A fair demand, that the state be repaid

Back in 2011 when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was by then “feeling it” as allegedly welcome relief from vanquished Jon Corzine and the buzz was on about him and the presidency, he at first typically refused but later gave in to demands that he repay the state for use of a state police helicopter, for what was thought not to be official business. Somehow, in the midst of his current “Bridgegate” troubles, Christie thought having a law firm with which he is somewhat closely allied “investigate” the GW Bridge scandal that has tarnished him big time, was a neat idea. Now that Christie’s lawyers have come up with an embarrassment of fawning, one-sided inanities in a report following their so-called investigation, the question should be: how prepared is he to repay the more than $1 million of state funds spent on this con job?

“A whitewash for Gov. Christie,” The New York Times called the treacly stuff (as related to the governor) as well as other bizarre conclusions and inclusions framing what the team of legal eagles dared to present for public perusal. To no one’s surprise, folks in the Christie cheering section found nothing to scoff at in these findings that, above all. Christie’s hands were absolutely unsoiled. “God is back,” crowed one of the well-known hawkers of red meat for those enamored of such offerings, welcoming the pugnacious, take-no-prisoners style Christie exhibited at a news conference following his “exoneration” by (paid) kindred spirits.

Never mind being duty-bound to remain loyal come what may, Christie partisans would be ditching self-respect (easy for many, we would think) if they find a comfort level with the report from Christie’s colleagues as a serious document. As a practical matter, how could it possibly be? None of the individuals associated with the governor whose names have come to be linked to the bridge mess – his fired deputy chief of staff, fired campaign manager or resigned appointee to the Port Authority – spoke to these investigators. Nor did the man Christie had chosen as Port Authority chairman, who has now also resigned. Where, but in some alternate universe scenario, would a report purporting to be “comprehensive and exhaustive,” be made to surface with no input from or interface with key players central to the controversy at hand? Were it the fact-finders’ intent to avoid any appearance of being committed to come up aces for the governor, no matter what, theirs was certainly a peculiar way of doing so.

The report also failed to distinguish itself as a principled, professional public service exercise by including details of an alleged relationship between Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and former campaign manager, and speculating about how this may have played into the four days of orchestrated traffic nightmares at the bridge last September. Also included was brusque dismissal of the word of another official who did not speak to Christie’s investigators, the mayor of Hoboken, whose claim of an inappropriate overture made to her by the Christie administration, regarding an upcoming real estate development in Hoboken, had become a cause célèbre as well.

Christie and the team engaged in marketing the Christie brand obviously believe that Bridgegate and ancillary stuff that has called the governor’s operating style into question are no impregnable barriers to the sky-high aspirations they have for the brand. So no sooner was this porous review by a very suspect group laid on the public, than came a return of the moxie Christie and his merchandisers probably consider his most saleable asset. In the news conference following release of the report Christie was as combat-ready as ever, assuming the persona he evidently thought ideal for an impending meeting with Republican donors in Las Vegas.

It figures to be a mistake, though, for team Christie to be sold on the notion that with a report from friendly operatives declaring him A-OK, he’s back on an obstacle-free path to the Republican nomination and the presidency. For one thing, what Christie knew and didn’t know or did and didn’t do about the Washington Bridge affair is hardly the be-all and end-all of factors affecting these White House ambitions of his. The “bully” image that has attached itself to Christie is there not without reason. With investigations underway by the state legislature and, more critically, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, into the storm that has kicked up across the river, who knows what’s in store by way of further “enforcer” type actions approximating the Hoboken mayor’s accusation? Christie admitted to wanting to “run up the score” when he was up for re-election last November against token opposition (incurring the added state expenditure of a separate date for the special U.S. Senate election underscored this). What, if anything, is there still to be revealed about this determination of the Christie camp to blow his opponent out of the water?

There will likely be more, but already there have been exposed features of the Christie brand that should give troubling pause with respect to any quest for national office. Christie has too often displayed an inability to disagree without being disagreeable…not only in political sparring duels but with regular folk. No pumped-up (or downplayed) post-Sandy embrace of President Obama is sufficient to neutralize that.

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