I think that this is something that is going to be potentially on the ballot coming 2016, and surrounds Hillary Clinton wherever she goes. Is she real? Is she authentic? Is she genuine? Does she want to serve this country with a pure heart? I think she's political, and I think that Robert Gates' book shows that once again.

DAVID GREGORY:

And back on the Republican side, is Chris Christie still a frontrunner, or does he face a personality problem?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

You know, we have a lot of good candidates that are at least percolating right now. And I've got a couple from my own state of Wisconsin. So I think we've got a great bench. We're a young, fresh party. And we'll see what happens.

DAVID GREGORY:

Chairman Reince Priebus, thanks. As always, I appreciate it.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're going to take a break here. Coming up on Meet the Press, more on the fallout from the bridge scandal and Chris Christie's response.

TOM BLUE (IOWA VOTER) (ON TAPE):

I hope that the public isn't influenced to discard the guy over something like that.

DAVID GREGORY:

Presidential ambition, one of the first tests in the 2016 campaign will be Iowa. How is the New Jersey governor playing with voters there? We went to the Hawkeye state to find out. Plus, a bombshell tell-all casting doubt on President Obama's leadership from a member of his inner circle. Our roundtable debates the impact often new memoir from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. And struggling to escape the throes of poverty, why tens of millions of women are on the brink. My colleague, Maria Shriver, joins me with details of her new report. It's all coming up.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back. So, how is the Christie scandal going to play with voters outside the northeast? Iowa is a critical test for Republicans. The caucus is there, kick off the race for the White House in 2016. So we sent out own John Yang to the Hawkeye state to see if Bridgegate is having an impact.

(TAKE PKG)

JOHN YANG:

At the Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale, Iowa, the monthly meeting of The Ruby Rebels, two topics were out of bounds: Religion and politics. For us, they made an exception.

JOHN YANG:

What do you think of what's going on with Chris Christie?

GLENDA DAWSON:

Well, I think it's very interesting. I can't imagine that he could be clueless when he shut down a major bridge.

JOHN YANG:

Glenda Dawson is a registered Democrat who says she sometimes votes Republican.

GLENDA DAWSON:

I don't think that plays very, no matter what party you're on.

JOHN YANG:

Georgia Person's view of the New Jersey governor has changed.

GEORGIA PEARSON:

Because I thought he had been bipartisan, maybe. And to find out that this was a very political thing really changed my thinking.

JOHN YANG:

The road to the White House begins here in Iowa. But could gridlock on the George Washington Bridge block a Christie run? Republican Dave Rinder says the whole thing is silly.

DAVE RINDER:

It’s so strange that you think messing with someone's drive to work is going to be retributive to the mayor, I think it seems sort of comical and almost made up.

JOHN YANG:

Independent Tom Blue agrees.

TOM BLUE:

You know, it's so hard to cultivate a presidential candidate. And I hope that the public isn't influenced to discard the guy over something like that.

JOHN YANG:

Christie's no stranger to Iowa, having campaigned here for Mitt Romney in the 2012 race.

MITT ROMNEY:

The great governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie! (CHEERING)

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Thank you, Mitt.

JOHN YANG:

Last month's Des Moines Register Iowa poll found that 51% of Iowa Republicans have a favorable view of Christie, putting him in the top tier of potential 2016 candidates. Republican strategist Jeff Boyant (PH) already calls Christie a frontrunner.

JEFF BOYANT:

He's under a microscope here. So this kind of stuff is going to play here. It is going to be important here. And so Iowans are going to continue to watch, and we'll continue to see how he reacts and responds.

JOHN YANG:

While Republican caucus goers have recently favored social conservatives, 2016 could be different. Though a modern, Christie's combative style appeals to some of Iowa's harder-edged conservatives.

KAY HENDERSON (REPORTER FOR RADIO IOWA):

He really is a rock star to Republicans who are hungry for someone who will take their message and hammer it home. I mean that was his main appeal, that he was a guy that would take no prisoners.

(END PKG)

JOHN YANG (LIVE IN DES MOINES):

Analysts here say one thing working in Christie's favor is that the caucuses are two years away, plenty of time for the governor to try to put this behind him, unless there are more damaging disclosures to come. David?

DAVID GREGORY:

John, thank you so much. Never too early for you to be asking political questions in Iowa. I appreciate your time this morning. Back to our roundtable. Chuck, when we talk politics, as we do all the time, you always say, "Look, to be president, temperamentally--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

--you've got to go through the Midwest. That's why we sent John here to get that visceral take outside the northeast.

CHUCK TODD:

Six months ago we've had this conversation: Will Jersey play in the Midwest? The road to the White House goes to the Midwest. I'm not talking about primaries and caucuses. I'm actually talking about general election. And always the candidate with that Midwestern demeanor, it's usually been a southerner or, in the case of Barack Obama, a Midwesterner. And that's always been my question before all this. And I have to say, the other thing we learned during the scandal, Christie's on an island. There's not a lot of Republicans coming to his support.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Kim, when you think about Iowa, you think about the early states, you think about ideology in the primary process? How much is personality going to be more important than ideology?

KIM STRASSEL:

Personality is going to be huge. Because actual, by the way, that is a big attraction for a lot of people--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. Absolutely.

KIM STRASSEL:

--for Christie. Don't forget. And I don't think anyone should underestimate a little bit of what Mr. Priebus was saying. The fact that he came out this week and immediately fired people and took responsibility--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

KIM STRASSEL:

--not something everyone sees in government all the time. And that may play well with some people.

DAVID GREGORY:

Alright, I'm going to leave it there. Thanks to all of you for this interesting discussion. We're going to take a break here. Coming up next, questions of leadership. That bombshell new memoir from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has the administration on the defensive. And is there some collateral damage to Hillary Clinton, as well? Our roundtable will be coming back, few new players, to discuss that after this break.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We asked you on Facebook this morning to let us know your thoughts on the Christie bridge scandal. As one New Jersey newspaper put this morning, "Are his 2016 chances toast?" Or is this just a minor hiccup? Let us at Facebook.com/MeetThePress. We're back in just a minute with our roundtable.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back. Some new folks on the roundtable. Two big stories that we're talking about this week: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the bridge scandal, but also, this bombshell tell-all book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. I'm joined now by Robert Gibbs. He's the former press secretary for President Obama, was present at the time.

Former Republican presidential candidate and Pennsylvania Senator, Rick Santorum, former Congresswoman from California, now the head of The Wilson Center, Jane Harmon, Bloomberg View columnist, Jeffrey Goldberg, and host of MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews. Welcome to all of you.

I want to ask the question about whether Gates was right to do this while the President's still in office in just a moment. But I want to get to the substance, to the debate about the President's leadership in national security affairs, particularly Afghanistan. Here is a key excerpt from the book, Gates writing about the March 2011 meeting in the situation room in Afghanistan. The issue was a troop withdrawal deadline.

Gates writes this: "As I sat there, I thought, 'The president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand Afghan President Hamid Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out.'" Chris Matthews, how scathing is this of Obama's leadership?"

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Well, it has a certain tone to it. But I think he's right in the sense that President Obama ran on a campaign to get us out of Afghanistan. That was his mission. There's nothing wrong with that. He makes it sound like there's something wrong with that. That's tonal. The policy of this president, when he came into office, when he got into office, was "wind down two wars." And he did so. Now maybe that wasn't Gates's point of view. But it was Obama's.

DAVID GREGORY:

It's certainly clear, Robert Gibbs, that, because I'm reading the book, and I think some of the press coverage has been overwritten. He's harshly critical of the political operation. I think that would include you, political advisors to the president.

ROBERT GIBBS:

I think you may have intimated that I might have been the deputy secretary of defense. So I-- (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

Okay. And he's critical of that inter-agency process. In other words, that there's a feeling that the president himself had that the military was trying to jam him on the idea of surging up forces in Afghanistan.

ROBERT GIBBS:

I think one of the things you take away, at least in the excerpts of this book, is that Bob Gates doesn't like any questions about Bob Gates, whether they're from members of Congress, whether they're from civilians in the West Wing or in the National Security Agency. Look, Barack was, and I assume, continues to be skeptical of our military ability to solve Afghanistan.

We have been in Afghanistan now longer than we have been in any foreign land conducting a war in our nation's history. Was this president, and was the team at the White House, skeptical of mission creep? Every day that I was there, and I would be shocked if it hasn't been every day since I have left, the president wanted a smaller surge of troops that was limited in time to put pressure on the Afghans to have to solve their problem, while we decimated and degraded al-Qaeda. That's what he decided. And incidentally, that's what Gates--

DAVID GREGORY:

So--

ROBERT GIBBS:

--reported in a book that The Post called "Maddeningly self contradictory."

DAVID GREGORY:

Michael Moore, Rick Santorum, not a big fan of--

(OVERTALK) (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

And that's why I'm putting it together. Because here's something that he tweeted this week. "Bob Gates, in his new book, says Obama appointees from the White House were, quote, 'Suspicion of,' and, quote, 'Didn't trust the military honchos. Thank God." That's what he said.

RICK SANTORUM:

Well, look, the larger point to this book, in my opinion, was the fact that the president puts domestic politics before international concerns. Everything seen through the lens of domestic pol-- that comment that was quoted about Hillary and the president about why they opposed the surge. And it is all about-- from an outsider, I'm not inside, and Robert may have, obviously, a very different perspective. From the outside, everything seems to be driven as to how can we pull things back to domestic politics and not about--

(OVERTALK)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

No, I just have to issue--

(OVERTALK)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

I have to issue a small corre-- I just read the book. He doesn't say that about the president. He says politics does come into the conversation. But he says specifically in terms of the president, maybe not some of the operatives, the president makes decisions based on national security.

And the truth of it, and you're right about the overwritten quality of some of the coverage. I mean Robert Gates says very specifically in his book, "I agree the president made the right decisions on all the primary questions on Afghanistan."

JANE HARMAN:

Right.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

So the scandal is not quite as much of a scandal as some people think.

JANE HARMAN:

And why are we shocked that the elected president of the United States, who is a, would consider politics? He's also, by the way, the Commander-in-Chief. It's not Gates. It's not the head of the military in the Pentagon. It's the president who, under the constitution, is the Commander-in-Chief. And so he is the one who needs to be making these decisions.

I haven't read the book. Most of us probably haven't. I've read the excerpts, which are probably not as nuanced as the book, which Jeffrey has read. I don't know if others here have read it yet.

I wish he had waited to write this book for two reasons. Number one, I think he would have thought differently away from the heat of battle. But number two, I don't think it's so cool to write a book during the term of the guy you served, especially when you got the Medal of Freedom. And I hope that Leon Panetta, who's writing a book, will wait. Jane to Leon: Please wait--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Would you write a book? Would you write a book about your time while the President's still there?

ROBERT GIBBS:

Marlin Fitzwater, when I went to see him before I became press secretary, he said, "You should not write a book that your boss has to answer to while he's in office."

And I wouldn't write a book while he's in office. Look, Gates made his own decision. Let me address the politics of this. I think if you look at every national secretary decision that surrounded 13 meetings on Afghanistan, there wasn't one decision that, if you looked at where the American people were on putting another 33,000 American troops in Afghanistan, that was even remotely politically popular.

The war right now is as unpopular as anything going in America right now. The notion that the president-- and I think this is why-- and it's maddeningly self contradictory, Gates puts in front of the fact that somehow that politics was driving decisions. Yet, each and every decision the president made was absolutely contradictory to the politics of the moment.

DAVID GREGORY:

And Gates does give him credit for that, for bucking not just the politics, but the political advice that he was given.

RICK SANTORUM:

Well, I would just say that the president, when he ran first time, said that, "The war we need to win is Afghanistan, right?"

DAVID GREGORY:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Yep.

RICK SANTORUM:

So don't say that, you know, he was not doing things that were consistent with his political agenda. They were. And the things that I have the most problem with--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Right, that was thought of as "the good war."

RICK SANTORUM:

Right.

(OVERTALK)

RICK SANTORUM:

Hold on. And the problems I have with this administration are less Afghanistan than they are what we did in Iraq when we pulled out of Iraq. Because it was politically popular to pull out of Iraq and not leave--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me just get a comment from Chris on all this. Yes.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

When we go back and look at the text of what Gates actually said, he said that Hillary Clinton said her politics, during the campaign against Obama in the caucuses out there in Iowa especially, were driven by politics, that she did think the surge worked. But then it gets to the president. It doesn't say he acknowledged in any way--

DAVID GREGORY:

No.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

--or conceded vaguely. Through his policy (?), first of all, he was totally against the Iraq war. Obviously he was against the search consistently. So the way people are reading this is sort of double-barreled. It's really a shot against Hillary, not against Obama.

JANE HARMAN:

But it's complicated. In Iraq, the surge probably worked because there was an indigenous pushback against the radical al-Qaeda forces, plus the surge. In Afghanistan, I was in Congress at the time, I didn't support the surge. I didn't even support counterinsurgency, because I didn't think it fit in Afghanistan. And I expressed my views personally to Dave Petraeus, who strongly disagreed with me, but who remains a close friend. So I think there was a difference of opinion among people who were seriously focused on making Afghanistan--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

There's another figure who gets some pretty harsh treatment in this book, we can all agree. And that's the vice president, Joe Biden. And he writes the following, Gates says, we'll put it up on the screen while I get to my notes. Gates writes, "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." Jeff Goldberg, other than that, (LAUGHTER)--

(OVERTALK)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

The book is wonderfully passive aggressive. I mean every-- you know, I admire your patriotism and your--

(OVERTALK)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

You're terrible at your job--

(OVERTALK)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

--but I love everything about you. No. I mean, you know, going to this point about Hillary, I don't even think Hillary is really a target in his book. He goes out of his way to praise her as his primary partner in this administration. He has a couple of shots. You know, she's not going to appreciate that business about the surge.

Joe Biden gets it in the neck in this. His good friend, Joe Biden, (CHUCKLE) gets it in the neck. And most of the staff. I mean what's so interesting about this book, and you have to read the whole thing to get this feeling, is that even the very seemingly placid man who is boiling with rage this entire time in this administration--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to make a turn here, because the Christie story is just so interesting, and so many people are talking about it. And Rick Santorum, I have to ask you. We were in Iowa. You won Iowa in 2012. I'm making sure I have my year right. That's when you won it. The question is, if you are running again, would you run again in 2016? I know you're thinking about it. And you're on the debate stage with Chris Christie, what's the question you put to him about this? And is it a big question?

RICK SANTORUM:

Well, look. You know, you first have to compliment him for facing the issue, which is, again, I agree with Reince, what the president has not done in a lot of these struggles that he's had and conflicts. Chris Christie went up, manned up, and took it on and was decisive. I have several concerns about it.

And one of the concerns I have is the-- Richard Vicary (PH), a good friend of mine, always used to tell me, "Personnel is policy. And the people that you hire are the policies that are implemented." And what we've seen is two, three, four, I mean there's now more e-mails, I don't know how many more have come out. But it's very clear that the personnel there was not sensitive to what seemed to be a very obvious wrong thing to do.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. And Chris Matthews, it's interesting. Republicans have been very quiet about this. But some of the more harsh criticism has been, "Hey, Chris Christie was done in conservative eyes when he put his arm around Barack Obama during Hurricane Sandy." That's what you've heard over and over again this week.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Yeah. Well, that's the interesting thing. And I've always liked Christie's style, because I'm an east coast guy, and I like the south Jersey, "None of your business," kind of thing. I do like that. But I do think that his reputation was that of a troubleshooter. He got the hurricane situation, Sandy, right on top of it. He was moving fast. He was there with his fleece, getting to work.

In the case of the bridge closings, four days in a row, four hours in shutdown of the traffic, things happening, ambulances are going to get through, where was the troubleshooter then? Why wasn't he asking everybody, "What happened here? What's really going on here?" Because he didn't want to know.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

That's what it sounds like.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm going to have to make that--

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

He didn't want to know.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm going to have to make that the last word. We're out of time. Thank you all. Great topics that are (CHUCKLE) going to continue. Thanks once again. Coming up, we switch gears a bit here. My colleague, Maria Shriver, is going to be here on how women are struggling to push back from the brink of poverty. Her new Shriver Report with some groundbreaking information. And I discuss it with her right after this.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Now, some of this week’s images to remember

(“IMAGES TO REMEMBER” SEGMENT)

DAVID GREGORY:

This week’s images to remember. Coming up next here, 50 years since the war on poverty. Women are doing it all, those breadwinners and caregivers. But millions are still struggling financially. Maria Shriver is here to unveil the startling results of her new report next. It's a new Shriver Report. We'll talk about that.

***Commercial Break***

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (ON TAPE):

And that's unacceptable. After 50 years, isn't it time to declare big government's war on poverty a failure?

DAVID GREGORY:

That was Florida Senator Marco Rubio from a video he released this week. It was 50 years ago that President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. Well now, a new report from NBC News Special Anchor Maria Shriver gives us an eye-opening look at the financial struggles for millions of women in the U.S.. It is called The Shriver Report, the latest in a series, a woman's nation pushes back from the brink. Maria is here to reveal her results. Maria, welcome back.

MARIA SHRIVER:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Before we have our conversation, I want to look at some of the key findings of the report.

(TAKE PKG)

DAVID GREGORY:

The troubling headline from the report: that one in three American women live at or near the brink of poverty. That's 42 million women and 28 million children who depend on them, living just a medical illness, a missed paycheck, a broken down car, away from economic ruin. The face of economic insecurity has changed from 50 years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson launched his war on poverty.

The man who led that effort was Maria Shriver's father, Sargent Shriver. He appeared here on Meet the Press back in 1965.

SARGENT SHRIVER:

They're getting too little food, inadequate education. They're living in substandard housing. But most of all, they have no chance of getting out of the condition they're in and joining the rest of American society.

DAVID GREGORY:

Back then, the face of poverty was Appalachia. Today, it's mothers like Katrina Gilbert, who works as a nurse in a senior center.

KATRINA GILBERT:

Hi, Mr. Ranger (PH). Are you done?

MR. RENGER:

Yes, I am.

DAVID GREGORY:

Her story is profiled in a new HBO documentary made for The Shriver Report.

KATRINA GILBERT (natural sound):

I'll be back tomorrow.

KATRINA GILBERT:

$9.49 an hour for what we do.

DAVID GREGORY:

For millions of women like Katrina, The Shriver Report documents how the dream of having it all has morphed into just hanging on. Working mothers caught between their roles as breadwinners and primary caregivers.

BOY:

Did you call us, Dad?

DAD:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

It isn't the Cleaver family of the 1950s anymore. Today, only 20% of families have a father who works and a stay-at-home mom. Now, four out of every ten families with children have mothers who are the primary or only breadwinner. And the report looked at how women on the brink view their own lives. 54% feel, "The harder I work, the more I fall behind." 60% feel, "The economy does not work for people like me." And 75% wish they had stayed in school longer. But these women are also optimistic. 62% believe their financial situation will get better in the next five years.

(END PKG)

DAVID GREGORY:

And we're back with Maria.

MARIA SHRIVER:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Good to see you.

MARIA SHRIVER:

Yeah. That's exciting. I think all of the women think that their lives can get better. But I think it's a wakeup call to the United States that one in three working women in this country are in economic peril.

DAVID GREGORY:

And what I'm so curious about, and which you write about in this report, is women have arrived, have transformed society in so many ways, getting more power, becoming breadwinners, still as caregivers. That's a huge impact, from leadership, to consumer behavior, and yet, this.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And yet, the one in the three on the brink. Why?

MARIA SHRIVER:

Well, because so many women don't have the advantages that other women have, just like men. I mean so many of the women that responded to our poll said that they wished they had stayed and gotten their education. That's a predictor of being in the economic peril. The message of this report is to women, as well, to say, "You must think of yourself as providers, not being provided for. You've got to stay in school. You've got to get your education. Delay family planning as long as you possibly can. Because those are prime indicators of ending up on the brink."

DAVID GREGORY:

We were just talking about men's and women's roles changing in society.

MARIA SHRIVER:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

And we're going to do that at some point and have that larger conversation, because it's so interesting and so important. But this plays a role, right, in a huge way, in how, for one thing, how women negotiate some of these difficulties at work, where they may have a tough school, may not have a lot of leverage. This is not Sheryl Sandberg talking about leaning in. These are certainly women who are leaning in, but they're still stuck.

MARIA SHRIVER:

Well, these are women who feel like they don't have a foundation to stand on. They don't want to be told to reach for the glass ceiling or the C-Suite. They don't have a foundation. They don't have flexible hours. Two thirds of all workers that are minimum wage workers are women. 70% of those women don't have one sick day. And the poll that we did, which was over 3,000 people, responds the number one thing that would make the most difference to them was getting sick days. So

DAVID GREGORY:

But how do they negotiate better?

MARIA SHRIVER:

Well, first of all--

DAVID GREGORY:

How do they negotiate these issues better?

MARIA SHRIVER:

--they have to come together, right? For those women, like you saw Katrina Gilbert, negotiating isn't even on her plate. She's trying to figure out how to take care of her kids, pay her rent, put food on the table. She's looking also to go back to school, because she doesn't want to stay in the low paying job that she has. These are people who are trying to survive on minimum wage, which is not a living wage.

DAVID GREGORY:

The report itself is so interesting, as I've talked about, because I've been going through it, and it's such a great resource and an interesting read at different levels. You have Lebron James paying tribute to his mom, who was a single mother and was such a rock of stability for him and for his later success. The role of men here is interesting. Because there's a lot of single moms you're talking about in this book. But men as caregivers has got to be a part of this conversation.

MARIA SHRIVER:

Men are totally a part of this conversation in terms of how they raise their daughters, in terms of how they support their wives and their partners. And what's good for women, at the center of the economy, is also good for men. Men need flexible hours. Men need sick days, because they're going to be caring for parents, as well. Men need all of the things that these women need. These are smart family policies that we're talking about in this report.

And I think if people are interested in the report, you can download it for free at ShriverReport.org and read about it and understand what these issues are. What we're saying is that government and businesses have not kept up. And we need to modernize our relationships to women.

DAVID GREGORY:

And you heard Marco Rubio. There's obviously a debate. Conservatives want to get more into the discussion of dealing with poverty, even as they pronounce the war on poverty by Lyndon Johnson a failure. Where does government play a role?

MARIA SHRIVER:

Well, I would just like to correct that, that the war on poverty was not a failure. And Daddy ran the war on poverty. Many of those programs still exist today. When the war on poverty was funded, it was a success. When the money was taken from the war on poverty and diverted to the war in Vietnam, it lost its momentum.

But programs like Head Start, Vista, Job Corps, Legal Services for the Poor, the people that benefited from those programs, I don't think, think it was a failure. But I think it's great that Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and others, are engaged in this debate right now. That's what we wanted to do with this report was to ignite a conversation about low income people.

DAVID GREGORY:

But do they talk enough--

MARIA SHRIVER:

What do they need?

DAVID GREGORY:

--about women--

(OVERTALK)

MARIA SHRIVER:

They haven't talked about women at all, as far as I'm concerned, which is why I was happy to be able to go and give this report to Congressman Ryan. And I hope Senator Rubio begins to talk about putting women at the center of some of the proposals they're putting forward. But I think this will be an issue that Democrats and Republicans have got to come together on.

I learned by being a Democratic First Lady in a Republican administration, in a Democratic state, that there's a lot that states can do that's innovative. There are a lot of innovative things going on in nonprofits, in church groups. And so I think that when Democrats and Republicans can come together on these issues-- we will see movement, we will see political will.

But also, I think women, who are 54% of the vote, they should come together and support men and women who are running for office, who talk about these things. It's not the purview of just Democrats. It's not the purview of just female politicians and elected leaders. Men have a lot to say about this, as well.

DAVID GREGORY:

And maybe understanding that it's the power of women is ultimately the power of our country, not separating it out.

MARIA SHRIVER:

Absolutely not. I think women are at the center of our country. They're at the center, as I said, in electing our political leaders. They're at the center of the economy. They're in the center of the family. And when women do well, men do well, and the nation does well. And when women do well, they don't just support other women doing well, but we support our sons and our daughters.

And I think this, I hope, will ignite an entire conversation about women who are doing really well, and though that are on the margins. We call for women to be 21st century employers themselves. There's a lot that we can do that involves personal responsibility, that involves business, and that involves government. So I would agree with Rubio and Ryan, that it's not just the area of government. But I would say that there's a lot that government still can do.

DAVID GREGORY:

20 seconds left. You talked about your mother. She felt power was really about becoming a politicians.

MARIA SHRIVER:

In her day and age--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

MARIA SHRIVER:

--that's where power was. Today I believe that power is in the streets, and that Washington responds to the power that comes up from the street. So I hope that people will read this report, take it in, talk about it at their kitchen tables. And I hope parents will talk to their daughters about being providers--

DAVID GREGORY:

Okay.

MARIA SHRIVER:

--for themselves and their family.

DAVID GREGORY:

I will. I will do that.

MARIA SHRIVER:

(CHUCKLE) You'll do that right away.

DAVID GREGORY:

Absolutely.

MARIA SHRIVER:

Go home, do that.

DAVID GREGORY:

When I get home. Thanks, Maria.

MARIA SHRIVER:

I thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Great to see you. A reminder to viewers, tomorrow morning on Today, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates with his first live interview since the release of his new memoir Duty that we've talked about on the program today. Here on Meet the Press next week, I'll interview Secretary Gates about his book. That is all for today. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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