There are two major angles to the Chris Christie bridge scandal. The most important angle is the public safety hazard that Christie’s staffers, and perhaps Christie himself deliberately created in order to apparently stymie Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. The other angle is closely related, but not as critical: the sheer thuggish, brazen stupidity of the Christie team.
In the hours following the release of emails from senior Christie staffers showing they clearly plotted to block traffic on the George Washington Bridge leading from New Jersey into Manhattan, we learned two damning pieces of information:
1) The effort to track down a missing 4-year-old child was hindered by the massive traffic jam in Fort Lee caused by the lane closures on the bridge. The child was eventually found, but the search was hindered by the traffic.
2) At least four EMT rescues were slowed due to the traffic. One of those rescues involved a 91-year-old woman who later died (it’s unclear whether it was the result of delayed treatment). Officials say two of the four rescues took twice as long as normal due to the traffic.
Yeah, but — badabing! — at least the Christie staffers really showed that endorsement-dysfunctional Mayor Sokolich. Somehow. And that leads us to the other side of this scandal: the sheer stupidity of the conspiracy.
3) “Let’s block traffic, piss off thousands of people and create a public safety hazard! That’ll show the, you know, mayor of, um, Fort Lee?” How the hell would the closure of bridge lanes and the subsequent traffic negatively impact Sokolich, politically or otherwise? The excuse from David Wildstein, Bridget Anne Kelly and other Christie cronies was that the lane closures were due to a Port Authority “traffic study.” Total fabrication of course, but had it been true, wouldn’t that negatively impact the Port Authority and Christie’s hand-picked man at the Port Authority, his high school buddy David Wildstein?
Seriously, why would Christie’s people intentionally harm fellow New Jerseyans to retaliate against a mayor? These aren’t very nice — or particularly smart people.
4) Leaving an email paper trail was profoundly stupid. It reminds me of politicians who blurt out something stupendously obnoxious thinking no one’s listening and suddenly a cellphone recording ends up going viral on YouTube. Fact: if you’re a public official, your shit’s being recorded. Likewise, if you’re doing something illegal, don’t send it around via email.
5) Christie’s statement yesterday left no doubt whatsoever: his aides are guilty. The emails left at least a little gray-area to exculpate the administration, but Christie essentially declared those involved to be unequivocally guilty. But then I suppose it’s in keeping with his straightforward style to do such a thing. However, throwing staffers under a bus in such a public way can often blow back at the thrower. I won’t be surprised if one of the guilty staffers reveals information pointing to Christie himself.
6) If there’s a brewing scandal that impacted thousands of New Jersey residents, you do not say this during a press conference:
“I know you guys are obsessed with this. I’m not, I’m really not. It’s just — it’s not that big a deal just because press runs around and writes about it both here and nationally. I know why that is and so do you,” Christie said at a news conference. “Let’s not pretend that it’s because of the gravity of the issue. It’s because I am a national figure and anything like this will be written about a lot now. So, let’s not pretend.”
Utterly tone deaf, especially in hindsight knowing that someone might’ve died as the result of his administration’s stunt at the GW bridge. Even if it was a legitimate traffic jam, you don’t just blow it off. Interminable traffic infuriates people — especially when you blow it off when everyone knows you have a gubernatorial helicopter to shuttle you around.
7) Even if Christie is completely exonerated, this is going to all but eliminate any chances he had for 2016, barring some sort of major success story. While he might not have ordered the closure of the lanes, this underscores the types of people he’d appoint to White House and cabinet-level posts — people who think it’s hilarious to create a week-long traffic jam for the sake of a dirty trick.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Chris Christie. But prior to this scandal, I had a shred of hope that if perchance he wins it all in 2016 he’d at least be a straight-talking, somewhat moderate and competent chief executive. Not any more. This is political amateur hour, it ain’t over yet and who knows how often this sort of thing has happened in New Jersey.