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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

“He’s A Hypocrite”: Why I Was Wrong About Chris Christie

A year ago, I wrote: “The smartest move in politics today is to move against Washington and the two major parties. And the smartest man in politics may be Chris Christie.” I take it back.

At the time, the New Jersey governor had channeled the public’s disgust with political dysfunction, chastising House Republican leaders for refusing to allow a vote on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Christie said the game-playing that derailed the relief bill showed “why the American people hate Congress.” He accused his own party’s leadership for “selfishness,” “duplicity,” and moral failure.

His approval rating topped 70 percent.

Now his numbers are dropping, because he wasn’t so smart. Rather than stay true to his post-partisan image, Christie ran a hyper-political governor’s office that focused relentlessly on a big re-election win to position him for a 2016 presidential race. In this zero-sum gain culture, Christie enabled (if not directly ordered) an infamous abuse of power: the closure of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge in a fit of political retribution.

If not criminal, it was pretty damn stupid. His reputation is in tatters. Reporting a poll conducted jointly with ABC News, Philip Rucker and Scott Clement of the Washington Post wrote:

Christie has benefited from the perception that he has unique appeal among independents and some Democrats, a reputation the governor burnished with his 2013 reelection in his strongly Democratic state.

But that image has been tarnished, the survey finds. More Democrats now view Christie unfavorably than favorably, with independents divided. Republicans, meanwhile, have a lukewarm opinion, with 43 percent viewing him favorably and 33 percent unfavorably. Overall, 35 percent of Americans see him favorably and 40 percent unfavorably.

Christie has fallen from first to third among potential GOP presidential candidates, according to the Washington PostABC News poll, behind Rep. Paul Ryan and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

A plurality of respondents said the bridge episode represents a pattern of abuse in Christie’s office. While most Republicans give him the benefit of the doubt, 60 percent of Democrats and half of all independents don’t think it was an isolated incident. There is good reason for the suspicion.

First, the governor is deeply engaged in the minutia of his office, an operation that doesn’t discriminate between politics and policy. As the New York Times reported this week in a must-read analysis:

Mr. Christie has said that he had not been aware of his office’s involvement in the maneuver, and nothing has directly tied to him to it. But a close look at his operation and how intimately he was involved in it, described in interviews with dozens of people — Republican and Democrat, including current and former Christie administration officials, elected leaders and legislative aides — gives credence to the puzzlement expressed by some Republicans and many Democrats in the state, who question how a detail-obsessed governor could have been unaware of the closings or the effort over months to cover up the political motive.

In other words, how stupid do you think we are, governor? Christie either knew or should have known that his administration was snarling Fort Lee in traffic and endangering lives.

Second, the governor’s team is now under siege. Everything they’ve done and will do is cast in suspicion. Accusations that previously might have brought them a benefit of the doubt are now filtered by scandal. Like the Times story today about pressure applied to the Hoboken mayor to support a development project favored by Christie. The leverage his team used against the mayor: flood relief linked to Hurricane Sandy.

The Christie administration’s actions were little different from the game-playing of the House Republicans that drew his wrath a year ago. A politician trying to smartly distance himself from Washington can’t be a hypocrite.

Having leaned too far over my skis a year ago, I’m not prepared to write Christie’s political obituary today. But there is a growing sense of how it might read, starting with what I wrote after Christie’s mea culpa news conference Jan. 9:

While Christie said many of the right things in a lengthy and wide-ranging new conference—the contrast to President Obama’s response to 2013 controversies was unmistakable—his actions were far from dispositive. We don’t know how voters in New Jersey and beyond will assess his truthfulness. We can’t predict whether the investigations will uncover more wrongdoing. And we need to find out whether the George Washington Bridge incident is isolated, or part of a pattern of abuse.

In the three weeks since that column, polls suggest a good number of Americans doubt his veracity and wonder whether he was running a corrupt administration. Voters aren’t dumb.

 

By: Ron Fournier, The National Journal, January 30, 2014

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pants On Fire”: Chris Christie Gets Called A Liar

Friday afternoon, Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, got called a liar by someone he had called a nothing. At a multi-hour press conference on January 9th, Christie had said that he’d had no idea that his aides and allies had deliberately choked off traffic from the town of Fort Lee for political reasons. Bridget Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, had sent a message to David Wildstein, whom he’d appointed to the Port Authority, that read, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”; his former campaign manager was on some of the e-mail and text chains, too, using words like “retaliate.” Christie responded by calling himself the victim of a monumental betrayal by very small people. He said that he knew nothing about the closures, and he wanted everyone to know that he hardly knew Wildstein: “Let me just clear something up, O.K., about my childhood friend David Wildstein.”

David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school…. We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.… So we went twenty-three years without seeing each other, and, in the years we did see each other, we passed in the hallways. So I want to clear that up. It doesn’t make a difference except that I think some of the stories that’ve been written implied like an emotional relationship and closeness between me and David that doesn’t exist.

He also said that he had no desire to even speak to Bridget Kelly again.

One view, at the time, was that Christie couldn’t possibly be lying. He had thrown the people who were involved aside too disdainfully; there had been gratuitous slashing. Would he do that if they could contradict him easily? The answer that David Wildstein, at least, is now offering by way of a letter from his lawyer, Alan Zegas, is yes. The letter, first obtained by the Times, takes the form of an insistence that the Port Authority pay Wildstein’s legal bills, and says that “Mr. Wildstein contests the inaccuracy of certain statements the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”

Here is one of those statements: “I had no knowledge of this—of the planning, the execution or anything about it—and that I first found out about it after it was over.” Zegas writes, however, that “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly” in the press conference.

Christie’s office issued a statement on Friday afternoon in which it said the letter confirmed that the governor had “no prior knowledge” of the closures. To recap the logic there, in the press conference, Christie said that he hadn’t known until after; Wildstein’s lawyer says there’s evidence that he knew during; which Christie’s team is presenting as proof that he didn’t know before. (The statement also denied the letter’s “other assertions.”)

We’ll have to see the evidence to know if or how Christie lied. But expecting the truth because it would so clearly be foolish for Christie to lie, or for any politician to, is a misguided notion. There have been too many times that it just hasn’t worked out that way. The dumb, disprovable lies often have to do with sex. But there are other disorienting impulses, too, like pride and money and Republican primaries.

Money comes up in what is the most interesting passage of Zegas’s letter, suggesting even more damaging material than a press-conference lie:

Subsequent to Mr. Wildstein testifying, there have been reports that certain Commissioners of the Port Authority have been connected directly or indirectly to land deals involving the Port Authority, that Port Authority funds were allocated to projects connected to persons who supported the administration of Governor Chris Christie or whose political support he sought, with some of the projects having no relationship to the business of the Port Authority, and that Port Authority funds were held back from those who refused to support the Governor.

The outline of those allegations fits those that the mayor of Hoboken has made, about the pressure on her to approve a deal or lose Sandy reconstruction funds. (The Christie administration has contested them.) But the Zegas letter refers to multiple “projects” and “land deals”; did Christie, before telling the world that he and Wildstein just “passed in the hallways,” do a mental accounting of what was said in the corners of those halls?

Christie likes to talk about himself as someone so full of feeling that he can’t help but tell the truth; now one question is whether, in the moment, he can remember what the truth is. Is he the sort of politician who gets more disciplined as the stakes get higher, or more reckless—if he ran for President, would the stories he told just get bigger? What may bring Christie down is his own sense that his importance—to the state, the nation, the solar system—is such that he can get rid of a problem just by saying that certain people aren’t really his friends. Didn’t they already know?

 

By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, January 31, 2014

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Dawning Of Reality”: Chris Christie’s 2016 Access Lane Has Been Closed

Chris Christie was never going to be the president of the United States. That issue was settled long before gridlock set in on the lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge. The New Jersey governor’s record on the critical measures for any state executive bidding for the presidency in 2016—job creation and economic growth—were dismal, and his positions on economic and social issues were far too conservative to attract swing voters in a country that had already rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney.

What remained uncertain was whether a Republican Party that has not nominated a winning candidate with a name other than “Bush” since the 1980s would gamble on Christie. And that issue is now settled, as well.

Even before The New York Times reported on Friday that former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein, an old friend of the governor who gained his position with Christie’s blessing, has written a letter explaining that it was on “the Christie administration’s order” that access lanes to the bridge were closed—thus gridlocking Fort Lee, a city where the Democratic mayor had refused to endorse the Republican governor’s re-election bid—Republicans across the country were looking elsewhere.

After his re-election last fall, Christie led the Republican pack in national polls and polls from battleground states.

That’s over.

A Washington Post/ABC News survey released this week determined that Christie “appears to have suffered politically from the bridge-traffic scandal engulfing his administration.”

That’s polite newspeak for: Christie’s numbers among those most likely to support him have tanked.

In the Post poll, only 43 percent of Republicans viewed the governor favorably—not that much better than his favorable rating among Americans in general: 35 percent.

The survey found that Christie had sunk to a weak third-place position in the nomination race, with support from just 13 percent of Republican-leaning voters. The candidates who have benefitted most from the governor’s collapse—nationally known Republicans with big names and well-established histories—were soaring. Congressman Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, who is looking a little more like a 2016 contender these days, was at 20 percent. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was at 18 percent.

Worse yet for Christie, his 13 percent support level was barely better than that found for Texas Senator Ted Cruz (12 percent), Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (11 percent.) and Florida Senator Marco Rubio (10 percent).

There was a line of analysis that suggested Christie—who after a marathon press conference three weeks ago, in which he tried and failed to explain himself, has pretty much avoided the media—might ride the storm out and get back into contention.

But reality has to be dawning on even the most ardent Christie enthusiasts, now that Wildstein’s lawyer has released the letter claiming that “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference.”

It is far too early to say where the inquiries and investigations of the bridge scandal—and all the other scandals that have arisen in its wake—will ultimately end up. It is far too early to speak in conclusive terms about what Christie knew, or when he knew it. But it should be clear by now that the sorting out of this governor’s troubles is going to take a very long time. Christie will be fighting in that time not to restore his presidential prospects but to regain the confidence of voters in his home state. Indeed, before this is done, he could well be fighting to retain the governorship through the end of his current term.

That’s not how a candidate secures the Republican nomination for president.

And that is why the time really has come to accept that Chris Christie’s brief period as a presidential prospect is absolutely finished.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, January 31, 2014

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Life Is Tough Enough”: Is Bridgegate Politics As Usual, Or Beyond The Pale?

For those who are not familiar with the story — perhaps that same set of people who in questionnaires do not know where the Mississippi River or the Pacific Ocean is — Governor Chris Christie’s staff created a several-day monstrous traffic jam around the George Washington Bridge last September, apparently to get back at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey for not supporting the governor for re-election. After denying for months that anything happened, the governor fired everyone he could find, held the world’s longest and most lachrymose press conference, denied all knowledge, said he was “very sad,” and seemed to conclude that he was the victim here. The poor jerks who sat in traffic for several hours apparently didn’t count.

The best and funniest column on this by far was by Gail Collins in The New York Times; I can’t come close to that, so I’ll ask the deep questions.

1. What are the odds that Governor Christie is telling the truth when he says he knew nothing?

Zero, or bagel, as they say in the finance business. I suspect he didn’t order the dirty deed, but this is exactly the kind of stunt political advisors pull when they’re riding high and want to show how tough they are. There would have been lots of smirking around the governor — remember, at the time they would have been quite proud of it — and you would have had to be about as unaware as a tree not to notice. The governor is not known for being unaware.

2. Has there been any kind of pattern that might suggest this sort of behavior was part of the governor’s genotype?

The only way you can say there was no pattern here is if you are a denier of combinatorial probabilities and a lot of introductory math. The Times has specified several incidents which sure look like revenge bullying. If I give the governor a 60 percent probability that each of these events was not part of a pattern (way above my gut feel), there’s still a 92 percent chance that this is all part of a pattern. I’m going with a pattern.

3. Is it surprising that the governor threw everyone on his staff within reach under the bus and denied knowing David Wildstein, a senior staff member and a friend since high school?

Are you kidding me? This is pure “homo politicus” stuff. Take my word on this: There is essentially no one in big-time American politics who wouldn’t gut his or her best friend in an instant for almost any temporary advantage. (The high-school friend matter is almost too easy. No one in the known universe who graduated from an American high school believed any single word, including “a,” “an,” and ” the,” of this story.)

4. Is the actual behavior just life in the big leagues or a touch disturbing?

Certainly this traffic stunt was more inventive than anything I’ve heard before, and I’ve been close to this game since 1970. The other acts were nowhere near as clever but seem to be similar to the traffic stunt in two other big ways: they feel out of proportion, and they targeted civilians, not political pros. They imposed large arbitrary penalties on normal professional people who were simply doing their jobs. But I keep coming back to the folks caught in traffic. Let’s say 500,000 people were caught in the traffic jams for, say, four additional hours each. That’s 2 million traffic jam person-hours. If I value people’s time at $20 per hour, that’s a $40 million cost, all because someone got angry that a Democratic mayor didn’t support a Republican governor who was already winning by a landslide and was simply trying to run up the score. Probably some of the commuters actually lost their jobs because of this.

So ask yourself, if you’re just a citizen, and this guy becomes president with a lot more power and lots more reasons to get angry, how likely are you to be collateral damage in some scheme some other political “advisor” comes up with? I think you have to come down on the “disturbing behavior” side. I know “politics ain’t bean bag,” as Christie said, and if one pol wants to take a whack at another pol, I couldn’t care less. But this crosses a lot of lines.

So back to the question in the title. There’s no way this is normal behavior for normal human beings. Some of it is very normal for “homo politicus,” and for athletes and hedge fund billionaires who feel particularly entitled. But the behavior at the core is way beyond the pale. Life is tough enough without leaders dedicated to getting even at your cost for the tiniest slight or the smallest act of dissent.

 

By: Bo Cutter, The National Memo, January 20, 2014

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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