Chris Christie and a whiff of Watergate

    Chris Christie

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves the Capitol in Washington in this Nov. 17, 2014 file photo (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

    When I heard yesterday that a law firm hired by Chris Christie had released a bridge scandal report absolving Chris Christie, I couldn’t help but recall Richard Nixon’s similar ruse in the spring of 1974.

    Just as Christie’s hired guns (hired for $1 million at taxpayers’ expense) falsely claim to have written a “comprehensive and exhaustive” report, Nixon falsely claimed in a nationally televised address that his release of Oval Office transcripts contained “all the relevant portions” of his conversations about Watergate. Just as Christie’s legal eagles are touting their report as the final word on Bridgegate – Christie knew nothing! He was screwed by a few scheming aides! – Nixon insisted that his release of 2,400 transcript pages (but not the actual tapes) would absolve him and put his scandal to rest.

    In both cases, not.

    I get why Christie wanted to release his version of events this week. He has a big Republican confab in Vegas (GOPers are going hat in hand to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson), and he was slated to sit for a national TV interview (gotta keep those presidential hopes alive), so naturally he wanted something on paper that would seem to buttress his claim of total innocence. Problem is, Christie’s taxpayer-financed lawyers never talked to the key players – most notably, senior staffer Bridget Anne Kelly or Port Authority appointee David Wildstein – because they refused to cooperate. Understandably so, given how Christie had already scapegoated them and slimed them with personal insults.

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    But since Kelly in particular refused to cooperate, that made it so much easier for Christie’s lawyers to double down on her: “We have not found any evidence of any other member of the governor’s staff, besides Bridget Kelly, being involved in the decision to realign these George Washington Bridge toll lanes at Fort Lee.” And why did she supposedly act on her own? Because “events in her personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind.”

    The law firm wants us to understand that Kelly was suffering from a love deficit. She had been briefly involved with Christie political strategist Bill Stepien, but the relationship “had cooled” at Stepien’s “behest.” As a result, Kelly had “seemed emotional” around the office.

    Oh those cwazy females! Ya just can’t trust them to run a government when they’re in the midst of boy woes.

    Anyway, Christie’s law firm says that Christie didn’t know jack, that Christie did not create an office culture of intimidation (“We found that this was the action of the few. This is not reflective of the whole”) and that, starting in December, Christie was determined to get to the bottom of things. And that even though David Wildstein insists he told Christie of the lane closures back on Sept. 11, “the governor has no recollection.”

    No wonder I detect a whiff of Watergate – not the actual wrongdoing (Watergate, of course, was on a far more monumental scale), but the spin tactics of a scandal-plagued pol. In the spring of ’74, congressional investigators were demanding unfettered access to the Oval Office tapes, so that they could judge Nixon and the scandal in full context. Nixon said no. Instead, he gave the tapes to his lawyers, who then supervised the release of transcripts (in snappy green binders) that unsurprisingly absolved Nixon and put the blame on misbehaving aides.

    “Everything that is relevant is included,” Nixon declared in his address to the nation. “As far as what the president personally knew and did with regard to Watergate and the cover-up is concerned, these materials, together with those already made available, will tell all.”

    His claim was a crock; the materials didn’t “tell all.” Four months later, after the high court compelled Nixon to release the tapes, we learned that Nixon ordered a coverup just six days after the Watergate break-in. That smoking-gun conversation never made it into the green binders; somehow, Nixon’s lawyers had not deemed it “relevant.”

    Forty years later, we’ve got Christie’s version of the green binders. Fortunately, a state legislative committee and the U.S. attorney, armed with subpoena power, have yet to weigh in; and Kelly, Wildstein, and Stepien have yet to speak under oath. The law firm report quotes Christie as saying this winter, “This is a mess, and now I have to clean it up” – but those two probes are crucial to the cleanup. And they’ll likely prove to be a far more worthy taxpayer expense.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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