Performing emergency damage control on national TV, 41-year-old Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus hailed 52-year-old embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a true leader for spending 111 minutes answering questions at a hastily called Jan.. 9 press conference. When the New York Times leaked emails from Christie’s Deputy Chief-of-Staff Bridget Ann Kelly instructing his Port Authority appointee and old high school buddy David Wildstein to gum up traffic over the George Washington Bridge, the media convulsed. Christie emphatically denied knowing anything of Kelly’s actions, firing her just before his press conference. “Chris Christie has been totally open here,” said Priebus, having no more facts than anyone else. Since the scandal broke Jan. 8, no one has heard directly from Kelly, Wildstein or Port Authority Chairman David Samson.
Telling David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that Christie offered far more candor that President Barack Obama on the IRS or former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Benghazi, Priebus defended Christie, not knowing the facts. “Chris Christie went up, manned up, took it on and was decisive,” said former GOP Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also rushing to rescue the GOP’s expected 2016 frontrunner or at least before the scandal broke Jan. 8. Rushing in to salvage Christie on the Sunday morning talk shows won’t stop ongoing local, state and federal investigations looking to hear from the principles blamed by Christie, including his underlings, Kelly, Mildstein and Samson. Add to that Christie’s former campaign manager and wannabe New Jersey GOP head Bill Stepien, who, like the others, has fallen of the map, nowhere to be found.
Insiders that know how Christie manages his governor’s office found it inconceivable that Kelly would have gone “rogue,” lying, as Christie asserted at his press conference, to retaliate against Fort Lee’s Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Christie’s reelection bid. New Jersey Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel, who’s watched Kelly for 20 years climb the ranks in New Jersey politics, found Christie’s explanation incredulous. Former President George W. Bush’s chief strategist Karl Rove got into the fray rushing to Christie’s rescue. “You’ll notice we haven’t been hearing a lot from the Clinton camp about this,” said Rove. “Contrast both with Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton’s handling of Benghazi,” showing the extent of GOP desperation. Bill Clinton was a private citizen when Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans were ambushed Sept. 11, 2012 by terrorists in Benghazi.
Bringing out all the big guns to defend Christie, the GOP sticks out its neck when the facts aren’t yet known. What’s known for sure is that all principles in the GW Bridge scandal have not talked to the media. As the investigation proceeds, someone will do more than Wildstein when he took the Fifth in a New Jersey legislative hearing. “I think what you saw the other day was leadership,” insisted Priebus, only hours before the federal Housing and Urban Development Dept. opened up an investigation into Christie’s improper handling of hurricane Sandy relief funds. “It is inappropriate for a taxpayer-funded dollars that are critical to our state’s recovery from this natural disaster to fund commercials that could potentially benefits a political campaign,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). Pallone requested a probe into Christie using $2 million of the state’s $25 million relief fund to finance ads for his 2013 campaign.
Whatever happens with hurricane Sandy flap, it doesn’t stop the local, state and federal probes now underway to get to the bottom of why Kelly instructed Wildstein to close down three lanes of traffic on the GW Bridge Sept. 9-13, 2013 causing a nightmare to commuters, maybe even injuries and a death. Christie explained the lane closures as a “traffic study” but couldn’t say whether the traffic study caused the gridlock or political payback. New Jersey’s U.S. Atty. Paul Fishman opened an investigation into what caused the GW Bridge gridlock. Since no one’s heard from anyone connected with the bridge lane closings other than Christie, there’s a lot of unanswered questions. While Christie’s GOP friends have many excuses, the public hasn’t heard from anyone connected with the incident. Silence only raises more doubts about the GOP and Christie’s denials.
Christie’s Jan. 9 press conference gives Christie’s story but doesn’t lay out any material facts about what happened Sept. 9-13 with the GW Bridge “traffic study” causing so much misery to New Jersey commuters. No matter how many excuses the GOP concocts, it doesn’t answer the question of what happened and who’s responsible. Tossing Kelly under the bus doesn’t answer who ordered the apparent political payback for not backing Christie’s reelection bid. “He was in campaign mode,” former New York mayor Rudy Giulani told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” known for his own share of scandals and damage control. “We don’t know the facts,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), considered one of Christie’s rivals for the 2016 GOP nomination. While the GOP’s working in overdrive to save Christie, the facts, as Rubio says, will eventually speak for themselves.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.