I’m sure Chris Christie has had better days than his (with apologies to Judith Viorst) terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Thursday. He spent two hours — two hours! — taking let’s-see-if-we-can-trip-you-up-or make-you-blow-your-cool questions from the New Jersey press corps about the now-famous closure of several lanes of the ramp from the now-famous Fort Lee, N.J., onto the George Washington Bridge that caused a massive, days-long traffic snarl.
Christie described himself as a “sad” (also “embarrassed,” also “humiliated”) guy. He had to explicitly dispute that he was a “bully.” He accepted “responsibility” for the incident, even though he asserted nine ways from Sunday that he had nothing to do with it. Then he traveled to a town that doesn’t like him to ask forgiveness from the mayor who didn’t want to see him.
But by the end of all that, I thought he had done about as well as he could have and may possibly have salvaged his political future (if, that is, he doesn’t get caught in any lies he may have told).
If anyone can prove that anything Christie said Thursday was a lie, the governor is political toast. But, to tell you the truth, although it seems far-fetched that Christie’s deputy chief of staff asked Christie’s crony on the agency (the Port Authority) that controls traffic on the bridge to arrange some traffic problems for Fort Lee without Christie’s knowledge or participation, it seems even more far-fetched that she was acting under Christie’s orders.
Versions don’t make sense
Neither version of the story makes any sense. Why would the people of Fort Lee (not the mayor but the ordinary commuters, including the Republicans) be singled out for punishment by a traffic jam because the mayor had declined to endorse Christie for reelection?
Yes, it’s true that Christie aggressively sought endorsements from Democrats in an effort to run up the score and probably to enhance his presidential aspirations by demonstrating that he has bipartisan support in New Jersey, which, apparently, he does or he couldn’t have cracked 60 percent in blue-leaning New Jersey. And he was indeed endorsed by many — but certainly not all — New Jersey Dems.
As Christie noted, lots of Democrats — including Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich — had the audacity to endorse the Democratic nominee for governor, whom Christie crushed last year by 60-38 percent.
To this point, no one has explained why Fort Lee, N.J., would be singled out for retribution. Christie also said he didn’t know Sokolich, couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, hadn’t asked him for an endorsement and was unaware that any of Christie minions had asked for it. If, in fact, Sokolich had been under pressure to endorse Christie, the mayor could bring that to light, but he has not.
If the mayor had had an angry call from Christie over the non-endorsement, or even knew Christie before Thursday, Sokolich is in a position to destroy Christie’s testimony to the opposite effect. So, at least it seems logical to me, that Christie would not have staked his political future on a lie that could be easily disputed, and perhaps disproven by someone who would have no known incentive to want to cover up such information. In fact, Sokolich told the media Thursday that he takes Christie at his word that he was not involved in the plot to cause traffic problems in Fort Lee.
What he knew and didn’t know
Over the course of the two-hour press conference, Christie gave an account of what he knew and didn’t know, what he did and didn’t do, why he fired his long-time aide Bridget Anne Kelly Thursday, why he didn’t do it in person or ask what caused her to send those emails, and why he didn’t plan to do any further investigating — because it could create at least the appearance that he was interfering with the investigations under way by both (Democratic) federal prosecutors and by the (Democratically controlled) Legislature.
Maybe Kelly or David Wildstein, the Port Authority guy at the other end of the emails, will someday divulge what was behind the plot to close traffic lanes. (Wildstein appeared before a legislative committee Thursday, pled the Fifth, refused to answer any questions and was held in contempt.) Maybe one of them will rat out Christie. Maybe those other investigations will bring to light something that will destroy Christie politically. Maybe Christie’s presidential aspiration will suffer death by Tea Party. Maybe the national electorate will buy the argument, floated by many liberal commentators Thursday, that Christie is guilty of at least creating a “culture” in his administration that would cause his appointees to act this way. Maybe the country isn’t ready for a president as fat or as combative or as “New Jersey” as Christie.
But, as of day’s end Thursday, he had answered every question he was asked and was still standing.