How much trouble is Chris Christie in?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is embroiled in a major league scandal that has already tarnished his image and threatens to derail his presidential ambitions before they even get started.
The brouhaha involves orders given by top Christie aides to Christie appointees of the NY-NJ Port Authority, to close a couple of lanes on the Geoge Washington Bridge that would punish a Democratic mayor - Fort Lee's Mark Sokolich - for not supporting his re-election. The result of the lane closing was massive traffic jams for Fort Lee and other small towns near the bridge.
The emails make pretty clear that the closings were punitive.
Christie previously had denied his staff played a role in the lane closures and even mocked reporters for asking about the issue when it emerged months ago. He said a traffic study prompted the closure. But the emails tell a different story, potentially undercutting Christie's reputation as a truth-teller who doesn't play political games.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly wrote in an email to Port Authority official David Wildstein, a Christie ally, on Aug. 13, 2013, according to The Record (N.J.) and other news outlets.
"Got it," Wildstein replied. The following month, two of the town's lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed, causing backups for a week that one local columnist described as a "disaster" that "quadruple[d] commuting time for some of the people who live closest to one of the nation's busiest bridges."
Emergency responders said the traffic delayed their responses to four different medical calls, the Record reported. One involved a 91-year-old woman who died after reaching the hospital, according to the Record, although officials did not directly attribute her death to the traffic.
The closures came ahead of the gubernatorial election at a time when Christie was looking to maximize his support from the rival party. He ultimately claimed endorsements from more than 60 elected Democrats in New Jersey. But Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, did not endorse Christie for reelection, and some New Jersey Democrats have accused Christie supporters of retaliating with the lane closures.
The longer -- and higher -- the scandal goes, the bigger a problem it could be for Christie's national ambitions. The emails underscore the reputation Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has in New Jersey as a bully who lashes out at enemies over slights -- real or perceived.
That "reputation" of Christie's is part of the liberal narrative that has been developing about the governor since it became clear he would run for president in 2016. The problem for Christie is that it plays right into it, whether he had anything to do with the lane closings or not.
Gee - so no politician ever tries to get back at those who defy him? No Democratic politician has ever been vindictive toward a political opponent? Funny how when Bill Clinton was in the White House and getting revenge on Republicans and his accusers that no Democrat ever called him a "bully" or a "thug."
All prosecutors are bullies to some extent and the development of the narrative that ex-prosecutor Christie picks on innocent teacher unions and public employees was already well underway when this scandal broke. What a godsend for the left.
It's regrettable that Christie's aides were stupid enough to send gloating emails to each other. That was a truly brainless act and, if criminal charges are to be filed, they should have the book thrown at them. And Christie's denials of involvement are problematic at best:
"I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."
Should he have taken responsibility? They're his staff under his direction. Some may see these denials as Christie attempting to shift responsibility to his staff. What does that say about his leadership?
The Christie myth has taken a hit. From his point of view, the only good thing is that the campaign is still a year away from getting underway - plenty of time for him to repair the damage and for the public to forget.