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“Chris Christie Spares No Legal Expense”: Short-Changing The State’s Pension Fund Is Another Story

Anyone who slogged through the 344-page report on Bridgegate from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s lawyers in March understood that this old fashioned whitewash would be extremely expensive.The governor hired one of the nation’s  big time law firms, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which dutifully declared that Gov. Christie was not to blame for the massive traffic jams last year. Those problems were the work of others, the report insisted. The governor’s hands were clean.

Now taxpayers are starting to see what that one-sided report is really costing them. The latest invoices show that the state has been billed over $3 million in legal fees for work on behalf of the governor’s office. The governor’s legal team billed the state $1.1 million for work in January and another $2.6 million for February. Since the report came out in late March, there will undoubtedly be a few more eye-popping invoices to come. Moreover,  other administration employees will require legal help as the investigations continue.

The governor and his staff deserve legal help, of course, and it’s customary for the public to pay for it. But at a time when Mr. Christie is squeezing every extra penny out of his state budget and short-changing the state’s pension fund, the governor has spared no expense on his lawyers.

Taxpayers should question whether the gold-plated report is, at best, another form of public relations for the governor. Despite all the interviews, the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher team failed to talk with many of the major players, including  Bridget Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who was fired by Mr. Christie, and David Wildstein, a former Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The report blamed Ms. Kelly and Mr. Wildstein for the scandal, adding disparaging comments about both.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, N.J., who charged that the administration threatened to cut her Hurricane Sandy funds if she failed to support a development promoted by the governor’s allies, also refused to talk to the governor’s lawyers.. Without her side of the story, the report mocked her for yawning at a public event (thereby showing that she had not been upset about threats) and concluded that her charges “do not match objective reality.” The public is supposed to fork over millions of dollars for that?

The acting state attorney general, John Hoffman, should take a hard look at some of these bills and decide whether  the taxpayers of New Jersey are being over-charged.

 

By: Eleanor Randolph, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 11, 2014

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Chris Christie Bullies Again”: Bullies Bully Out Of Weakness, And Christie Is Now Weaker Than He’s Ever Been

Gov. Chris Christie says he’s been humbled, that he’s been doing some “soul-searching” after his staff got caught arranging traffic jams to punish political enemies.

But bullies bully out of weakness, and Christie is now weaker than he’s ever been. He can’t possibly give up his only real political asset—a talent for intimidation that makes victims want to be on his side to win his protection—when he needs it most.

In only the latest example, his legal team is spitting paper at the Jersey pols who’ve crossed him. Christie’s choice as lead attorney for his office’s “internal review,” Randy Mastro, sent a letter, obtained by The Bergen Record, to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer requesting a “private interview” and documents, including her correspondence with the press.

“In a show of force,” The Record reports, Mastro also wrote to “Hoboken officials that he had assembled a team of ‘five former federal prosecutors’ to look into Zimmer’s claims.”

Zimmer, of course, claims that Christie officials had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t support a particular real estate development, charges those officials deny.

At the same time Christie lawyers were beckoning Zimmer to their den, the governor’s office sent a memo to supporters with press clips about Zimmer that, it says, found “serious questions of authenticity, contradictions, and hypocrisy.”

Zimmer’s allegations are now the subject of a US Attorney investigation, and her attorney replied to Mastro by saying, “We question whether it is appropriate for the Governor’s Office, in essence, to be investigating itself, particularly when an investigation of the same subject matter is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

“Five former federal prosecuters,” charges of hypocrisy, a “private interview”—this stuff reeks of bullying. But Mastro, The Record writes, “seems to try to dispel any notion that the letter is meant to intimidate a witness—he notified federal authorities in advance that he would be contacting potential witnesses, he wrote.”

Still, as James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, told the Star Ledger, Mastro’s letters show him acting more like a defense attorney than as a fact-finder conducting an “internal review” to learn who dunnit. “The letters strike me as a fairly heavy-handed attempt to intimidate—and cleverly done,” Cohen said.

No matter how much humble pie Christie insists he’s eating, he just can’t quit the bullying. Remember how, during his marathon press conference, a reporter told him that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said it’d be “premature” for the governor to visit his town and apologize for the dangerous, five-day traffic jam his people created at the George Washington Bridge? Christie ignored Sokolich’s wishes, parked his entourage at Sokolich’s office, staged some photo ops with citizens not throwing tomatoes, and left the Fort Lee mayor saying he was relieved that Christie promised there’d be no more retribution. Now, Christie’s lawyers have invited Sokolich and his staff to hand over documents, too.

The attempt to put the squeeze on NJ mayors does double duty by also intimidating other potential witnesses and officials receiving subpoenas (the NJ legislators investigating the bridge scandal issued eighteen new subpoenas yesterday).

It’s all part of the web of fear that Christie has established throughout New Jersey. It’s aimed as much, if not more, at Democrats than at Republicans, and until the GWB scandal broke, that fear was passed off as the Christie miracle of “bipartisanship.”

Even though the former front-runner in the GOP presidential race now looks like he’ll never make it to the primaries, even though Christie boosters like Joe Scarborough say he should resign as the head of the Republican Governors Association, anyone who the governor’s office can conceivably touch still lives in fear of his wrath.

The bully can still steal their lunch.

UPDATE: This afternoon Christie spokesperson Colin Reed sent an email pushing back against New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, saying she made “no fewer than five misleading statements” on Morning Joe today. Most irksome perhaps was what she said about Mastro’s letters: “They’re trying to sort of threaten people, not explicitly, but saying, you know, we’re going to go back after you if you come after us.”

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, February 11, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One Christie Scandal Begets Another”: With Lost Credibility, It’s Hard Not To Take His Denials With A Grain Of Salt

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal did more than just expose serious wrongdoing in the governor’s office; it also opened the door to a rash other Christie controversies.

In some instances, scandals came to light after – and largely because of – the revelations about Fort Lee and the George Washington Bridge. Allegations from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (D), for example, about Christie administration officials connecting post-Sandy aid to a private development deal were unknown before the bridge story, in part because the mayor didn’t think anyone would believe her. Once the public learned what Team Christie was capable of – the governor has apologized for his aides’ misconduct – Zimmer hoped her accusations would get a fairer hearing.

But some controversies unfolded long before Fort Lee became the center of a national firestorm, and are suddenly getting a second look in light of recent revelations. The editorial board of the Star-Ledger, for example, highlighted another simmering matter over the weekend.

[W]e are reminded of the accusations of Ben Barlyn, a former Hunterdon County prosecutor who says he was fired because he refused to drop a case against a Christie ally. For the past year, he’s been striving to prove his story, paying through the nose for a civil lawsuit against the state while telling it to anyone who will listen.

Barlyn says that after he secured an indictment in 2010 against Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout, a Republican with political ties to Christie, he was fired and the case hastily killed by Christie’s appointed attorney general at the time, Paula Dow. The real story isn’t the mundane crimes that were alleged: hiring without proper background checks, making employees sign loyalty oaths, threatening critics and producing fake police badges for a prominent Christie donor. It’s the possible abuse of power by the administration’s head prosecutor.

Barlyn is now trying to compel the state Attorney General’s Office to release the grand jury transcripts to prove his case had legs.

He’s not the only one who says so: Four grand jurors and other dismissed prosecutors have come forward to agree. A judge even ordered the release of the transcripts – yet still, the state is refusing to comply. It has filed a torrent of briefs in an effort to suppress the grand jury record, and will continue this fight at a hearing Tuesday.

That’s tomorrow.

Barlyn’s concerns pre-date the bridge scandal by years, so it’s not as if one could plausibly accuse him of trying to exploit an unrelated controversy. On the contrary, he’s been eager to tell his story, though the Christie administration has tried to stop him from speaking publicly about the grand jury proceedings.

The governor’s chief spokesperson described Barlyn’s accusations as “wild-eyed conspiracy theories,” though the governor’s office has said this before. Indeed, Team Christie dismissed the Fort Lee allegations as “crazy,” right up until the governor conceded that many of the allegations of corruption were, in fact, true.

Indeed, it’s part of the lingering problem the governor and his team will have to deal with for a while: once someone has lost credibility, it’s hard not to take his or her denials with a grain of salt.

In Barlyn’s case, we don’t know whether politics was involved with his dismissal, but the Star-Ledger believes the accusations are serious enough to warrant a broader investigation: “What we need is a state legislative committee, the U.S. Attorney’s Office or a specially appointed prosecutor to get involved and issue subpoenas. Dow must be compelled to answer questions under oath, and the grand jury transcripts and other investigative materials must be turned over immediately.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 27, 2014

January 28, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chris Christie Versus The Lying Liars”: Somewhere Along The Line, Christie Missed The Lessons Of Glass Houses And Black Kettles

It’s been a rough turn in the spotlight of late for two New Jersey women: Bridget Kelly, Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken. Both have found themselves accused of lying. In Kelly’s case, Christie used his January 9 “Bridge-gate” press conference to announce that he had fired her “because she lied to me.” In Zimmer’s case, Christie’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, has declared false Zimmer’s account of how Hoboken was denied post-Sandy aid for political reasons.

But Kelly and Zimmer can take some solace in this: when it comes to being called liars by Christie, they have plenty of company. The word rolls easily off the tongue for Christie—in that January 9 press conference, he used it six different times. Guadagno never used the “l” word specifically, but the accusation of dishonesty against Zimmer was clear all the same—and awfully familiar to people who’ve watched Christie over the years. Here is just a small sampling of the other people in the accused-liars club:

1. While running for the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 1994 Christie accused one of the Republican incumbents, Cecilia Laureys, of lying about the existence of minutes for a meeting on the purchase of new police computer systems. “I don’t know why she did it, but she lied and it’s not the first time she lied about the whole thing,” Christie said. Laureys and another Republican on the board would later sue Christie for defamation over an ad he ran that wrongly asserted that they were under investigation.

2. Shortly after his election as governor in 2009, Christie branded as “political lying” a proposal by Assemblyman John McKeon to change the ways that governors appoint senators during vacancies.

3. In 2010, Christie accused his education commissioner, Bret Schundler, of having lied to him over the state’s bungled application for federal education funding. After firing Schundler, Christie told reporters that the upshot of the episode was “Don’t lie to the governor.” Furious, Schundler produced e-mails showing that he had been forthright with the governor about what had happened with the grant failure.

4. Also in 2010, Christie called “a lie” the claim by General Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver that she had asked to meet with him about a proposed compromise on public employee arbitration reforms. Again, e-mails subsequently undermined his charge.

5. In 2012, Christie had this to say to voters about Assembly Democrats’ proposal for a 20 percent tax credit: “They’re lying to you.”

6. Also in 2012 (just before their rapprochement over Hurricane Sandy) Christie accused Barack Obama of lying in saying that Mitt Romney wanted further tax cuts for the wealthy. “Stop lying, Mr. President,” he said.

There are two ways of looking at this tendency by Christie. One is that he has had the great misfortune in life of having found himself surrounded by an uncommonly mendacious lot of people. The other is that, with his own credibility and veracity now seriously on the line, he somewhere along the line missed the lessons about glass houses and black kettles.

 

By: Alex MacGillis, The New Republic, January 22, 2014

January 24, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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