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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

“Chris Christie Bullies Again”: Bullies Bully Out Of Weakness, And Christie Is Now Weaker Than He’s Ever Been

Gov. Chris Christie says he’s been humbled, that he’s been doing some “soul-searching” after his staff got caught arranging traffic jams to punish political enemies.

But bullies bully out of weakness, and Christie is now weaker than he’s ever been. He can’t possibly give up his only real political asset—a talent for intimidation that makes victims want to be on his side to win his protection—when he needs it most.

In only the latest example, his legal team is spitting paper at the Jersey pols who’ve crossed him. Christie’s choice as lead attorney for his office’s “internal review,” Randy Mastro, sent a letter, obtained by The Bergen Record, to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer requesting a “private interview” and documents, including her correspondence with the press.

“In a show of force,” The Record reports, Mastro also wrote to “Hoboken officials that he had assembled a team of ‘five former federal prosecutors’ to look into Zimmer’s claims.”

Zimmer, of course, claims that Christie officials had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t support a particular real estate development, charges those officials deny.

At the same time Christie lawyers were beckoning Zimmer to their den, the governor’s office sent a memo to supporters with press clips about Zimmer that, it says, found “serious questions of authenticity, contradictions, and hypocrisy.”

Zimmer’s allegations are now the subject of a US Attorney investigation, and her attorney replied to Mastro by saying, “We question whether it is appropriate for the Governor’s Office, in essence, to be investigating itself, particularly when an investigation of the same subject matter is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

“Five former federal prosecuters,” charges of hypocrisy, a “private interview”—this stuff reeks of bullying. But Mastro, The Record writes, “seems to try to dispel any notion that the letter is meant to intimidate a witness—he notified federal authorities in advance that he would be contacting potential witnesses, he wrote.”

Still, as James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, told the Star Ledger, Mastro’s letters show him acting more like a defense attorney than as a fact-finder conducting an “internal review” to learn who dunnit. “The letters strike me as a fairly heavy-handed attempt to intimidate—and cleverly done,” Cohen said.

No matter how much humble pie Christie insists he’s eating, he just can’t quit the bullying. Remember how, during his marathon press conference, a reporter told him that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said it’d be “premature” for the governor to visit his town and apologize for the dangerous, five-day traffic jam his people created at the George Washington Bridge? Christie ignored Sokolich’s wishes, parked his entourage at Sokolich’s office, staged some photo ops with citizens not throwing tomatoes, and left the Fort Lee mayor saying he was relieved that Christie promised there’d be no more retribution. Now, Christie’s lawyers have invited Sokolich and his staff to hand over documents, too.

The attempt to put the squeeze on NJ mayors does double duty by also intimidating other potential witnesses and officials receiving subpoenas (the NJ legislators investigating the bridge scandal issued eighteen new subpoenas yesterday).

It’s all part of the web of fear that Christie has established throughout New Jersey. It’s aimed as much, if not more, at Democrats than at Republicans, and until the GWB scandal broke, that fear was passed off as the Christie miracle of “bipartisanship.”

Even though the former front-runner in the GOP presidential race now looks like he’ll never make it to the primaries, even though Christie boosters like Joe Scarborough say he should resign as the head of the Republican Governors Association, anyone who the governor’s office can conceivably touch still lives in fear of his wrath.

The bully can still steal their lunch.

UPDATE: This afternoon Christie spokesperson Colin Reed sent an email pushing back against New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, saying she made “no fewer than five misleading statements” on Morning Joe today. Most irksome perhaps was what she said about Mastro’s letters: “They’re trying to sort of threaten people, not explicitly, but saying, you know, we’re going to go back after you if you come after us.”

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, February 11, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | 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

   

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