Chris Christie had a very good bad day

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaking at a news conference in Trenton on Thursday.

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.

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Comments (44)

  1. Submitted by Lora Jones on 01/10/2014 - 11:16 am.

    Rachel Maddow “uncovered”

    A more plausible reason for the “revenge” — an ongoing fight with Fort Lee State Senate (and it’s Democratic Leader from Fort Lee) over State Supreme Court justices. After declining to reappoint a democratically appointed justice for the first time in NJ history, relations got increasingly “tense”, culminating with:

    “8/12/2013 – NJ Supreme Court justice Helen Hoens (R) is up for reappointment and Dems signal that her reconfirmation hearing will be contentious. Hoens happens to be the wife of a close Christie aid. Christie flips out and pulls her reappointment as well, then holds a temper-tantrum presser late in the day calling the Dem senators savage animals.
    8/13/2013 – Kelly’s early-morning email to Wildstein to say it’s time for traffic problems in Fort Lee.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/10/2014 - 11:19 am.

    Here’s the thing

    It’s nice that he apologizes but he has to apologize a lot. A lot of things have gone screwy under his administration. And whether he personally had anything to do with the bridge closure or not, it is reflection of his leadership. You simply don’t have people on your staff who go out and do stuff like that if you are the leader he claims to be. It will all come down to who he’s running against, if he wins it will be because he has a weak opponent, not because he’s a strong candidate.

  3. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 01/10/2014 - 11:19 am.

    check out Salon

    There are several stories on Salon about this. There is a theory that this wasn’t in retaliation to the Mayor over the endorsement but retaliation against a state congressperson over some state supreme court stuff.

    Also the biggest unanswered question, which suggests coverup, is why fire these people without first interviewing them to see why they thought this was a good idea. Maybe he didn’t interview that woman he fired today because he knew what she’d say? Sounds like he didn’t want to hear or didn’t want the rest of the world to hear whey they did what they did.

  4. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/10/2014 - 11:24 am.

    Rachel Maddow

    may have provided the answer to the question of why Fort Lee was “attacked” by Christie.

    Turns out that is where a high level democrat lives who was involved in a serious dispute with Christie over state supreme court appointments in New Jersey. The day before the traffic problems began Christie referred to the Democrats as “animals.”

    Here’s a link to the Madddow story. Wouldn’t surprise me if this is the answer to the mystery:

    RACHEL MADDOW PRESENTS NEW, BRILLIANT THEORY OF WHY CHRISTIE’S #BRIDGEGATE HAPPENED: VIDEO
    link: http://ow.ly/ssPo0

  5. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 01/10/2014 - 11:33 am.

    Chris Christie

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The electorate is hungry for a politician who is willing to tell it like it is, take the heat for his mistakes, and have a face to face conversation with his opponents.

    Kind of reminds you of the early Ventura era. Hopefully Christie won’t have a meltdown like Jesse did.

  6. Submitted by Barbara Gilbertson on 01/10/2014 - 11:50 am.

    Christ Christie et al

    At risk of offending, I declare you fair and balanced, Mr. Black. Seriously.

    • Submitted by Nila Ouska on 01/11/2014 - 01:37 pm.

      Fair & Balanced

      Yes, I believe he is in this article. However, he was less than thorough because it turns out there are other reasons why this would have been done as you can read in the other comments in this post.

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/10/2014 - 11:51 am.

    Motive and opportunity

    There is some reason to believe that Governor Christie was retaliating against the leader of the Senate Democrats, who represents Fort lee. Democrats in the Senate had rejected all of his Supreme Court nominees, and threatened a big fight over reappointing a Republican justice. The Governor stopped the reappointment and held an angry press conference the day before the incriminating e-mails were sent.

    This is a little more plausible than the theory of revenge against Fort Lee theory. It shouldn’t be overlooked, however, that the Governor has created a culture in the state government where bullying is a feature, not a bug.

  8. Submitted by John Bracken on 01/10/2014 - 11:54 am.

    Truth Be Told

    Politicians do not lie. That is why I have so much respect for them no matter what side of the aisle they sit on. Time to have the NSA illuminate us on what they know about this.

  9. Submitted by John Bracken on 01/10/2014 - 12:02 pm.

    Rachel Maddow…really

    Can’t we agree that the political shows on MSNBC and Fox are one in the same? I trust them like I trust an untried funding scheme. Rachel seems smart and funny, but her approach is to ridicule on a national level. Ridicule is affective for the base, but it is disrespectful. If it was done by a student in an elementary school, it would result in a little sit down with an adult. Then again, it worked well for V.P. Biden during his debate. I give up. America is doomed. Cable news is leading the way. We deserve what we get.

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 01/10/2014 - 02:15 pm.

      Style irrelevant to theory

      Style points aside, the theory about retaliation over the supreme court appointment is the only one I’ve heard so far that even remotely begins to make sense. And if it is about that, then Christie must have known something.

    • Submitted by Lora Jones on 01/10/2014 - 03:30 pm.

      MSNBC may be comparably partisan

      and you may even be more offended by “ridicule” as you see it than by the blunt force attacks of Hannity, O’Reilly and Rushbo, but unlike them, she is a member of the reality-based community, and her stuff is, at least, researched and attributed instead of made up or delusional.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/11/2014 - 10:14 am.

      False equivalence, MSNBC and Fox

      No, MSNBC isn’t Fox. On MSNBC people lose their jobs if they misrepresent the facts or engage in purely Ad hominem attacks. (See Martin Bashir and Olberman, Imus, etc.) Fox seems to actually reward people who routinely misinform and insult people. Fox almost never issues a real correction of apology. I think Beck is the only one Fox has pushed out, and that was because of his ratings, not his conduct.

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/10/2014 - 12:35 pm.

    Not so good bad day

    If he didn’t know until this week it means

    –major players on his staff are petty, vengeful, and willing to do illegal things to opponents

    –he does not stay in contact with the day-to-day operations of his staff.

    –he has no way of monitoring (or is not interested) in monitoring his staff

    –major players on his staff member are willing to lie to
    him singly and in concert

    –his staff members are dumb enough to inflict punishment that is incomprehensible

    –his staff members have so little insight and judgement that they cause something that punishes as many Republicans as Democrats

    All in all, it puts Christie’s judgement and oversight skills into question.

    And, with the first legislative hearings into this matter were announced in the beginning of October, and he is making derisive public comments about the matter in the beginning of December, what does it say about him if he only read the emails this week?

    Just because he gas-bagged for a couple of hours in a press conference and apologized the supposed target of the act, it doesn’t erase the obvious defects in the way he runs things.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/10/2014 - 04:50 pm.

      More shoes dropping….

      …..Foye sent his email after four days of heavy traffic jams caused by the closures to nearly a dozen officials at the Port Authority, including chairman David Samson, a Christie appointee.

      Private messages released on Wednesday strongly suggested that a top aide to Christie orchestrated the lane closures as an act of political revenge. Samson’s role in the scandal remains unclear.

      On Thursday, Christie expressed confidence that Samson played no part in causing the Fort Lee traffic disaster, saying, “I am convinced that he had absolutely no knowledge of this, that this was executed at the operational level and never brought to the attention of the [Port Authority] board of commissioners.” Yet when Foye ordered the lanes reopened on September 13, David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority official wrote to a Christie staffer, “We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate.”

      Another email released on Friday shows an effort to keep the story from going public. On the night of September 13, Foye received an email from Bill Baroni, a Port Authority official appointed by Christie (who resigned in December as the scandal was unfolding). It read, “I am on my way to the office to discuss. There can be no public discourse.”

      And another email released on Friday indicates that the Christie crew was worried about Foye. On September 18, Samson wrote Scott Rechler, the vice chair of the Port Authority Board of Commissioners,* that he strongly suspected Foye of “stirring up trouble” by speaking anonymously to a Wall Street Journal reporter about the Fort Lee traffic debacle. He went on: “This is yet another example of a story—we’ve seen it before—where [Foye] distances himself from an issue in the press and rides in on a white horse to save the day In this case, he’s playing in traffic, made a big mistake.”

      All from: http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/01/emails-port-authority-bridge-closure-violate-law-christie

      What was said about the “coverup” ?

  11. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/10/2014 - 12:35 pm.

    One RINO down …

    You won’t hear any defense of this guy from my precincts. The democrats’ favorite republican wasn’t going to be our candidate no matter what the NY Times says.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/10/2014 - 01:06 pm.

      Really?

      I would have thought that petty, vindictive acts directed against eastern liberals would have been just what the tea party ordered.

      Would it have helped if he were carrying a gun?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/10/2014 - 01:13 pm.

      Two down, now, Mr. Tester says (Rubio and Christie)

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 01/10/2014 - 01:27 pm.

      Good point, Dennis.

      Gov. Christie, in yesterday’s press conference, talked about how, in his view, the shifting sands of politics makes for the friends and allies of one day turning to opponents later.

      So where are all the friends of Gov. Christie now ? Who is leaping to howl with outrage in his defense ? The relative silence is curious – and telling.

      Since those who might defend him now are also those who might help in a campaign to endorse him at a later time, it seems to indicate difficulty for his quest to be a presidential nominee. Of course, a lot can happen in the meantime, but this matter isn’t going away.

      There is a theory that this retaliation was really about Christie’s foiled N.J. Supreme Court nominations, ruined by the opposition of a Fort Lee Democrat in the legislature.

      If this is correct, it would be hard to believe that Christie had nothing to do with it. Maybe the idea that the Fort Lee mayor was not a supporter is merely a distraction, a misdirection, to put people off the scent of the real issue.

  12. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 01/10/2014 - 01:17 pm.

    A house divided…

    Dennis’ comment reminds us (if we need reminding) that there is a battle still underway for the heart and soul of the Republican Party (or Conservative Movement, if you prefer). Ultraconservatives have done little to slow Christie down inside the friendly confines of New Jersey’s borders. If he steps outside to make a run at the White House, expect his strongest critics coming from within his party, not without.

  13. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/10/2014 - 01:58 pm.

    Good bad day

    Christie had a good bad day if the issue was keeping his current job. Barring more information coming out, he probably survived. But his presidential ambitions are over. As Mr. Tester alludes to, the Tea Partiers absolutely HATE this guy. The Democrats don’t have to go after Christie – the right-wingers will finish him off.

    Christie’s candidacy depended on coming across as an above-the-fray moderate. That is now gone.

  14. Submitted by jason myron on 01/10/2014 - 02:02 pm.

    Well, that’s the problem…

    when you’re culling all the quislings from the herd… eventually, there’s only two people left looking at each other. I suspect that the Repubs will throw Mike Lee and Ted Cruz into a Thunderdome scenario and go with the guy who walks out alive.

  15. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/10/2014 - 02:29 pm.

    A nice balance

    …on Mr. Black’s part, but the whole affair strikes me as something of a tempest in a teapot, gleefully seized upon in a slow news season (How many stories can you write/show about snow and cold before people’s eyes glaze over?) by the dreaded East Coast Media.

    Of COURSE the aide should not have set in motion the purposeful traffic slowdown. It’s petty, vindictive and juvenile – all qualities that sometimes appeal to politicians on a national stage who cannot themselves afford to be seen as being petty, vindictive or juvenile. Democrats are hardly without sin in this vindictiveness context, but they generally take less obvious glee in making life miserable for their political opponents. Mr. Christie’s aide(s) not only carried it too far, they had the very unfortunate accident of getting caught.

    Happy to see Mr. Tester chime in with the ideological purity test results. Mr. Christie is not MY favorite Republican, so I remain unaffected, even if this little contretemps does spell doom for his presidential aspirations, and I’m not at all sure that it does. As Eric said, for a bad day, it was pretty good. If he gets caught in a lie about this – and I feel sure there are several people looking VERY hard for evidence of just that – then it’ll all blow up in his face, and someone else will command the stage for the short-attention-span members of the media and punditry. Lacking that, however, I think this will blow over.

  16. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 01/10/2014 - 02:55 pm.

    I find it hard to believe that any aide would do such a high-profile stunt if indeed the culture of his staff is as pure as Christie asserts. You just don’t pull something that blatant if all around you, people are following the rules. We’ll see just how removed from this he was.

    I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with Mr. Tester– I don’t see how Christie would survive the gauntlet of republican primary/caucus voters. I can just envision the ad– walking with Obama, arm-in-arm with Obama, “I’d like to thank the president…” rolling in the background with some creepy music; he might as well be embracing satan– would probably get a better response in S Carolina and Iowa…

  17. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 01/10/2014 - 02:56 pm.

    Christie won’t survive the national Republican critics

    Plain and simple Christe isn’t “Pure Enough” to be a viable Republican Presidential candidate. To meet the purity standard he will have to check his conscience in at the door, vehemently oppose the Affordable Care Act, ramp up his war on women, minorities, and taxes. The small modicum of common sense he does displays occasionally will have to be removed in its entirety and replaced with the already failed Republican talking points. He won’t be able to bluster his way to the presidency. Some where along the line he will have to make sense and that will be his political undoing. It is going to be a long trip home for Republicans to become politically viable as they still need a real leader.

  18. Submitted by John Edwards on 01/10/2014 - 04:24 pm.

    Interesting comparison

    Two stories side by side on MinnPost’s website. One is about a far distant (Republican) governor accused of playing hardball politics against opponents that resulted in a traffic jam. The other is about how a MNsure board hand-picked by our (Democratic) governor has virtually no answers to a legislative oversight committee that fears the board will ask for even more money after blowing hundreds of millions of dollars on a website that does not work that was promoted by our (Democratic) governor.

    The stories were posted at the same time. The story about the far-distant governor headed for a political black eye gets 25 reader comments. The one about our governor headed for the same condition gets three.

    If the comment section is any indication of readership, it is very clear who mainly reads MinnPost (for those who actually had doubt): avid Democrats looking for Republican blood, no matter how far they have to go to find it. MinnPost is not a journalistic site as it professes. It is a political one as is obvious.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/10/2014 - 04:59 pm.

      Political site

      You have raised this objection before. If the politics of the site bother you so much, why do you continue to read it?

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/10/2014 - 05:21 pm.

      I have often challenged those on the right

      to come here to MinnPost for a reasonably well moderated discussion of political issues. Mr. Swift – whom some regular readers will remember – was a regular contributor with literally thousands of contributions until after the last election, when he ceased posting.

      There are a few other regular contributors, notably Mr. Tester, who post here.

      But the right wing seems unwilling to engage in a moderated discussion on political topics. My attempts to make comments on right wing websites have been rebuffed.

      So I would suggest that Minnpost has been apolitical in moderation of comments on this site but this seems to make some people on the right uncomfortable.

      I will also note that not all of my comments on MinnPost have been accepted for publication. And most of the times this has happened I have been glad.

      Kudos to MinnPost for maintaining a good site for political discussion that is well moderated.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/10/2014 - 10:21 pm.

      By now it is clear that there was an active conspiracy in NJ to screw with people.

      When there is evidence of an active conspiracy to screw up MNsure, then we can talk about that.

      But for now, can you provide a theory as to why Dem office holders would act to sabotage the health care reform that they have been promoting and defending for years?

      THAT would make interesting reading

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/12/2014 - 11:18 pm.

      Nonsense

      The stories are completely different. One involves incompetence, which is not so rare in politics. The other involves an intentional act of sabotage, which is rare – or at least it is rare to have email evidence of it.

      The fact that the MNSure site sucks is also old news, while the fact that a Republican front-runner just had his presidential aspirations implode is new and real news.

  19. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 01/10/2014 - 05:09 pm.

    He did well

    Christie did well in his appearance.

    He took full responsibility (while saying he had nothing to do with it). He argued forcefully that he was shocked to find out this was poliltically motivated (reminds me of when Captain Renault was shocked to find gambling at Rick’s Cafe in the movie Casablanca). He followed up with a personal visit and apology to the Fort Lee mayor on the mayor’s home turf.

    All the right moves.

    This will blow away unless he’s personally implicated or (more likely) similar “dirty tricks” are uncovered which feed the “bully” narrative.

    But I have a question. How in the world could Kelly and Wildstein be so stupid – no, so incredibly stupid – as to put their suggestion and response in an email?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/10/2014 - 07:00 pm.

      The question is

      If Christie is so smart,
      why did he appoint these dufusses?
      And what does that say about his qualifications to be Chief Executive?
      The buck stops on the right lane of the GWB?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/10/2014 - 10:09 pm.

      ….How in the world could Kelly and Wildstein be so stupid – no, so incredibly stupid – as to put their suggestion and response in an email?….

      The only answers to that is either rock-hard stupidity, or long-term institutional acceptance of that type of behavior.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 01/13/2014 - 10:45 am.

      Consider this, Harris

      There are questions about why they did what they did. If he were taking “full responsibility” he would have asked and offered their answers at his press conference. The fact that he didn’t bother to interview the person he fired Friday tells me he knew why she did it. When you are throwing someone under the bus to hide something you don’t publically interview them first.

      From what I have read, on Friday he was “shocked” but in the last couple of months he has been mocking and laughing at this whole episode.

  20. Submitted by Joe Musich on 01/10/2014 - 09:46 pm.

    So Eric …

    Remember Spiro Agnew ? Of course you do how does this act involving the Christie administration and this very dangerous act comapre to Agnew’s potical corruption ? It seems to me there are ground here with \just what is known so far to look at resignation !

  21. Submitted by John Edwards on 01/11/2014 - 09:15 am.

    Why I read MinnPost

    To RB Holbrook: I read MinnPost to see how liberals view the news. I find the site informative and educational. I learn from it, which is why I visit. My point is that MinnPost promotes itself and raises funds by stating that it provides ” . . . non-partisan journalism” when it does not.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/12/2014 - 10:02 am.

      ‘partisan’

      means supporting a particular political candidate.
      I don’t see Eric doing that.
      Being human, he may have some biases, although I can recall very few of his statements being demonstrated to be factually incorrect, and he has admitted those misstatements.
      There is the idea that the facts have a Liberal bias, of course….
      being unbiased does not reporting an equal number of errors on both sides of a question when the errors themselves are not equally distributed.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/12/2014 - 01:42 pm.

      So?

      It sounds like you’re getting what you want: informative and educational articles, plus an insight into “how liberals view the news.” It’s up to you, but I don’t see the percentage in wasting your time complaining about labeling.

      The whole idea of an “unbiased” media as a good thing is a fairly recent, almost entirely American, ideal. I’m not sure of its origin–perhaps Spiro Agnew attacking the media because the news wasn’t glowing in its coverage of the administration. All over the world, media outlets are known to have their own biases. It isn’t considered a big deal. Historically, in the US, it wasn’t a big deal. Someday, if you have absolutely nothing better to do, see if you can find some old Minnesota Legislative Manuals in a library. Among other helpful facts, you will find a list of newspapers in the state. The listing has where they were published, what language they were published in, and what party they supported. Partisan bias was expected.

      As Mr. Brandon points out, we all have our biases. Why should journalists be the only ones forbidden from expressing them?

      And yes, I know all about Fox News. It doesn’t bother me,. largely because I don’t watch it.

  22. Submitted by William Pappas on 01/12/2014 - 07:14 am.

    Christie’s press conference was all about himself. The assertions that he knew nothing after all these weeks defies belief. His long time aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, is characterized by just about everyone as unlikely to pull such a irresponsible stunt without reviewing it with Christie. Christie spent too much time on himself and his motives, trying to repair political damage, and in the process lost sight of those he hurt the most: his constituents, the users of the bridge and the people of Manhattan. Does anyone want a man disposed to retribution of this nature assuming the role of the most powerful man on earth? As Presidential material, he’s toast, despite what NPR characterized as a press conference that places him in the lead role of Presidential hopefuls.

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