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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

“Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave”: Christie’s Exoneration By His Own Lawyers Is Even More Conflicted Than It Looks

Did you hear? Chris Christie has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the three-day lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September launched by his aides and Port Authority appointees as retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. So, who issued the exoneration—was it the legislative committee that’s been looking into the closures? Or the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey who is also investigating them?

No, it was Christie’s own lawyers. The New York Times reports:

With his office suddenly engulfed in scandal over lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey two months ago summoned a pair of top defense lawyers from an elite law firm to the State House and asked them to undertake an extensive review of what had gone wrong.

Now, after 70 interviews and at least $1 million in legal fees to be paid by state taxpayers, that review is set to be released, and according to people with firsthand knowledge of the inquiry, it has uncovered no evidence that the governor was involved in the plotting or directing of the lane closings…It will be viewed with intense skepticism, not only because it was commissioned by the governor but also because the firm conducting it, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, has close ties to the Christie administration and the firm’s lawyers were unable to interview three principal players in the shutdowns, including Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff.

But lawyers from the team who led the inquiry are prepared to vigorously defend their work, which they described as an unfettered look into the inner workings of an administration known to prize loyalty and privacy.

Lower down in the article, it notes: “Gibson Dunn has worked for the administration in the past, and Mr. Christie is friendly with a top partner there, Debra Wong Yang, who like him was appointed United States attorney by President George W. Bush in the early 2000s.”

That’s putting it mildly. What the article does not note is that Debra Wong Yang was one of six lawyers who received highly lucrative contracts from then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in 2007 to monitor a half-dozen medical device makers as part of a “deferred prosecution agreement” he reached with the companies after an inquiry into allegedly fraudulent billing practices. The contract that got the most attention when they were inadvertently disclosed in 2008 was the one awarded to John Ashcroft, who had been Attorney General at the time of Christie’s selection as U.S. Attorney in 2001, and who received between $28 million and $52 million for 18 months of work. Another contract that drew scrutiny at the time was the one that went to the former U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, whose office had just two years earlier opted not to bring criminal charges against Christie’s brother, a Wall Street trader who had been named in a civil SEC complaint but, unlike most of the others in the complaint, had not been hit with criminal charges as well. Both that contract and the Ashcroft one were the target of questioning by a House committee that called down Christie in 2009; the contracts also prompted a revision of Department of Justice guidelines for deferred prosecution agreements.

Now, two of the other contracts have come under more scrutiny. One, worth $10 million, had gone to David Samson, a former state attorney general whom Christie went on to name chairman of the Port Authority and who is now the subject of several federal subpoenas himself as the lane closures investigation broadens out into other matters involving the Port Authority.

And another, the amount of which has never been disclosed, went to Yang, who had in 2002 become the first ever Asian-American woman to be named U.S. Attorney. Her selection as a corporate monitor by Christie had raised fewer questions than the others, beyond the fact that she was a loyal Republican with close ties to Alberto Gonzales, who succeeded Ashcroft as attorney general. But as the Star-Ledger of Newark recently noted, Yang had in 2011 introduced Christie at a 2011 event in New York in glowing terms that suggested their association went beyond being merely fellow former prosecutors, describing him as her “very dear friend” and “truly the real deal.”*

And now Christie has hired her firm, where she is co-chair of the white-collar defense and investigations practice group, to lead the taxpayer-funded inquiry into his administration. In fact, Yang is part of the team working on the case, according to Randy Mastro, the former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani who is leading the team for Gibson Dunn.

Neither Yang nor Christie’s spokesman responded to requests for comment today, but Mastro previously dismissed concerns about any conflict between Yang’s receipt of the lucrative contract from Christie and her work on the team “investigating” his administration. “The work that Deb Yang performed years ago for a private company is completely unrelated to the work now being done in New Jersey today,” Mastro told the Star-Ledger. “Her reputation for integrity and independence is unparalleled. She was one of the most respected US Attorneys in the country and, before that, a distinguished California judge.”

This of course sidesteps the question: the work was indeed paid for by a “private company,” a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. But Yang got the job from Christie.

It should be noted that Yang’s history with Christie is only one of a tangle of associations and potential conflicts among lawyers and clients in the legal fallout from the lane closure scandal. Mastro, the lead Gibson Dunn lawyer representing Christie, had until recently been representing the Port Authority on a case challenging its toll increases. Port Authority Chairman Samson’s lawyer is Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of Homeland Security who is a predecessor of Christie’s as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.

Most notable, perhaps, is the representation for Bridget Anne Kelly, the former Christie aide who issued the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” order and whose testimony, if any, will be so crucial to the investigation. She first hired as her lawyer Walter Timpone, whom Christie had selected as his chief deputy as U.S. Attorney before having to choose someone else when it emerged that Timpone had not been candid about a visit he paid to the home of then-senator Robert Torricelli, who was under federal surveillance at the time as part of an investigation into possible campaign finance abuses and had played a key role in signing off on Christie’s nomination as U.S. Attorney. Soon after Kelly hired Timpone, he stepped back from the case because of a potential conflict, his role as the Christie-appointed vice chairman of the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission. So Kelly instead turned to Michael Critchley, one of the most top (and reputedly most expensive) defense lawyers in the state, who has done a lot of representation of George Norcross, the powerful Democratic boss from South Jersey with whom Christie has enjoyed a mutually beneficial alliance. In fact, it was Critchley who set up a legendary 2003 dinner in New Brunswick between Christie and Norcross, at a time when Norcross was under state investigation—an investigation that was later referred to Christie but he decided to pass on.

In other words, a lawyer with very close ties to George Norcross, who already has considerable leverage over Chris Christie given Christie’s reliance on him for providing Democratic votes in the legislature, is now advising Bridget Kelly on whether she should or should not cooperate with prosecutors from Chris Christie’s former office in their investigation into what really happened inside Christie’s administration in the matter of the retaliatory lane closures.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave”—Sir Walter Scott wouldn’t even know where to start with this one.

*Addendum, 5 p.m.: As Matt Katz at WNYC has reported, Yang also contributed $500 to the fund to pay for Christie’s second inauguration this past January, just before she and her firm were hired for the taxpayer-funded job of representing him.

 

By: Alex MacGillis, The New Republic, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How The Media Created Chris Christie”: Sloppy And Power Mad, He Never Was A Scandal-Free Moderate

Poor Chris Christie: It gets worse. If you don’t pay close attention to politics, it’s got to be stunning how quickly he’s gone from the great “moderate” presidential hope of the mainstream media and Republican establishment to embarrassingly sloppy, power-mad and quite possibly corrupt governor. Let me explain.

But first, let me recap the latest in Christie scandal news. In the last day alone: CNN reported a federal probe into why Christie spent $4.5 million of Hurricane Sandy aid on what was essentially a political ad for himself (instead of just over $2 million on a New Jersey tourism ad that didn’t feature Christie and his family). MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki identified what looks like the real impetus for the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal: a huge real estate development. That was almost inevitable: All politics is about real estate.

New email and text message evidence emerged that Christie lied last Thursday when he said bridge official David Samson had nothing to do with the lane closures.  Oh, and I love this one, from Friday: Christie’s old baseball coach seemed to refute his pettiest and most predictably refuted Thursday lie, that he wasn’t friends, wasn’t even acquaintances, with key bridge scandal player David Wildstein: He and Wildstein were both on Livingston High’s baseball team, according to their old coach.

Now, Wildstein was the team’s nerdy stat guy while Christie was a player, but given other evidence that links them, the coach’s story makes Christie’s Thursday claim that he wasn’t even acquaintances with Wildstein in high school look extra petty and vindictive and, well, just plain mean.

But nerdy stat guys tend to like data and documents and have long memories. Wildstein displays evidence of all three traits, as proven by the 2,000 pages of documents he’s already dropped relating to the bridge scandal. So, as I’ve already written, twice, Christie’s 2016 hopes are dead, and his governorship is in real jeopardy.

Still, as the bridge scandal unfolds, and brings with it renewed media reporting on all sorts of old Christie troubles, from his playing ugly politics with state Supreme Court nominees (Rachel Maddow’s novel theory for raining punishment on Fort Lee) to the lingering controversy over his use of Sandy aid (and it’s not only about commercials), it’s hard not to be shocked anew that Christie was ever considered a leading presidential candidate. It’s also shocking that he coasted to reelection just two months ago, crushing state Sen. Barbara Buono – but the two phenomena are connected. Christie’s strong national reputation convinced local and national Democrats and even liberal media figures to either ignore the New Jersey race or, in some cases, back Christie.

My colleagues Alex Pareene and Blake Zeff do a great job explaining some of Christie’s outsize media appeal. As Zeff notes, though Christie is a hard-line conservative, not a moderate, he took a page from other blue state Republicans, most notably Rudy Giuliani, and picked a couple of issues on which to break with his party and/or buck extremists – for Giuliani, it was abortion and to some extent gay rights (or at least abstaining from homophobia); for Christie, it was abstaining from Islamaphobia and then, of course, seeking Hurricane Sandy aid, for which he literally and figuratively embraced President Obama.

It didn’t hurt that both men are larger than life bullies, because for odd reasons, media folks seem to like bullies and mean guys, as long as they’re mean to the right people.  As Pareene points out, the central fetish of the mainstream pundit class has been fiscal austerity and rolling back the welfare state. So as long as Christie hummed Bruce Springsteen songs while sticking it to the union workers and struggling folks Springsteen sings about, he was a Beltway hero.

I think there’s something else at work, something psychological, maybe, and harder to get at. I think the mainstream media and its dominant pundits are unable to take in exactly how far to the right the Republican Party has swung in the last decade, and so they need to invent “moderates” to keep from writing over and over about the party’s departure from political sanity. And when their moderates either show themselves as extremists, as Christie has repeatedly, or else as severely flawed politicians, as Christie has lately, those pundits either ignore it or rush to rescue them over and over.

Mark Halperin is, as always, a good example. Now, to be fair to Halperin, the biggest news he and John Heilemann broke in their “Game Change” sequel had to do with the Romney team’s misgivings about Christie as a running mate in 2012. They weren’t just about his temperament, as in Christie’s self-promoting loose cannon, though there was some of that. They were ethical, going back to investigations he endured into abuse of power as well as overspending back when he was U.S. attorney. It was fascinating reading.

Yet Halperin immediately praised Christie’s Thursday press conference, otherwise known as his two-hour pity party, as a “virtuoso” performance. And on Sunday Halperin Tweeted:

Best ’16 political news for @GovChristie : no one else in the field is strong/rising or had a great ’13. He remains as strong as anyone else

— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) January 12, 2014

Sadly for Barbara Buono, the Halperin-Heilemann book came out the day of her landslide loss to Christie. It belatedly opened the door for the national media to reexamine Christie’s ethics problems; then came the bridge scandal. Looking back, I think even I was taken in by Christie’s Hurricane Sandy performance and the perceived inevitability of his reelection.  I didn’t write one word about Buono’s campaign, though I may have said one or two nice things on MSNBC.

I saw Buono at an MSNBC studio last week, and I apologized to her for not doing my job – for assuming Christie was a shoo-in and mostly ignoring the New Jersey gubernatorial election, paying attention to closer races. I hope a lot of Democrats are doing the same. Mostly, though, I hope the media can learn a lesson from its Christie fever, but that’s even less likely.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, January 13, 2014

January 16, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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