Chris Christie’s spin session was longer than Robert Redford’s broken boat movie, All Is Lost. We don’t yet know whether Christie’s drama warrants that title, because we’re still in the first reel. Better that we simply assess Thursday’s press conference, which played like a tacky sitcom comedy – namely Hogan’s Heroes, co-starring the willfully dimwitted Sgt. Schultz, who always said stuff like “I know nothing!” and “I see nothing! I was not here! I did not even get up this morning!”
For someone who purports to be a hypercompetent executive, it’s amazing what Christie says he didn’t know about the bridge scandal, doesn’t now know, and doesn’t plan to know. Some prize examples:
1. “Prior to (Wednesday, when key emails went public), I believed that if I looked someone in the eye who I worked with and trusted and asked them, that I would get an honest answer. Maybe that was naive, but that’s what I believed. So now I’m going and digging in and asking more questions.”
Oh, I see. Now he’s “digging in and asking more questions?” Why didn’t he dig in on day one last September, when Fort Lee’s ciitizens were first gridlocked? Why didn’t he just pick up the phone and demand to know what was going on? Why didn’t he walk a few feet to the desks of his senior staffers and demand full details? He had five months to dig in and ask questions. He’s only vowing vigilance now because he got his butt burned.
By his telling, he sought answers early last month after the bridge story broke wide open. He told staffers they had one hour to confess any involvement in the lane-closure decision. Senior staffer Bridget Kelly did not speak up. When her key email surfaced Wednesday, Christie realized he had been “lied to,” so he fired her. My question is, why didn’t he work harder in early December to get the goods? Why was he so willing to take their innocence on faith? And are we supposed to believe that Christie – a seasoned prosecutor, a former U.S. attorney – rose in his career by being “naive?” Prosecutors, like cops, are conditioned by experience to know that people lie, evade, and dissemble.
He didn’t know because he didn’t want to know. That would have made him fully complicit in the scandal – as opposed to just being the guy who set the tone, who created the revenge/retribution climate. (Which is bad enough.)
And, going forward, doesn’t he want to know why Kelly sent that email (“Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee”)? Nope, he doesn’t: “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 why she had. And I’m quite frankly not interested in the explanation at the moment.” (That contradicts his claim that he’ll be “digging in and asking more questions.”)
Hey, we’d all like to hear her side of the story, but Christie doesn’t want to hear it. Because the Catholic-schooled mother of four might say that she didn’t act alone. Or she might say something like, “I thought I was acting in the interests of the governor” or “I was just doing what I thought was expected of me.”
After all, as I noted here yesterday, Kelly merely breathed the air of the Christie ecosystem. A lot of Republicans are saying the same thing – notably, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a gatekeeper of the GOP South Carolina primary. He said yesterday: “I just don’t see how people that close to him could have felt comfortable enough to do this if they thought their boss wasn’t of this mindset. Isn’t that just common sense?”
2. “Whether there was a traffic study or not, I don’t know….I don’t know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta, or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study.”
Wait a sec…he still thinks there might’ve been a “traffic study?” There is no evidence of any “traffic study”; that was just the original lie circulated by one of his minions, to mask the true revenge motive. Christie has had five months to get his hands on an actual traffic study – and yet, even now, he says he doesn’t know? It’s fine and dandy that he apologized umpteen times yesterday for the bridge mess (most pundits are very impressed when a pol apologizes), but whiffing on the traffic study BS was a puzzling embarrassment.
3. (My favorite Christie quote, because it references the big picture.) When a reporter asked whether the “revenge/retribution tactic” goes beyond the bridge scandal, Christie replied: “I’m smart enough now after this experience not to go out there and certify that unequivocally, OK? I don’t have any evidence before me as we speak that it went beyond this incident, but I can’t tell you that I know that for sure as to every aspect of everything.”
For starters, there’s the Rutgers professor who crossed Christie while serving on a state panel – whereupon Christie used his line-item veto to slash $169,000 from two of the prof’s projects. There’s the ex-governor who said something critical about Christie – and shortly thereafter, his police security was pulled. There’s the incident in rural Hunterdon County, where prosecutors announced the indictment of three allegedly corrupt local sheriffs (all three, Repubicans loyal to Christie) – whereupon Christie’s attorney general swooped in, took over the case, got the indictment thrown out, and, presto, three of the prosecutors (including the lead guy on the case) lost their jobs.
So spare me the rave pundit reviews of Christie’s damage-control performance. The real takeaway is this: He previously knew nothing because he preferred not to, and he’s loath to know more now. But unless he truly “digs in,” and gets ahead of the curve, the various investigations could swamp him. No White House aspirant remains viable for long if he conjures Sgt. Schultz.
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