Dick Morris: Christie's in a Trap
Friday, January 10, 2014 03:46 PM
By: Dick Morris
The conventional wisdom is that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has extricated himself from mortal political danger by his long, frank, apologetic press conference Thursday in Trenton.
There, he essentially blamed the bridge scandal on two aides and fired them both. Were he faced with cancer, this would be adequate treatment. Cut out the offending cells and it's gone. But politics is more nuanced.
By declaring that he had no knowledge and nothing to do with the traffic gridlock, he has hunkered down into a position that might be increasingly difficult to defend. The Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature — they're in control of both chambers — are likely to probe deeply into his denials and there may even be a federal investigation by a Senate committee.
It is just too facile to take at face value his claim to absolute innocence.
Who came up with the idea of a traffic jam in Fort Lee? Who knew enough about the traffic flow onto the George Washington Bridge to understand what to do? How did Bridget Anne Kelly come to send a cryptic email to Port Authority board member David Wildstein saying it was time for more traffic in Fort Lee? How did Wildstein know what she meant? How did he persuade the Port Authority to act on the idea?
When and how did Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich make the Christie enemies list in the first place? Why was he singled out among the various Jersey Democratic mayors who refused to cross over and endorse Christie?
When Port Authority executive Wildstein replied to Kelly's email: "got it," what was the background? Had they discussed the lane closure strategy before? The reply "got it" begs these questions.
Had Wildstein replied: "What the hell are you talking about? What do I have to do with Fort Lee traffic and why should we be interested?" it would have made more sense and lent more credibility to the claim that Kelly came up with the idea on her own.
The story is endlessly interesting and, before it is over, the inner workings of the Christie administration will be revealed for all to see. We will learn the background of the controversy in great detail, and it is unlikely that the governor will escape blame.
After all, the ironclad nature of Christie's denial — his assertion that he knew nothing about it — will likely not stand up. A plot like this is not hatched among subordinates with the chief left in total ignorance. At the bottom of the pile of emails that will emerge may be one in which Christie emulates the famous request of King Henry II of England, who asked his aides about Thomas Becket: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"
Gov. Christie is stuck. He can't maneuver. His denial is too tight. His reputation too much at stake. It will not do for him to say, subsequently, that "it depends on what the definition of is, is." If his hand is anywhere in evidence after his denials, he is both stuck and sunk.
If he is to be sunk, the so-called moderate wing of the GOP will not only lack a rider, it will lack a horse. Without Christie's record in handling Superstorm Sandy, his re-election margin, and his outsized personality, his brand of would-be Rockefeller Republicanism has demonstrated its political impotence time and again.
Without Christie, there will be no moderate in the 2016 race.