Christie’s tangled web

Good performance. But it won’t wash.

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.

[emphasis added]

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.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

26 thoughts on “Christie’s tangled web”

  1. He’s innocent, I tellz ya’. The Koch brothers conkochted this whole affair to destroy a large and good man and sacrifice him to their tea partly ideals. But he is too good for a government position anyway,

  2. The “traffic study”, which Christie today seemed to indicate he still thought might exist, is the smoking gun here. As is often the case, absence of evidence here *IS* evidence of absence, and powerfully so. The non-existence of the study is a near certainty, and approaching a probability of one asymptotically. (I had to look that one up to be sure; feel free to do likewise if necessary). Christie, unlike the rest of us, had the juice to determine immediately and authoritatively whether it existed as soon as the first glimmers of this business hit the news. If he were as righteously innocent as he says, and as disapproving of these tactics, it is extremely hard to see how this alpha-prosecutor would not have been all over this from the beginning. I think his current ploy is, “You have to prove I explicitly knew the specifics in real time, or else I am as innocent as the driven snow.” It shouldn’t work that way, and I am optimistic that it won’t.

    1. I wouldn’t count on a traffic study recommending closing the lanes or whatever not turning up. I’d be willing to be real money that Christie has a reasonably good version ready to go, should that become necessary. They have the time, access and the authentic materials to create the traffic study. I just think they don’t want to expose it to serious examination just yet and they probably still haven’t decided who should produce it and maybe the question of who should have written it is still open, too.

      You can be sure that Christie would never have had the press conference without having reached all potential cooperators and possessing a really high quality version of the traffic study.

  3. I think what offends me most about the whole thing is the utter pointlessness of it. They didn’t have any sort of goal in mind, and no one even got any damn bribes. It was just a tantrum.

    1. I think you’re missing the point. When Tony Soprano’s guys throw a brick through the window of the store owner who refused to pay protection, it isn’t because they’re having a temper tantrum. It’s a warning that next time it could be a Molotov cocktail. And if you still don’t get the message, maybe the time after that the car will blowup while your wife is taking the kids to school.

      In this case, Christie was showing the mayor of a small town that it was poor judgment to refuse his modest request for political support. The implication was that this was just a small taste of what could be expected if future modest requests by Christie would be foolishly refused. Much better to do what Gov Christie suggests than get a phone call on night saying that your kid just got arrested by Christie’s buddies at the DEA or FBI in possession of two kilos of Peruvian marching power.

      Christie and his gang weren’t looking for a bag of money. They were looking for an “understanding” with a soon to be former political rival about who’s the boss and who is going to do as he’s told. And when he walks away untouched, everybody in NJ will similarly understand who is the Boss.

  4. So are those guys who were in the embassy in Benghazi, too. So are the wedding parties hit by drones. So are the people killed with the Fast and Furious guns.

    I’m only too glad to condemn Cristie, he’s scum, and I haven’t thought otherwise for a long while. But there’s no contest as to who’s got the bigger body count.

    Your turn to show you actually care about dead bodies, when it DOESN’T serve your political interest to care.

      1. They were blindsided by this yesterday morning and since then have had two sleepless nights to regroup and burble the usual inanities.

    1. And benghazzeeeeee doesn’t serve your political interest?

      Even after it’s been thoroughly debunked??

      1. You’re making the classic mistake of assuming that flat-out lies don’t serve their interests.

    2. So the riot and deaths in Benghazi were due to Obama (or his aides) deliberately causing a problem for political gain?
      Rather than a screw up that happens, or an understood risk of oversea engagement?

  5. About six months from now, some enterprising reporter should try to discover how Bridget Kelly is making a living. My guess is that she’ll be working at a nice salary for some friend of Governor Twistie.

  6. Juliet Lapidos, at the NY Times editorial page on the web, picked up on the two nights’ sleep lie:

    Lastly, Mr. Christie said at the press conference that he hasn’t “had a lot of sleep the last two nights.” And yet! He said he knew nothing about the matter until yesterday morning. (Mr. Christie said the remark was a “mistake.”)

    The “mistake” quote is hyperlinked to a tweet from journalist Jon Swaine saying, “Christie agrees with reporter’s suggestion it was a ‘mistake’ to say he’d had two sleepless nights after saying he found out Wed morning.”

    Yes, the politician’s passive voice: mistakes were made.

    1. I realize that the “two nights’ sleep” probably wasn’t the lie; the “blindsided yesterday morning” was.

  7. “Ordinary Americans are actually not OK with the blatant abuse of power.” True, but if they watch Fox News they may never have to know about the blatant abuse of power; so far, they are being protected from this knowledge. Perhaps Gov. Soprano is not toast until Roger Ailes decides to toast him, at least not among a large number Republican primary voters. If Ailes turns on him, then he is truly finished even with the Republican base.

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  9. Moderator note:

    As one might guess, I’m not a fan of Brett’s viewpoint, and I find his comment rather bizarrely off-topic. But I have zapped a couple of comments that seemed to me to violate the rule about insulting other commenters.

    1. I thought the general topic was, politicians and their victims, and how their supporters manage to rationalize continuing to support them, or not.

      Cristie is, as I said, scum. He’s scum with a body count, indirectly, of maybe one. You seem to think it a demonstration of Tea party extremism that they don’t support him anyway.

      Obama is, IMO, scum, too, in a Chicago sort of way. He’s got a body count that dwarfs Cristie’s. He’s joked about auditing his political enemies, and, miraculously, they got audited.

      Is it the measure of your non-extremism, that this doesn’t bother you?

      1. Brett,

        You are being defended by someone who disagrees with you. The polite thing to do here is to thank them.

        1. True, thanks Mark. It is a major point in your favor, even if we disagree about many things.

      2. You say that Obama joked about auditing his political enemies and later they were audited. You imply causality. Can you substantiate your claim?

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