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“Chris Christie’s Nightmare Worsens”: Walls Caving In Amid New Revelations And Poll

While reporters pondered the meaning of of former Chris Christie aide Bridget Kelly appearing in court personally to fight subpoenas for her email and documents – Why would Kelly show up at all? Might she eventually talk? Why is she wearing a black cardigan and pearls? — the bad news for Christie continued. A Des Moines Register poll shows that Iowa voters are paying attention to Christie’s bridge scandal woes, with 57 percent disapproving of the way he’s handled it and only 25 percent approving.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, the damage is even worse. Christie’s approval numbers have flipped in the new Fairleigh Dickinson poll: the man who won reelection in a landslide in November has seen his disapproval ratings spike, and for the first time since his first election, more New Jersey voters disapprove than approve of the job he’s doing as governor. A Rutgers/Eagleton poll also released Tuesday found that trust in Christie has cratered, too: 23 percent of those polled said the word “trustworthy” could be used to describe Christie “very well;” that’s down 20 percent just since October.

In some ways, the Iowa news doesn’t matter much to Christie: it was never going to be a strong Christie state in the 2016 GOP nominating process, since social conservatives dominate its first-in-the-nation caucuses. Christie’s only hope was mobilizing Republican-leaning independents to join the caucuses, a heavy lift in any scenario.

But now even that path seems closed to Christie, as Iowa Independents disapprove of Christie’s bridge-scandal handling 60-20. Among registered Republicans, 47 percent disapprove while 34 percent say he’s doing all right. “If Governor Christie runs, he may choose to follow John McCain and Rudy Giuliani’s path and skip Iowa,” a top Iowa GOP strategist told the Des Moines Register. That worked for McCain, temporarily anyway, but not at all for Giuliani, who was once the towering Christie figure on the GOP horizon – a blue-state Republican tough guy beloved by the media — whose presidential campaign flame-out was a remarkable display of hubris and incompetence.

Still, the most damaging developments for Christie are closer to home. A New York Times investigation published Tuesday shows he’d turned the Port Authority “into a de facto political operation” even before Kelly declared it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”  Christie used big Port Authority projects to win endorsement from Democrats and union leaders, and in a ghoulish touch, even handed out wreckage from the World Trade Center to reward mayors who backed him. Just last week a WNYC-NJ Spotlight investigation revealed that his administration mishandled $25 million in Hurricane Sandy grants, giving huge awards where there was no storm damage, stiffing places with huge flooding problems while, yes, underpaying the city of Hoboken by about $700,000, as Mayor Dawn Zimmer has alleged.

All of this corruption has been hiding in plain sight, but the bridge scandal suddenly helped people connect the dots.

Christie continues to insist he’s putting the mess behind him. He took his son to watch New York Mets spring training baseball over the weekend, then showed up at another local town hall Tuesday, though he hasn’t taken questions from the media since his two-hour pity party in early January. Christie is still being covered like a top-tier 2016 candidate, which, given his competition, is somewhat defensible, I suppose. So it’s hard to ignore the bad Iowa news for Christie, and yet it’s irrelevant. Christie’s national career is over, and his tenure in Trenton is endangered as well.

Back to Bridget Kelly: She may win this round in court, but only because it’s become clear that she has a reasonable fear of federal prosecution for her role in the bridge lane closures. Until this round, committee counsel Reid Schar had denied that Kelly might be incriminating herself if she shared the documents the committee wants. In court Tuesday, he acknowledged that risk but insisted his subpoena was narrow enough to protect Kelly’s Fifth Amendment rights.

But if state investigators don’t get Kelly’s documents, federal prosecutors are likely to. I read Kelly’s black-cardigan-and-pearls appearance in court today as designed to remind everyone that she sacrificed her personal and professional life for Christie, and her reward to date has been enormous legal bills and lots of time with lawyers. It’s hard for me to imagine Kelly taking the fall for her ex-boss. But either way, voters are holding her ex-boss accountable.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 11, 2014

March 12, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie’s Crisis Management”: The Governor Isn’t Navigating Those Perilous Waters Too Well

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has found himself in the midst of several ongoing scandals, and from a distance, it’s not at all clear he’s receiving the best possible advice. Indeed, according to the governor’s own office, Christie aides have gone rogue more than once lately.

There are no doubt plenty of experts in political crisis management who could help steer the governor through these perilous waters, but I talked with a knowledgeable friend this afternoon about the kind of advice Christie needs but doesn’t seem to be receiving.

First, it’s not a good idea for the governor to travel to a tropical resort while New Jersey residents are struggling with another snow storm – causing, among other things, roofs to collapse.

Second, it’s not a good idea for the governor to cancel a town-hall meeting with constituents, citing inclement weather, only to keep his commitment to travel to nearby New York City for a Republican fundraiser for the same evening.

Third, it’s not a good idea for the governor’s office to identify a potentially damaging witness and then go after his high-school antics through the national media.

Fourth, it’s not a good idea for the governor to hire a high-priced lawyer, have the taxpayers pick up the tab, and then sit back as he shamelessly tries to intimidate witnesses.

Fifth, it’s not a good idea for the governor to change his story as the controversies unfold.

Sixth, it’s not a good idea for the governor to keep pretending there may have been a traffic study.

And finally, it might be a good idea for the governor to look busy.

Christie can start by considering some reforms at the Port Authority.

Major structural reforms would require legislative approval in Albany and Trenton, which would be hard but definitely worth a try. New Jersey, for instance, could help matters by enacting the equivalent of a reform law approved in New York that, among other things, required board members to pledge to uphold their fiduciary duties to their agency’s mission, not to their patron in the governor’s mansion. Short of that, the two governors should make changes that could make the authority less political and more professional.

The Port Authority’s 12-member board of commissioners is appointed by the governors, six by each. They should be appointed on the basis of their professional qualifications, not political connections, as so often happens, and held to six-year term limits. Some holdovers have been there for more than 10 years.

Each commissioner should also publicly disclose potential conflicts of interest well before the authority makes its decisions. These potential conflicts should be regularly displayed on the Port Authority’s website. Commissioners have routinely been allowed to lobby for contracts that could affect personal businesses and, only later after the decision is made, would they formally recuse themselves in the official minutes. Their recusal in each case should be announced at the public board meeting.

It’d be a start, wouldn’t it?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 18, 2014

February 19, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“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

“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

   

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