Query: Is there anyone telling us now that Christie is, or might be, innocent who wasn’t telling us in October 2012 that Mitt Romney was going to win or that the election was “too close to call”?
Some political reporters have been parsing poll questions about whether Conegate makes people think better or worse of Gov. Soprano, and Christie’s cheerleaders are rejoicing over the results. I never know how to read those answers; it matters too much whether the X% who say they think better or worse of someone due to Y were previously for him, previously against him, or previously undecided, and the crosstab cell sizes are usually too small to say anything about that.
But this only matters because Christie was getting set for a Presidential run, and because Christie – and only Christie, in all the polls I’ve seen – was close to HRC in 2016 trial heats. In the CNN poll from December, for example, he was two points up, 48-46, with Paul Ryan down 52-44 and all the others were down by 13-21 points: e.g., Hillary 58, Jeb 37. (Quinnipiac also showed Christed doing best, though with the others not as far back.)
So: Here’s the latest from the Marist poll:
If Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie were to face off in the 2016 presidential election, Clinton would defeat Christie by double digits. Half of registered voters — 50% — would support Clinton compared with 37% for Christie. 12% are undecided. When Marist last reported this question in December, voters divided. 48% supported Clinton while 45% were behind Christie. Seven percent, at that time, were undecided.
And that, as they used to say back when newspaper copy was typed, is a
– 30 –
End of story.
Of course I still hope the cover-up breaks down, just to make Christie’s defenders look as stupid and unprincipled as they are. But in terms of Presidential politics, I’m not sure it matters. It looks to me as if the Republicans’ best chance to retake the White House in 2016 just got stuck in traffic.
Update Ooops! Ed Kilgore had this first. The way I look at it, if I’m only half a day behind Kilgore in political analysis, I’m doing OK.
Yes, the 140-character limit in Twitter can encourage superficiality. But Raw Story has a compilation of Tweets after this morning’s bout of histrionics, and some of them are pretty great. My favorites (lightly edited):
Governor throws aide under bus. Bus stuck in bridge traffic.
I do hope Chris Christie spends the rest of his life searching for the real traffic study.
If it’s a legitimate traffic study, the female body finds a way to shut the whole thing down.
Michael E. Cohen:
What do you call someone who dies because of a politically-inspired traffic jam? A “corpus Christie.”
Compare these two passages from Chris Christie’s cornered-rat press conference:
(1) Well, let me tell you, everybody, I was blindsided yesterday morning. I was done with my workout yesterday morning and got a call from my communications director at about 8:50, 8:55, informing me of this story that had just broken on the Bergen Record website. That was the first time I knew about this. That was the first time I had seen any of the documents that were revealed yesterday.
(2) And what does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask about me what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me? And there’s a lot of soul-searching that goes around with this. You know, when you’re a leader of an organization — and I’ve had this happen to me before, where I’ve had folks not tell me the truth about something — not since I’ve been governor but in previous leadership positions — you always wonder about what you could do differently. And believe me, John (sp), I haven’t had a lot of sleep the last two nights, and I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching. I’m sick over this. I’ve worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty and directness and blunt talk, one that I think is well-deserved. But, you know, when something like this happens, it’s appropriate for you to question yourself, and certainly I am. And I am soul-searching on this.
Last time I counted, between “yesterday morning” and “now” there is only one night. What was keeping the Governor awake the night before he was given the bad news? Prescience?
Mike O’Hare notes below that Christie’s account of why he fired Bridget Anne Kelly suggests a certain lack of proportion: lying to him counts for more than putting citizens’ lives in danger. He also notes that Christie’s failure to talk to his staff to see if their stories matched was slightly odd behavior for someone with experience in conducting investigations.
But if that was slightly odd, how bizarre is this?
I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since the email came out. And so she was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had. And I’m, quite frankly, not interested in the explanation at the moment.
Huh? Chris Christie, former prosecutor, wants to know what’s going on, but he’s so offended by having been lied to that he doesn’t call Kelly on the carpet and say, “OK, Bridget. You screwed up big time. Your job is on the line. Who the $#%* told you to pull this stupid %$#*ing stunt? Tell me the truth, tell me all the truth, tell me the truth right now, or you’re dead to me from this minute.” Srsly? Either he didn’t want to know what she would tell him, or he knew already and didn’t want to hear it.
And of course the same is true about Wildstein and Baroni. In working out their resignations, and before vouching for their innocence, did Christie really never ask them, “Who was behind this?” You can only disbelieve your suspenders for so long.
Christie gave (judging from the transcript) a great performance. But it just won’t wash. He has known for a month that the Executive Director of the Port Authority didn’t believe the “traffic study” story and considered the lane closure outrageous and probably criminal, and that Baroni, Christie’s $291,00o-a-year patronage appointee at the Port Authority, responded by saying “There can be no public discourse”: i.e., “We need to cover this up.” So Christie’s pretense that he only learned about the falsity of that fairytale this week is laughable.
Footnote Note to cynical political journalists: Ordinary Americans are actually not OK with the blatant abuse of power. People in the heartland hate traffic jams as much as bicoastals do. And that old lady is still dead.
Turns out my earlier plea for someone to invest some shoe leather into finding people who were seriously damaged by Conegate has been answered.
Emergency responders were delayed in attending to four medical situations – including one in which a 91-year-old woman lay unconscious – due to traffic gridlock caused by unannounced closures of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, according to the head of the borough’s EMS department. The woman later died, borough records show.
No, of course we can’t be sure she would have survived had she received prompt attention. But now that we know that the gridlock that caused the delay was deliberately caused as an act of political retribution, it seems to me that criminal charges would be fully justified, starting with reckless endangerment. (How is slowing emergency response time different from shooting a gun in the air? In each case, there’s a reckless risk that someone will be hurt or killed.)
And of course once the criminal charges start coming in, one of Christie’s cronies is going to finger him. He wasn’t stupid enough to send any emails, but they weren’t stupid enough to do this without his implicit approval.
As for Christie for President 2016, the technical term is “toast.”
The Chris Christie/Ft. Lee/George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal is now moving a warp speed. Now we’ve taken what may be the fatal next step, from “overblown,” “mistakes were made,” and “turning the page” – all markers of a simple scandal – to the point where the people directly implicated decide whether to save their own skins by selling out their bosses.
The Wall Street Journal reports that both David Wildstein and Bill Baroni have now “lawyered up.” If you’re Christie, that’s bad. The Journal also reports that they’ve both hired criminal defense lawyers. If you’re Christie, that’s worse.
Wildstein’s lawyer’s previous clients include Sharpe James, the appallingly corrupt Mayor of Newark replaced by Cory Booker; James wound up spending 18 months in a federal penitentiary. If you’re Christie, that’s just awful; Wildstein didn’t hire a top corruption-defense lawyer just to advise him on how to respond to subpoenas. He clearly thinks he’s in deep doo-doo, and probably in deep Federal doo-doo at that.
But the worst news – if you’re Christie – is that Baroni’s lawyer is a former Assistrant U.S. Attorney in New Jersey named Michael Himmel.
In 2009, Mr. Himmel also represented Solomon Dwek, a former real estate investor who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering charges. Mr. Dwek became an FBI informant in a case brought by Mr. Christie that implicated dozens of elected officials in a widespread corruption investigation.
So not only does Baroni think he needs serious criminal defense, he’s hired someone with a history of making deals in which his client gets a break in return for implicating everyone else in sight. (The technical term is “cooperation.”) And the only person above Baroni in the pecking order – the only one Baroni can hope to save himself by snitching on – is Gov. Soprano himself.
Now, it’s possible I’m being too optimistic about this. Perhaps Himmel is a Christie loyalist, who will be working to protect his ex-boss as well as his nominal client. But on the surface, this looks about as bad for Christie – which is to say, about as good for the future of the American Republic – as it possibly could.
When a politician calls a scandal involving himself “sensationalized,” you know he’s in deep yoghurt. When he says “mistakes were made,” the passive voice is a tell for near-panic. When he starts firing subordinates, that means he knows he’s near the edge of the cliff. And when he says he wants to “turn the page,” it’s a good bet the story is far from over.
The New York Times story on the Chris Christie/Ft. Lee gridlock story includes all four of those markers of a major affair in the making.
[For those of you joining us late, the background is that the Mayor of Ft. Lee, NJ, a Democrat refused to endorse Gov. Soprano for re-election, and suddenly, without warning, two of the three lanes on the on-ramp from Ft. Lee to the George Washington Bridge were closed during the first four days of school in September, gridlocking the city for four days. Fortnately, the mayor doesn’t seem to own a horse. See the scorching email from the Executive Director of the Port Authority to his subordinates unearthed by the Wall Street Journal.]
The punchline is that the Governor wants to know whether Ft. Lee should permanently lose access to the bridge, which seems to be a not-too-subtle way of telling Ft. Lee officials that even worse things could happen to them if they get too friendly with investigators.
What the story lacks so far is the voices of the victims. You can’t tie up traffic for four days in a town of 35,000 people without someone getting really and truly hosed. It’s not very likely that anyone actually died in an ambulance, or waiting for one (the death rate in a town that size is somewhere short of one per day), but I strongly suspect that there was more dramatic harm than kids being late for school and parents late for work. If I were running a journalist enterprise – or the DNC – I’d want to put a bunch of effort into shoe-leather reporting.
If you’re wondering how much damage this sort of story, properly exploited, can do to a national candidate, ask President Dukakis about Willie Horton, or the water quality in Boston Harbor.
Footnote The backstory about the first Port Authority official to resign is that he’s an old friend of the Governor’s who ran an anonymous political blog back when Christie was U.S. Attorney. The blog was, the Times reports, “noted for scoops from the United States attorney’s office.” I wonder whether the Inspector General of the Justice Department, or the Office of Professional Responsibility, has scanned those “scoops” for violations of Rule 6(e), which forbids the release of grand jury information?
The Newark Star-Ledger wants to know howsa bout the Ft. Lee affair. I agree that Baroni ought to testify under oath. But why not Christie? “Never talk to the monkey if the organ-grinder is available.”
Looks like Tony Soprano, sounds like Tony Soprano, acts like Tony Soprano.
When the Mayor of Fort Lee refused to endorse him for re-election, Christie had his henchman in the Port Authority close the on-ramp from Ft. Lee to the George Washington Bridge. Then he and his buddies lied about it.
If you think about it, that’s much nastier than garden-variety corruption of the kind Christie engage in as United States Attorney, when he used deferred prosecution agreements to funnel money from corporate lawbreakers to his buddies – including another prosecutor who had declined to indict Christie’s brother – in return for not pressing criminal charges.
Christie as the GOP nominee for 2016? Bring it on!