Gov. Christie has suffered a severe blow in the past few months. His Executive Office and other close colleagues are under investigation. He has gone down in both national and NJ polls. Questions about Bridgegate, Sandy, and the NY/NJ Port Authority have hounded him. Following his initial two-hour press conference in January, he has refused to meet with the press and has tried to convey the appearance of conducting business as usual.
We now have learned from the NY Times that the administration’s internal review performed by lawyer Randy Mastro of what went wrong in Bridgegate will be made public shortly. “According to people with firsthand knowledge of the inquiry, it has uncovered no evidence that the governor was involved in the plotting or directing of the lane closings.” Nobody really expected that Christie’s lawyer would say the governor was guilty of something. The article is an excellent read, and although many will be skeptical, let’s accept the conclusion for now at face value.
So where does this leave Christie? In the catbird seat or a rough rumble seat? More likely the latter. However, several points at the moment benefit Christie: The review bolsters his earlier stated claim that he had “no knowledge that traffic lanes leading to the bridge had been closed until after they were reopened.” So far there is no evidence to the contrary and no charges have been brought against him.
Americans have a tradition of looking past the misdeeds of of office-holders. Mayor Sharpe James under indictment for many years was re-elected and later went to prison. Congressman Rob Andrews under a House Ethics investigation was re-elected and later resigned from the House. Scandals where a politician is seen as filling his own pockets, like the previous examples, are often viewed more seriously by the public than scandals in which politicians use their power as Christie does to stay in office or to expand his reach – often seen as “politics as usual,” or just “hardball politics.”
The Legislature’s select Committee on Investigation so far has delivered no crippling blow to Christie. The most revealing document, “Time for Traffic problems in Fort Lee” raises more questions than it answers. Lawyers for defendants who might know the most about what happened (Wildstein, Kelly and Stepien) are using the court to sidestep subpoenas.
The NJ Attorney General has shown no interest in investigating the matter. U. S. Federal Attorney Paul Fishman is wisely taking his time but has released no indictments. There remains uncertainty as to what charges are applicable. The State Ethics Commission, which has its own conflict of interest problems, has not decided what to do regarding New Jersey Working Families Alliance’s lawsuit against Port Authority Chair Samson and his inter-connected relationship with Gov. Christie and Wolff Samson law firm.
For the moment the clouds appear to have lifted for Christie, but there is a storm brewing ahead, which we will explore in Part II.