© 2014 New York Times News Service
Let’s take a minute to search for life lessons in the latest Chris Christie bridge-traffic-jam episode. I believe there are two. First, when the political ship is going down, nobody will bother to rescue the unattached woman and the dork from senior year.
Also, it’s always handy to have a law degree.
On Friday, Christie held a news conference to discuss the results of an investigation into the now infamous lane closings on the George Washington Bridge. The inquiry was commissioned by, um, Chris Christie. It concluded that the villains were Bridget the Aide and David Who Was Not Popular in High School.
“I had nothing to do with this … and this report has supported exactly what I said,” Christie announced rather triumphantly. Negative minds might substitute “announced pompously with an extreme degree of self-righteousness,” but we are taking the high road.
The governor was, indeed, portrayed in a light of near-beatific proportions. He had absolutely no role in the most infamous traffic jam since Woodstock. He was too good, and too busy doing other things, like comforting the victims of a fire — an act of mercy he felt driven to perform even though he had to cancel “a planned trip to Florida with his wife for her birthday.”
The investigators acknowledged that one of the evildoers, David Wildstein, might have informed Christie about the lane-closing plan. This was apparently at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony, and the report calls it “a reference that the Governor does not recall and, even if actually made, would not have registered with the Governor in any event because he knew nothing about this decision in advance and would not have considered another traffic issue at one of the bridges or tunnels to be memorable.”
People, try reading that last quote out loud. Doesn’t it sound a tad over-defensive? In a breathless kind of way? Also, if you were the governor and some official came up to you at a 9/11 ceremony and started talking about access lanes on the George Washington Bridge, wouldn’t you at least say to yourself: “Hmm, that’s a strange topic of conversation.” I mean, it would stick in the mind.
The investigators said they could find no real evidence of why the lane closings were organized. But they fingered Wildstein as planner-in-chief. He was an official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge. Aficionados of this story will remember the governor’s announcement that while he and Wildstein were high school classmates, they didn’t travel in the same circles. (“You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.”) The guy appears to be a real jerk, but you still have to have a little sympathy there.
Bridget Anne Kelly, one of Christie’s aides, is depicted in the role of traffic-jam cheerleader, and she is clearly a person of tremendously awful judgment. However, the investigators’ description of her behavior was unusually — personal. They noted that Kelly had been dating Christie’s political adviser, Bill Stepien. And they suggested that she might have thrown herself into the bridge plot during a breakup funk. (“Events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind.”)
Then when Christie (ever truthful, ever brave) “demanded straight answers from his senior staff,” the report says Kelly “panicked.” Perhaps this was because she was “habitually concerned about how she was perceived by the Governor,” something which is, of course, extremely unusual for people working in a state Capitol.
Kelly, who refused to talk with the investigators, is a single mother, in deep legal trouble, unemployed and utterly abandoned by the state’s power structure. Meanwhile, Stepien, who has also declined to cooperate, just got a new job at a consulting company that has strong ties to the Republican Party.
The report found that Bill Baroni, a high-ranking Port Authority official, ignored cries of distress about the traffic jams, all the while texting and emailing with Wildstein. But, the report claimed, he “did not communicate in an overtly partisan or political manner.” And no bad feelings about the refusal to talk with investigators.
Baroni resigned under fire, but he has since gotten a job at one of the state’s top law firms.
The investigators seemed absolutely serene about the refusal to answer questions by David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority. When Samson resigned Friday, Christie thanked him for “his service and his friendship,” while expressing shock when a reporter suggested that Samson’s law firm might have found it advantageous to have a partner at the head of an organization with a $27.6 billion capital budget. (“That’s your assumption!”)
Christie said his old buddy had explained that he wasn’t talking to the investigators because of “issues of attorney-client privilege. … I didn’t push it any farther.”
It was the kind of thing only another lawyer could understand.