I … did not expect the first 2016-related scandal of the year to involve lane closings on a bridge, but that’s blogging for you. Some days it’s the president and secretary of state opposing a key military operation for nakedly self-interested political reasons, other days it’s staffers for the (very) early GOP frontrunner trying to screw a political opponent by sticking him with traffic problems. Spice of life, my friends.
This is a rare scandal story in that, I suspect, it’ll unite lefties and tea partiers in outrage in the name of taking down a common opponent. Only temporarily, though: If the big guy goes on to win the nomination, partisan loyalties will turn this into a nothingburger on the right overnight.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: “Got it.”
Other top Christie associates mentioned in or copied on the email chain, all after the top New York appointee at the authority ordered the lanes reopened, include David Samson, the chairman of the agency; Bill Stepien, Christie’s re-election campaign manager and the newly appointed state GOP chairman; and Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman.
The theory, which isn’t clearly confirmed by the e-mails, is that Christie’s office ordered the lane closings as retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse him. Once the lanes closed, traffic in Fort Lee would back up — for hours at a time — and the mayor would be under siege from the locals. Why Christie would have cared about anyone’s endorsement when he was consistently up 20+ points in the governor’s race at the time, I have no idea. But if you’re looking for evidence that the guy, or at least his staff, enjoys bullying people even when there’s little to be gained by it, there you go.
This bit simply must be excerpted:
In one exchange of text messages on the second day of the lane closures, Wildstein alludes to messages the Fort Lee mayor had left complaining that school buses were having trouble getting through the traffic.
“Is it wrong that I’m smiling,” the recipient of the text message responded to Wildstein. The person’s identity is not clear because the documents are partially redacted for unknown reasons.
“No,” Wildstein wrote in response.
“I feel badly about the kids,” the person replied to Wildstein. “I guess.”
“They are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein wrote, making a reference to Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, who lost to Christie in a landslide in November.
Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority last month after reporters first started sniffing around the lane closings. He’s the source of these e-mails, apparently, having handed them over when he was subpoenaed by a state panel that’s investigating, whereupon some Christie enemy on the panel presumably handed them over to the papers. The next step will be for Kelly to resign (as well as everyone cc’d on her messages?) followed by the requisite Christie statement of ignorance and disappointment. Then we move to phase two, in which the media tries to prove that Christie himself knew all along or even ordered the lane closings. Hard to believe a scandal this petty could become big news with legs, but evidence of the governor having had a direct role in it would keep it going. There’s much truth to this:
Bridge story will likely be very big – bored press w/2016 fever, link to competitive NYC media market, & investigation creating paper trail
— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan) January 8, 2014
After an hour of Twittergazing, I see that camps are already forming. Christie fans think any “scandal” involving something as trivial as lane closings is DOA and that this is politics as usual in the tri-state area. Compared to some of Obama’s sins, it’s less than nothing. Before much longer, some will inevitably adopt this line and argue that Christie’s willingness to screw an opponent for crossing him is exactly what Washington needs to Get Things Done. Christie haters think this is a legit scandal because it demonstrates the smallness of the man and how little it takes to get him to abuse his power. If, after the IRS scandal and shutdown theater, you worry about having someone in charge who’d punish innocent people to make life harder for his political enemies, why would you want to elect a guy capable of this sort of vindictiveness? E.g.:
Admit it, conservatives. If this were Rahm Emmanuel, you'd be screaming bloody murder about the "Chicago machine."
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) January 8, 2014
I think the whole thing will fade within a week unless proof emerges that Christie had a bigger role in it. In which case, second look at Marco Rubio?