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“Good News, Bad News For Christie”: The Governor And His Allies May Still Not Fully Appreciate The Broader Circumstances

Given all of our previous discussions about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal, it’s only fair to note, as Rachel did last night, new reporting that prosecutors have not yet tied the governor directly to the infamous misdeeds.

The U.S. Justice Department investigation into Gov. Chris Christie’s role in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal has thus far uncovered no evidence indicating that he either knew in advance or directed the closure of traffic lanes on the span, federal officials tell NBC 4 New York.

The September 2013 closures – where several entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee were shut down, causing a traffic nightmare for commuters – has been the subject of several federal and state investigations.

Federal officials caution that the investigation that began nine months ago is ongoing and that no final determination has been made, but say that authorities haven’t uncovered anything that indicates that Christie knew in advance or ordered the closure of traffic lanes.

We don’t yet know the source of this leak or its veracity, but it may very well be entirely true that prosecutors haven’t directly tied Christie personally to the bridge closings. Indeed, as of late yesterday, the governor seemed to be feeling pretty good about his standing, as if this WNBC report exonerated him.

But even if we assume the report is accurate, and we also assume that federal prosecutors never close in on Christie personally in the investigation into this scandal, the governor and his allies may still not fully appreciate the broader circumstances.

The Star Ledger’s editorial board, to its credit, hasn’t forgotten.

Before he finishes this victory lap, a few reminders: No one on the investigative committee has accused him of personally ordering these lane closures. It is hard to believe he would be that stupid.

But what about the cover-up? What about the bogus claim that this was all part of a traffic study? That came from Bill Baroni, Christie’s appointee as deputy executive director at the Port Authority, after he was coached for several days by senior members of Christie’s staff. Was Christie so out of touch that he was oblivious to all that? Hard to believe he was that stupid, either.

Part of the problem for Christie from the very beginning is that the governor’s best case scenario – the version of events that are the most favorable to him personally – is that Christie was such an inept and incompetent leader that has no idea that some of the top members of his team conspired to abuse their power in his name.

Under the usual conditions, this might sound like scathing criticism, but in Christie’s case, it’s his best defense. The governor and his supporters eagerly hope the WNBC report is accurate, so they can say Christie’s team deliberately crippled a New Jersey community on purpose, but the governor was too clueless to know what was going on around him.

And to this day, Christie still can’t explain the basics of how and why his handpicked team members abused the power he gave them.

For that matter, let’s also not forget that this isn’t the only Christie scandal that remains ongoing.

So I suppose what we’re left with is a good news/bad news situation for the governor. The good news, he may not personally be charged in the “Bridgeate” scandal. The bad news, the scandal isn’t over, the controversy itself still raises important questions about his competence, and there are other lingering scandals that may do lasting damage to his administration.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 19, 2014

September 21, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Governor And His Rogue Operation”: We’re Watching A Governor Who’s Slowly Losing Control Of His Own Enterprise

Last weekend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) office went on the offensive, targeting former ally David Wildstein with a leaked attack memo a day after Wildstein’s attorney said “evidence exists” proving the governor lied about the bridge scandal. The move backfired: the memo highlighted, among other things, Wildstein’s high school record, making the pushback appear ridiculous.

Late on Friday afternoon, as Rachel noted on the show, Christie’s office tried to do damage control on their damage control with another leak.

The memo from Gov. Chris Christie’s office attacking former appointee David Wildstein’s credibility landed with a thud. It was a striking and deeply personal broadside coming from a chief executive of a state, and even his allies called it a mistake.

But one important person hadn’t seen the missive ahead of time: the governor himself.

Christie’s aides did not run the document – which took the extraordinary step of highlighting incidents from Wildstein’s high school days – by the governor before they sent it out, according to two people familiar with the matter. Instead, someone tucked the high school lines into a daily briefing email to the governor’s supporters, and blasted it out earlier than planned.

Whether or not one believes Christie, a notorious micro-manager, was actually out of the loop is a matter of perspective. Given that the attack memo made the governor’s operation look even worse, it stands to reason Christie aides have an incentive to tell Politico the governor wasn’t involved, though we may never know whether or not this is true.

But even giving Christie and his office the benefit of the doubt, this latest effort raises questions anew about what kind of operation, exactly, the governor is running in New Jersey.

Over the last month or so, the governor’s office has come up with a version of events it desperately hopes the public will believe. It goes like this:

Leading members of Team Christie went rogue last fall, using their power to cripple a community on purpose. As the scandal intensified, other leading members of Team Christie went rogue again last week, launching a misguided attack on a perceived foe. The governor who tends to oversee even the smallest details of his operation, we’re told, was blissfully unaware of what was going on around him in both instances.

This isn’t what the governor’s critics are saying; this is what Team Christie is saying. It’s their defense.

The governor hoped to cultivate an image of an effective manager who knows how to take control and lead, but by all appearances, we’re watching a governor who’s slowly losing control of his own enterprise.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maoodw Blog, February 10, 2014

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

“Christie’s Evolving Version Of Events”: The More You Look, The More You See Nuances, Changes, And Contradictions

One of the overarching challenges facing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is not just his ongoing bridge scandal, but also the veracity of his claims about the scandal.  If Christie’s version of events had been consistent and reliable throughout, it’d be easier to believe his arguments about what role, if any, he played in his aides’ misconduct,

But the closer one looks at the governor’s claims, the more one sees nuances, changes, and contradictions.

It’s not just what Christie knew and when; it’s also what Christie claims he did about the now-infamous incident in Fort Lee.

In December, the governor belittled reporters and lawmakers who took the bridge controversy seriously. Asked about false testimony his top aide at the Port Authority delivered to the state Assembly, Christie said his “curiosity is more than satiated.” Asked whether he would look for additional information, the governor replied, “Why would I? … I have a lot of things to do. I know you guys are obsessed with this. I’m not. I’m really not. It’s just not that big a deal.”

Christie added during a mid-December press conference, “I’m not running around doing independent investigation…. If you’re asking me if I’ve done independent investigation, the answer is no.”

Except, as Rachel noted on the show last night, the governor said largely the opposite this week, telling the public during a radio show that he did launch an independent investigation – two months before he said he didn’t launch an independent investigation.

“As soon as I was aware of the fact that there was a problem, which was when [Port Authority Executive Director] Pat Foye’s email came out, I had my staff say, go find out what’s going on over at the Port Authority. Why are they fighting with each other over this? And what happened? […]

“As soon as I knew that there was some issue here, I asked my staff to get to the Port Authority and find out what’s going on…. The first time this really came into my consciousness as an issue was when Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority’s email about this incident was leaked to the media…. That’s when I asked my chief of staff and chief counsel, I said to them, ‘Hey, would you look into this and see what’s going on here?’”

Really? Because that represents a pretty sharp break from Christie’s original story.

According to the governor’s latest version of events:

* In October, after learning of the trouble at the Port Authority, Christie dispatched the top two aides in his entire administration to get to the bottom of things.

* In December, in response to questions, Christie said he sees no need to get to the bottom of things.

* In January, during a two-hour press conference, Christie makes no mention of his chief of staff and chief counsel investigating the matter at his direction.

* In February, Christie boasts about an internal investigation he previously said he wouldn’t launch.

Remember, that’s not my story; that’s the governor’s story.

If the governor sent his top two aides to investigate problems at the Port Authority, why didn’t Christie mention this before? And what did his chief of staff and chief counsel find when they investigated the matter at the governor’s behest?

It would appear that Christie, just this week, came up with a new story with key details he neglected to mention during multiple press conferences in December and January.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the claims are untrue, but as a rule, evolving stories featuring new, previously unmentioned elements are harder to believe.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 7, 2014

February 8, 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

“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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