The bully plays the victim

 (Cartoon by Rob Tornoe)

(Cartoon by Rob Tornoe)

Chris Christie didn’t know about the emails. Chris Christie’s not sure if there really was a traffic study. David Wildstein, his appointee to the Port Authority? Never heard of him. I didn’t even know Ft. Lee had a mayor.

If you believe all that, I have a bridge to sell you (one without traffic problems).

During a morning press conference that seemed longer than “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the former straight-talker used every lawyerly phrase and tactic to distance himself from emails that came from his former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, which seem to direct the Port Authority to enact political revenge on the mayor of Ft. Lee for not endorsing Christie’s re-election.

“I terminated her employment, because she lied to me,” Christie said of Kelly. “There’s no justification for that behavior. There’s no justification for ever lying to a governor or a person in authority in this government.”

That’s all well in good, but when pressed whether he asked Kelly why she lied to him, Christie callously shrugged it off as knowledge he really didn’t need to know, which seems a bit odd coming from a former prosecutor and U.S. Attorney who made a career busting corrupt politicians.

It was also very odd and telling the way he distanced himself from David Wildstein, his own appointee to the Port Authority who is at the center of the lane closures. “David and I were not friends,” Christie said in his presser, “We weren’t even acquaintances.” Much like Kelly, Christie was quick to wash his hands of someone who has been described as his “lifelong” friend, basically blaming Bill Baroni, the former Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority, of hiring Wildstein.

“I gave permission to hire him”…”He was (some other guy’s) hire,” Christie said of Mr. Wildstein, as he’s calling him now. Remember that when Wildstein resigned last month, Christie called him “a tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests at the Port Authority.” Maybe he should amend that to say “Chris Christie’s interests.”

This is where all the “I don’t recall” and “I was misled” statements fall flat for me. Taking Christie at his word, he only found out about the emails yesterday when the Record released them in a story about the link between his administration and the lane closures. So Christie will have us believe in the past month, he didn’t inquire, ask questions, pick up a phone or give any of his staff hell about what was emerging as a potential scandal in his administration?

We’re supposed to believe that it was beyond his power to pick up a phone, call Mr. Wildstein and ask what the hell was going on? For someone who promotes himself as a take-charge, no-nonsense guy, this seems laughably implausible.

He also remarked that he “lost sleep the past two nights” over the email revelations, despite the fact he claimed to only find out about them in the Record yesterday morning. Was this just a misstatement, or a slip-up from a politician known for his control over political messaging? I’m sure if asked, this new lawyerly Christie would say, “I don’t recall.”

So will this be the end of Christie’s 2016 presidential bid? I doubt it, if for no other reason he has created vicious loyalists in the media who enjoy the gonzo ratings his out-sized personality offers. But Richard Merkt, who ran alongside Christie in a failed Assembly bid in 1995, sees comparisons between Christie and Nixon and went so far as to say in New York Magazine that ‘bridgegate’ will be the end of the governor’s 2016 presidential bid.

“Given his vindictive nature, I always sensed that Christie would implode at some point, but I did not foresee it happening so soon or over such a petty matter,” said Merkt. “By the way, my recollection is that Nixon crushed McGovern by a 60 percent to 38 percent margin, a margin virtually identical to Christie’s victory over Buono. Funny how history repeats itself.”

Full disclosure: Tornoe worked with David Wildstein at PolitickerNJ.com

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Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe. 

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