Christie’s Lawyers Clear Governor in GWB Affair

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has just applied a coat of whitewash to the George Washington Bridge scandal. An internal review that the governor commissioned, yet paid for with $1 million of taxpayer money, has cleared the governor of wrongdoing. Although there is no way this counts as an objective look into the affair, the message is now out for low-information voters that the governor’s hands are clean. He has achieved his objective of muddying the waters enough to remain a viable figure in national politics.

The crux of the scandal is one of petty political vengeance. When the Mayor of Fort Lee, NJ, declined to endorse the governor during last autumn’s election, some of the governor’s staff closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge that connects Fort Lee to Manhattan. For four days, traffic in the New Jersey town was at a standstill. The question is not whether it happened but rather it was the Howard Baker question from Watergate — what did the governor know and when did he know about it.

Randy Mastro, a former federal prosecutor who led the inquiry, said, “We found that Gov. Christie had no knowledge beforehand of this George Washington Bridge realignment and that he played no role whatsoever in the decision or the implementation of it.” The report stated, “The common speculation that this was an act of political retaliation because Mayor Sokolich failed to endorse the governor for reelection is not established by the evidence we have seen. It was [David] Wildstein’s [who served on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey] ‘idea,’ like so many other ‘crazy’ ones he’d had before that never got off the ground.”

There are other investigations going on, for instance in the New Jersey state legislature, that will either confirm or contradict this. Even Mr. Mastro acknowledged this, “There are other investigations that will make findings after we are done,” he said. “We will be judged at the end of the day on whether we got it right.” And then the talking heads will go over all of it to build a case as their political inclinations dictate.

From the governor’s point of view, though, the important thing is that he got his “exoneration” story into the media before any other narrative. That means that his is the one that will enter public consciousness first, and people tend to believe the first story they hear rather than the arguments for later explanations. This is particularly so in cases where the audience would just like the story to go away.

For many not-crazy, non-reactionary Republicans, Governor Christie is the great moderate hope. They don’t want this story to have any legs, and they now can argue that he has been cleared of any wrong doing. The fact that he has expressed contrition only works to his advantage because he has accepted blame for letting people down, that he should have known and didn’t, and that if he had known, he would have stopped it.

The other investigations are likely to echo much of the basics of this review, and while they may come to more incriminating conclusions about the governor, this study allows his supports to argue that the reports-yet-to-come are politically motivated hatchet jobs.

One may not like Mr. Christie’s politics nor his personality, but one must admire his cunning.