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“Crazy Men, Quivering Women”: Chris Christie, Surrounded By Emotional Liars?

How has Chris Christie “carried himself”? In a way that supports any story he wants to tell, apparently. There is a good man in the governor’s office of New Jersey—the lawyers whom he hired figured that out, after spending a million dollars in taxpayer money on an internal investigation into the decision to choke the town of Fort Lee with traffic. Their report clears Christie of blame entirely; while they’re at it, the lawyers say that Christie didn’t go after political opponents, didn’t encourage or create a culture that encouraged such actions, and was an all-around beacon of bipartisanship. The sad thing is that he had in his ambit a small-timer with “crazy” ideas and a woman who had learned that a man was no longer interested in her and a family member in the hospital which might, they suggest, explain why she was such a liar.

“We recognize that, over the course of his first term, Governor Christie has been criticized for being blunt,” the report says. “Some have even gone so far to use the term ‘bully.’ Frankness alone, however, does not equate to encouraging acts of political retaliation. And we found no evidence to support such a leap.” In other words, the only real danger in character was his frankness—and it’s something that he has managed to overcome.

“The Governor’s reactions at various points during this period of intensified media scrutiny, from December 2013 through January 2014, reflect the words and actions of someone telling the truth,” the report notes. It lists those “reactions,” which include bringing the law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; one does understand why they would admire that, just as they admire how Christie asked for nothing but the truth: “Governor Christie began the meeting by entering his office, slamming the door, and then standing at the head of the table.” He wanted to know all:

Members of senior staff separately recalled that, when Governor Christie delivered this instruction, he slowly scanned the room, making eye contact with each person, in order to convey the gravity of his direction…. No one responded. As they exited quietly, everyone appeared to be shocked by what had just happened. Members of senior staff commented that it seemed clear from the Governor’s words and demeanor that he had no involvement in or knowledge of the lane realignment.

And, at the table, supposedly quivering, was Bridget Kelly, his Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. (One participant “observed that Kelly seemed emotional during the meeting.”) On August 12, 2013, between 7 P.M. and 7:30 P.M., she’d called Matthew Mowers, who was working on Christie’s campaign, and asked whether Mark Sokolich, the Mayor of Fort Lee, was going to endorse Christie. She was told that he wasn’t; according to the report: “Kelly responded, in sum or in substance, that that was all she needed to know.” At 7:34 A.M. the next morning—just twelve hours later—she sent an e-mail to David Wildstein, the guy with the “crazy” ideas, who is also a Christie appointee to the Port Authority and went to high school with Christie, saying, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” And then David Wildstein went about creating a “study,” as well as some traffic problems in Fort Lee. They also e-mailed and texted each other during the lane closures—about how, among other things, the kids being kept from school because their busses were held up were just the “children of Buono voters.”

The reports’ writers, who include lawyers with personal connections to Christie, accept that the choking of Fort Lee had “some ulterior motive.” It is discussed in e-mail after e-mail, and not only by Bridget Kelly. The problem is that, because the people in the e-mail and text exchanges know what the deal is, they don’t need to spell it out. The lawyers acknowledge that there is evidence it was “meant to target Mayor Sokolich for some reason”—but they sure can’t figure out what the reason is. Nor do they seriously engage with the question of what or who else might have been at work, and what other interests, political or financial, the Christie Administration or campaign might have had in Fort Lee. In that respect, the report is pretty much useless. (It also keeps a relative distance from David Samson, the Chairman of the Port Authority and an ally of Christie, who announced Samson’s resignation on Friday, effective immediately.) Instead, it raises the possibility that this had nothing to do with Christie or his cause at all (emphasis added):

Rather, there are other credible theories that this could have been motivated, in part, by other personal or political animus, unrelated to the Governor or his re-election.

The bully’s eye goes to the girl in the room. Its authors say they have no idea why all this happened—just that Wildstein seems to have conceived it and Kelly “blessed” it—but they find it very interesting that Kelly had had a relationship with Bill Stepien, Christie’s campaign manager. “Like the others involved in the lane realignment, events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind.” But we really only hear about hers:

And her first known communication to Wildstein about the lane realignment in mid-August 2013, for example, occurred around the time that her personal relationship with Stepien had cooled, apparently at Stepien’s behest and Stepien and Kelly had largely stopped speaking.

The Times spoke to friends and colleagues who were “outraged” by this portrayal of Kelly, which they did not recognize. Is the idea that when Stepien cooled toward her she lost her way and directed her unregulated passions at the approaches to the George Washington Bridge? What is odd about this insertion is that Stepien was part of the conversation around the closures—and a supportive one, outraged when a New York Port Authority official tried to undo it. Christie eventually asked him to resign from the Republican Governors’ Association post he got after the election. Both he and Kelly seem to have been fully, politically involved in the traffic story. (Both have taken the Fifth Amendment in official investigations.) But, maybe, the report seems to be saying, this is all some personal thing, part of the realm of women, and not the political one that Chris Christie occupies.

The idea that there are different planes comes up again, on a point so awkward that the report’s authors can deal with it only in a run-on sentence:

Wildstein even suggested he mentioned the traffic issue in Fort Lee to the Governor at a public event during the lane realignment—a reference that the Governor does not recall and, even if actually made, would not have registered with the Governor in any event because he knew nothing about this decision in advance and would not have considered another traffic issue at one of the bridges or tunnels to be memorable.

If this were true, it would have been damaging for Christie. But he does not remember, and why would he, if it was just David Wildstein talking? (The report is just as dismissive of Dawn Zimmer, the Mayor of Hoboken, who’d suggested that Sandy aid was used as political leverage—another drama, given similar treatment.)

The event was a 9/11 memorial (one of the low aspects of this traffic debacle is that it included the anniversary day), and there were a lot of people there. When the damaging e-mails about Bridgegate first came out, Christie held a press conference in which he spent a lot of time talking about what a nothing David Wildstein was—not his friend, just some guy. But what is remarkable about Bridgegate is that it brings together the Governor’s office, his political operation, and his patronage appointees. These are the people he wanted around him then; now, he welcomes those who disparage them. On Thursday night, Christie told Diane Sawyer that it was all a reminder of how “stupid” people could be, but that it said nothing about who he was or how he ran his state—or about what might happen in the 2016 election. People in New Jersey loved him, he said, “they love me in Iowa.” They are just waiting for him to stride into the room, slam the door, and stand at the head of the table.

 

By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, March 28, 2014

March 30, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Willful Ignorance?”: Did Chris Christie Turn A Blind Eye?

Well, that was a virtuoso performance by Chris Christie yesterday. For about 20 minutes. Unfortunately for him, he spoke, and spoke, and spoke, for about 110 minutes.

For the first 20, he had something to say—firing deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, announcing that his former campaign manager Bill Stepien would have no role going forward either in Trenton or with the Republican Governors’ Association. He summoned the requisite fake contrition and outrage. It all could have been a big recovery.

Then he just kept talking. Let’s put it this way. When you say toward the beginning of a press conference with some degree of dramatic flair that you’re going to go up to Ft. Lee to meet with the mayor, and then you end up talking long enough so that a chyron eventually appears at the bottom of the TV screen that says (I forget the precise wording) Ft. Lee Mayor Doesn’t Want to Meet With Christie, you’ve gone way past lights out. (They did meet in the end.) He was like Norma Desmond up there, still craving the spotlight after the spotlight had long since been dimmed.

In much of pundit land, “time” equals “candor,” as Christie is undoubtedly aware, so he surely knew that the longer he went on, the more some pundits would gush. But I think he started to repeat himself and become tiresome, and he left thousands of words on video tape that can someday be used against him.

Maybe there was a reason Christie was filibustering. Sometime shortly after noon, his disgraced ex-Port Authority  appointee David Wildstein started testifying before the legislative committee leading the investigation into “Bridgegate”, having failed in his bid to quash the subpoena that required him to do so. Good chance, it seems to me, that if Christie had finished up before noon, the cable networks would have gone straight to Wildstein invoking the Fifth Amendment (as indeed they eventually did). So maybe Christie was running out the clock. The more him, the less Wildstein.

Turns out, though, that Christie was running out the clock in more ways than one. In New Jersey, a legislature’s subpoena power into a particular investigation ends when the legislative session ends. In this case, that’s next week: January 14. That might not mean much, because the assembly (where the investigation is taking place) is in Democratic hands in the current (ending) session, and will remain in Democratic hands in the next one, so one might assume the new legislature would renew the probe.

But here’s the wrinkle: The speakership of the assembly is changing hands, from Sheila Oliver, who has a rocky history with Christie, to Vincent Prieto, who has no such history. So maybe there was a chance that Prieto wasn’t going to continue the investigation. Indeed, he’d refused to say one way or the other for a long time as the scandal percolated. But once these damning emails came out, Prieto had little choice, and sure enough, he finally said Wednesday that the investigation will continue into the next session.

So think of this from Christie’s perspective: He had to be sitting there thinking, all I have to do here is make it to January 15 when the new session starts, and maybe this whole thing will die.

And so, the most plausible current theory of the case to me. Christie knew, in his head, what happened here. He’s not a stupid man. And even if he were a stupid man, this controversy has been in the media for several weeks now. So there can be virtually no question that he knew that the notion that the lanes were closed for political reasons existed as an allegation. But he pointedly didn’t ask any questions, or at least any probing questions in search of honest answers.

Stop and think about that. If it’s true, as he’s been saying, that he had no idea all this was political until Wednesday, then he’s telling us that while allegations were swirling around in the state’s newspapers and political web sites, he a) perhaps didn’t even read them or b) read them but didn’t ask any hard questions of either his staff, his campaign manager, or his Port Authority appointees.  Remember, he said he didn’t even speak to Bridget Kelly about this until Wednesday.

So that was Christie’s probable posture here. Ignorance is bliss. He did everything he could not to know, waiting for January 15, when, he was hoping, the whole thing would just go away.

But now it’s not going away in the assembly, and of course he now has the bigger problem of the U.S. Attorney sniffing around. He hung the people involved in this out to dry. When the U.S. Attorney starts asking questions, how strong an urge are they going to feel to protect the governor?

This story is a long way from over. What was redacted (or can we just say censored?) from those emails and texts? Was this really “the exception, not the rule” in how the Christie administration tries to enforce political loyalty? We’ll presumably find out answers to these questions.

And if even Christie is telling the truth, that Wednesday was the first time he’d heard that the lane closures were a political act, all that means is that he went out of his way to make sure he didn’t hear it, which in turn means there was a grotesque abuse of political power that happened right under his nose and that he not only didn’t try to get to the bottom of, but tried to sweat it out until January 15. That’s some definition of leadership.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 10, 2014

January 13, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chris Christie Is Not The Victim”: The Governor Accepted Full Responsibility But Not An Ounce Of Blame

You know a politician is having a bad day when he has to stand before a news conference and plead, “I am who I am, but I am not a bully.”

Frankly, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was unconvincing on that score Thursday as he attempted to contain a widening abuse-of-power scandal. Moreover, Christie displayed a degree of egocentrism that can only be described as stunning. His apologies would have sounded more sincere if he hadn’t portrayed himself as the real victim.

A bit of background is needed: During his successful reelection campaign last fall, Christie — shown by polls to be a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, should he decide to seek it — tried to run up the score by winning endorsements from elected officials across the state, Democrats as well as Republicans.

The mayor of Fort Lee, the town on the New Jersey end of the George Washington Bridge to New York City, declined to give Christie his support. Shortly thereafter, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent an e-mail to an official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — the agency that controls the bridge — that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

The e-mail went to David Wildstein, who was installed at the Port Authority by Christie and has known the governor since high school. He replied to Kelly: “Got it.”

Four weeks later, on Sept. 9, Wildstein ordered the closure of two traffic lanes approaching the bridge from Fort Lee, ostensibly to conduct a traffic study. This may sound like a minor inconvenience, but the George Washington Bridge is one of the most heavily traveled in the country. Closing the lanes caused hours-long traffic jams in Fort Lee for four straight days, snaring commuters in hopeless gridlock. In one widely reported incident, an elderly woman died of cardiac arrest after emergency responders were delayed by the snarl.

Further e-mail traffic involving Kelly, Wildstein and Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien — mostly using their personal e-mail accounts, not their official ones — showed unalloyed glee at the mess Wildstein had created. Finally, a Port Authority higher-up discovered what Wildstein had done and reversed the order.

All along, Christie had ridiculed the suggestion that there was any political motivation in the lane closures. On Thursday, faced with proof to the contrary, he apologized and said he had been “betrayed” by staff members and associates he believed he could trust. “I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” he said.

Christie announced that he has fired Kelly — not because she helped create a maddening and dangerous situation for the people of Fort Lee but because she lied when Christie asked all the members of his senior staff whether they had any involvement in the affair.

That was the central message of Christie’s nearly two-hour performance before reporters: I was betrayed by people I trusted. I’m the victim here.

The whole episode “makes me ask . . . what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me,” Christie said. He described his principal emotion as “sadness” at the betrayals by associates to whom he had shown loyalty — and from whom he expected loyalty in return.

The governor accepted full responsibility but not an ounce of blame. “Politics ain’t beanbag,” he said, but “that’s very, very different than saying that, you know, someone’s a bully.”

But is it really all that different? Christie maintained that he never sought the endorsement of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich — never even met him, actually — and therefore had no reason to want him punished. What, then, would make his deputy chief of staff and several of his closest political associates think otherwise?

If Christie is truly in the mood for soul-searching, asking how his aides could tell him such lies should be secondary. The more urgent question is what Christie might have said or done to make these loyal lieutenants conclude it would be appropriate — and a lot of fun — to torment the people of Fort Lee because of the mayor’s refusal to pledge fealty.

Federal prosecutors are reviewing the whole affair. One obvious question is whether other officials who declined to endorse Christie faced retribution of any kind.

If voters see Christie’s pugnacious, in-your-face political persona as refreshing, he has a big future. If they see it as thuggish, he doesn’t. In that sense, you’re right, Governor. This is all about you.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 9, 2014

January 11, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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