As the charges fly about another apparent scandal, this one from the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie still has questions being asked about his administration’s role in the fiasco that resulted from the closing of lanes from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge back in September of last year. Three primary questions remain unanswered. Let’s review them in turn, starting with the least serious one for Mr. Christie himself and leading to the most serious of all.
Why were the lanes closed? This is the question that has the media going crazy. The most prominently assumed reason is that the mayor of Fort Lee had refused to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign and that his town should be made to suffer for his recalcitrance.
There are several things about this explanation that don’t add up. The mayor in question, Mark Sokolich, is a Democrat, and his town is hardly one of the more significant communities in the state. The population of Fort Lee is a tad over 35,000, which makes it too small to appear on most maps of the state. And, even assuming the Governor (or his staff) thought the refusal to endorse was deserving of punishment, why this form of punishment? Did it make any kind of sense to create havoc in an entire town for four days?
But whatever the reason, the idea that it was intended as part of a traffic study (the cover that was originally floated) certainly doesn’t hold water. Some kind of political calculation, poorly considered to be sure, had to be the impetus for the action. What that calculation was may never be known but whatever it was, it only raises the second question.
What was the Governor’s role? This is the what-did-the-Governor-know-and-when-did-he-know-it question, and no matter how you look at this story, the Governor doesn’t look good.
One possibility is that the Governor, as he has stated innumerable times, had no idea before the event that the plan was being considered and certainly never approved of it. That may well be the case, but it only raises other questions. Since the e-mail exchanges between his aides and appointees establish almost irrefutably that a plan had been devised, how could such a plan have been conceived without some understanding that the Governor wanted something to be done?
Political appointees and those who are beholden to an elected official don’t conspire to commit acts that are completely outside of their marching orders. Those marching orders can be very loosely stated, as in “somebody should do something to make that s.o.b. of a mayor pay for not endorsing me,” or “I wish there were a way to make that s.o.b. of a mayor pay for not endorsing me.” They certainly don’t need to involve the Governor in direct communication with the evil doers. Richard Nixon, for example, may never have ordered the Watergate break-in, but he couldn’t have been surprised when he found out about it, because his entire administration was a paranoid cabal of dirty trick artists and “plumbers,” who sought to find the source of leaks, and it all emanated from his paranoia.
Similarly, Ronald Reagan may never have had a clue about Iran-Contra. (He certainly didn’t have a clue about a lot of other things.) But is there any doubt that Poindexter and North and anyone else who put the plan into effect had a clear sense of what the president’s concern was (helping the Nicaraguan rebels)?
Christie may never have said a word that spoke specifically to the traffic congestion plan for Fort Lee, but he most probably made comments to his deputy chief of staff that led her to believe that he would approve of her plan. And his Port Authority appointees undoubtedly knew the man who appointed them well enough to understand what he would want to have happen in that scenario when approached by that deputy chief of staff.
Yes, all of the above is conjecture. But it is also rational speculation, which, when you have people taking the Fifth to avoid testifying, is the best you can do. And there will be immunity given at some point by some prosecutor or legislative committee, at which point people tend to become less loyal in protection of their own skin.
But the answers to those first two questions, when they ultimately are discovered, shouldn’t be nearly as damaging as the answer to the third question facing Chris Christie.
Why didn’t he care while it was happening? This one can’t be answered satisfactorily no matter what answer is given.
In the immediate aftermath of a four-day succession of traffic jams that seriously threatened the health and safety of the residents of one of the towns he is charged with protecting, this governor expressed absolutely no concern. Rather, in his typical Christie-fashioned disdain, he scoffed over even being asked about the matter.
“I moved the cones, actually, unbeknownst to anybody.” That was his attempt at humor when he was initially asked about the traffic mess.
Really, Governor Christie? Is that really how you viewed the matter? With an entire community of over 35,000 people stuck for four days in a massive traffic jam, you couldn’t have cared less?
That attitude has only been exacerbated by his seeming disinterest in uncovering the genesis of the plan (not questioning his deputy chief of staff before he fired her or his two appointees to the Port Authority when they resigned). And that attitude, more than any answers to the questions that need to be answered, sheds more light on the man who has presidential aspirations than anything short of an e-mail from him directing the lane closures could.
Still, in politics, scandals can blow over or be swept aside by subsequent events. Governor Christie may well survive this crisis and regain his position as the leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Polls before the scandal broke had him neck and neck with Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical presidential race.
And, lest anyone forget, Richard Nixon was re-elected after the Watergate break-in, and Ronald Reagan is still revered by millions of Americans.