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“Someone Orchestrated That”: Why Did Port Authority Police Tell Angry Motorists To Blame The Democratic Mayor Of Fort Lee?

We’ve learned quite a bit about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) scandals over the last couple of months, including the fiasco surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane closures, but there are some core, foundational questions that haven’t been answered. Indeed, these are questions neither the governor’s team nor any of its allies have made even the slightest effort to address.

It remains unclear, for example, exactly who conspired to use the power of the Christie administration to deliberately cripple a New Jersey community last September. It’s equally unclear why members of Team Christie hatched and executed their plot.

And then there’s the cover-up of the administration’s admitted misdeeds. It’s this third angle that garnered some attention over the weekend, including an interesting piece from the Bergen Record’s Mike Kelly, who reported that state investigators are asking a simple question: why did Port Authority police tell angry motorists to blame the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee?

That question, which has lingered for months, may no longer be dismissed as just a footnote in the controversy now enveloping the Christie administration over whether the traffic snarl that overwhelmed Fort Lee’s streets for parts of five days was really political retribution.

A special state legislative committee examining the scandal now plans to investigate whether the call-the-mayor instructions were really a way of getting the message to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, that the crippling traffic jams were punishment for his failure to endorse the reelection of Governor Christie, a Republican who had been touted as a possible future presidential candidate.

“It appears that someone issued instructions or talking points,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the co-chairman of the special Assembly-Senate committee investigating the lane closure scandal. “Someone orchestrated that.”

Almost immediately after the Christie administration deliberately paralyzed Fort Lee, locals started demanding answers. For reasons that remain unclear, Kelly explained, Port Authority police officers at the scene told furious drivers they should call the mayor or borough officials.

The implication was hardly subtle: those looking for someone to blame should look at Sokolich. In reality, that didn’t make any sense, so why did the officers tell motorists something that wasn’t true? Or more to the point, who told the officers to convey false information?

This isn’t some tangent. To learn who was responsible is to better understand why Team Christie did this and who helped orchestrate the cover-up.

At this point, it’s still unclear why Port Authority police said what they said, but it’s clear state lawmakers looking into the scandal consider this important.

“It goes to the whole issue of abuse of power and efforts to conceal,” Wisniewski told Kelly. “It’s an important issue that we ultimately need to dive into.”

Meanwhile, MSNBC’s “Up with Steve Kornacki” moved the ball forward yesterday, too.

A Port Authority police officer with personal ties to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was at the George Washington Bridge when access lanes were closed last September and personally drove David Wildstein, the Christie appointee who supervised the closings, on a tour of the area as traffic brought it to a standstill.

Documents submitted to a New Jersey legislative committee by Wildstein also show that the officer,  Lieutenant Thomas “Chip” Michaels, appears to have sent periodic text messages to Wildstein updating him on the effects of the lane closures and their crippling impact on the town of Fort Lee. In one message, on the first day of the lane closures, Michaels told Wildstein he might have an idea to “make this better.” It is not clear what he meant.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 17, 2014

February 18, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“But I Only Moved The Cones!”: Chris Christie May Pay A Big Toll For The Bridgegate Scandal

Texas populist politician Jim Hightower is noted for the saying, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

That’s not the case in New Jersey. Here the middle of the road is often occupied by a toll booth. And nothing could be a more fitting symbol of the crisis that seems to be ending our governor’s national ambitions.

As of last month, the toll on the George Washington Bridge rose to $13 for rush-hour traffic. It was a mere $8 when Christie took office. Consider that in light of Christie’s claim, repeated in his State of the State address last week, that he has never raised taxes.

That claim rests on the assumption that those tolls are “user fees,” not taxes. In fact, only a small percentage of the toll money goes to maintaining the bridge. The rest is raked off for so many pet projects that the Port Authority might better be named the “Pork Authority.”

Without all the extra swag from those and other tolls — and a lot of creative bonding — Christie could never have kept that no-tax-hike pledge that would have served him so well in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

I say “would have” because after last week the odds of such a run are no longer in Christie’s favor. The hearing room was crammed with cameras as the Assembly Select Committee on Investigations held its first session Thursday. Afterward, Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) announced that 17 people would receive subpoenas. Among them were a host of key Christie aides who should have plenty to say both about the closure of those bridge lanes and the motive, which was political vengeance.

Christie’s political future rests on his claim that, over the four months the scandal unfolded, he had no idea the “traffic safety survey” behind the closure was a sham.

That claim brought comparisons to the Sergeant Schultz character from the old TV comedy “Hogan’s Heroes.” One wag even posted a picture of Christie’s face inserted under the World War II German helmet of the prison camp guard whose biggest laugh line was “I know nothing! I see nothing!”

They say a great man can survive anything but ridicule. We’ll see if that’s true in the coming weeks as those hearings reveal just what Christie knew and when he knew it.

The results will likely clear some traffic from the middle of the road in the 2016 race. Christie’s claim to fame was electability and he had quite a claim until Bridgegate. Christie’s appeal was based not on his ideology but his popularity. After that 22-point landslide re-election win, he could make a plausible claim that he could break the Democrats’ stranglehold on at least one blue state, his own, and perhaps others.

The rest of the middle-of-the-road candidates look ready to repeat Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012, when 40 states were not seriously contested and the election was decided by 10 swing states that swung Democratic.

So that’s not good news for the GOP. Christie was the one candidate who might have brought about a realignment. Virtually everything he did over the past few years was designed to make that case, from endorsing New Jersey’s version of the Dream Act giving in-state tuition rates to undocumented students to reaching out to minorities and urban mayors.

It looks like his campaign reached a bit too far when seeking the endorsement of at least one mayor. Last month, Christie was running just three points behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in an NBC News/Marist poll of potential candidates in the 2016 presidential race. By last week, that poll had Christie trailing Clinton by 13 points. So it looks like this moderate Republican governor may not be going anywhere.

This points out a key problem not just with Christie but with moderates in general. Their moderation is often a cover for an approach to politics that focuses more on doing well than doing good. Over the coming weeks, we can expect to learn a bit about the politically connected lawyers and developers who enriched themselves while wheeling and dealing behind the scenes at the Port Authority.

The mainstream media may not think much of extremists. And they certainly have their flaws, whether they’re leftists or rightists. But as Hightower noted, there’s a reason the voters often prefer them. Sometimes a little bit of idealism can get you a long way down the road.

ON THE OTHER HAND, insightful reporter Matt Katz takes the position that Christie may survive this scandal with his national ambitions intact:

Consider that most of his potential presidential opponents have avoided slamming him on the controversy. Or that a New Hampshire poll released Thursday showed him leading all Republican comers — by a larger margin than in September. Most of those questioned had heard of Bridgegate, and 14 percent of GOP voters said it made them like him more.Yes, Christie was scorned in a (hilarious) “Born to Run” parody by Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon. But there could be worse things for a Republican with base troubles than to get raked through the coals by the media elite.

Christie’s political advisers say interest was high for fundraisers he’s hosting this weekend in Florida, and national donors are calling to express support. The road to 2016 may now have some more traffic on it, but if Christie’s name doesn’t make a damning appearance in a subpoenaed Bridgegate document, he will have the cash and connections to mount a strong bid for the presidency.

Katz was the guy who asked the question at that Dec. 2 press conference that elicited the “I moved the cones” wisecrack from Christie. That remark will certainly come back to haunt Christie. And unless the governor can explain why he still believed that “traffic study” was legit, he won’t be putting this scandal behind him.

By: Paul Mulshine, The Star Ledger, New Jersey, January 18, 2014

January 20, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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