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“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

“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

   

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