Chris Christie and the eternal bridge investigation
When allegations that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was secretly working with Chinese tongs to buy automatic weapons and rocket launchers from Islamic terrorists and sell them to street gangs first became national news…
Wait, I’m sorry, that was California Democrat and gun-control superstar Leland Yee, whose boring little “local story” major media outlets such as CNN have yet to cover, while the New York Times dumped it on page A21. As Glenn Reynolds noted in his USA Today column, Republican state senators get mainstream media coverage for mildly controversial public statements or marital difficulties, while state senator (and California Secretary of State candidate) Leland Yee’s arrest for involvement with international gun smuggling is treated like a non-event.
And no “local news story” has ever blown up into a national media obsession quite like “Bridgegate,” in which members of Christie’s Administration have been investigated for closing down lanes of the George Washington Bridge, a decision they described to each other as political vengeance against the Democrat mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. The story would not have received more coverage if Vladimir Putin had rolled Russian armor across the GWB and annexed Fort Lee.
The game played across a hundred nightly-news chessboards was simple: Get Christie, love. The press fairly vibrated with excitement over the possibility that a smoking-gun email would surface, tying Christie directly to the scandal – especially after he gave a press conference directly naming the people responsible, and apologizing for not detecting and halting their activities. (Incidentally, I predicted at the time that one of the key individuals named by Governor Christie, deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, would resurface during the 2016 election season as an oppressed “War on Women” heroine. That seems to be happening a bit ahead of schedule. Maybe the Left figures Christie for President is kaput, so there’s no reason to keep their powder dry.)
An investigation into the bridge lane closings was ordered by Governor Christie, and while it cleared him of direct involvement with the scandal, its credibility and impartiality were immediately brought into question. (The people asking these questions have, of course, never seemed even slightly troubled by the long parade of investigations in which elements of the Obama Administration pronounced themselves clean and pure as the wind-driven snow.) The findings are summarized by ABC News:
The report found that Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien and Bill Baroni, who Christie appointed to the powerful Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, both lied when asked whether they were aware of the lane closings that backed up cars and paralyzed the streets of Fort Lee, N.J. for several days.
The mammoth document paints a portrait of a governor’s office with structural flaws severe enough that the attorneys believe it must be cleaned up by an ethics czar and constituent advocate.
“Our investigation found that Governor Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes,” the attorneys wrote in summarizing their more than 900 page document, released publicly today and reviewed by Christie’s office in advance. “He does not recall becoming aware of the lane realignment during the period, but would not have considered a traffic issue memorable in any event.”
Investigators were hard on the officials Christie designated as the responsible parties, while one of the key questions in the case – the existence of a traffic study that would have provided a rational explanation for the bridge lane closings – remains in doubt:
The report lays the blame for the idea, execution and the days worth of crippling traffic it caused squarely on Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the agency that runs the George Washington Bridge and other transit links between New Jersey and New York.
Kelly and Wildstein had some sort of “ulterior motive” and “animosity” toward the mayor of Fort Lee, and orchestrated as payback the unannounced closing two of the three local access lanes at the Fort Lee entrance to the bridge. The attorneys said they didn’t find evidence supporting the public belief that the mayor was being punished for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
They also don’t definitely answer the question of whether an actual traffic study was conducted. But they write that studying Fort Lee’s dedicated access lanes was discussed by Wildstein as early as 2010 and “was Wildstein’s ‘idea,’ like so many other ‘crazy’ ones he’d had before that never got off the ground.”
It should be noted that while investigators had access to a huge volume of documents and emails, they did not receive any testimony from the individuals in the spotlight, because they refused to cooperate. The report also made short work of pile-on accusations from the mayor of Hoboken that “top Christie officials tried to shake her down by withholding funding for Sandy relief until she approved a development deal connected to one of the governor’s top patrons, Port Authority Chairman David Samson.”
The lead author of the report, attorney Randy Mastro, has vigorously defended the integrity of his work. He even quoted the famous Jack Nicholson line from “A Few Good Men” at his critics during an ABC News interview: “They can’t handle the truth.” Mastro appears in the clip below after Democratic assemblyman John Wisniewski, who makes it clear his investigation will continue, possibly forever. You’ll notice that “ulterior motives” appear to be an entirely gubernatorial phenomenon in Wisniewski’s view – these nice state officials wouldn’t just get up one morning and start closing bridge lanes on their own initiative, would they?
Governor Christie himself also did an interview with ABC News on the subject, discussing the integrity of the report that cleared him, the “climate” of his office, and informal conversations he’s held with the bridge closers:
I especially liked Diane Sawyer’s questions about whether Christie might have unwittingly communicated desires for political vengeance to his subordinates, and (quoting Ronald Reagan at him) whether he failed his own definition of leadership. Does anyone recall President Obama getting hit with such questions during the IRS scandal, Benghazi scandal, or Fast and Furious scandal? Somehow he always gets to pretend that he’s only an occasional tourist to the White House, explicitly claiming that he learns about his Administration’s debacles by reading the newspaper, and the creators of those newspapers are fine with it. They don’t seem curious about whether Obama sent any “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” signals to the knights of Internal Revenue. Apparently, those are media streams only Republicans have to navigate, and no dearth of evidence is likely to get Chris Christie’s travails classified as “old news.” Just for fun, he should try shouting “What difference, at this point, does it make?” the next time he’s asked why he thinks Bridget Kelly wrote those nasty emails.