Chris Christie is back. The bellicose New Jersey governor belittled and corrected reporters in an hour-long news conference Friday afternoon, one day after a report he had commissioned from a major law firm concluded he had no knowledge of his staff’s involvement in the politically motivated closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September.
How confident is Christie feeling? In his first press conference since January, called specifically to address the bridge scandal report, he made a joke about the “traffic lanes” in his own office.
The Christie on display Friday stood in stark contrast to the humbled governor who willingly suffered two hours of questions from the press two months ago. That was right after the news broke in January that members of his administration had ordered the lanes closed as apparent political retribution against the mayor of the town of Fort Lee. The closure, over the course of several days, crippled the town’s roads and caused delays in emergency vehicles’ response times, as well as other problems.
In that January press conference, Christie was uncharacteristically deferential. On Friday, he was combative and confrontational. Multiple times he interrupted reporters’ questions to argue with their premises or to complain that they were editorializing. When one reporter asked a question that Christie felt he had already answered, the governor said, “I don’t know if you can’t take notes, or if you aren’t listening.”
The report that Christie called the press conference to address was produced by a team of former federal prosecutors, now with the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Christie stressed that they had complete access to all personnel and electronic records for a review that, in the end, exonerated the governor personally, but pinned blame on members of his administration, most prominently former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly.
The report has been criticized as potentially biased, because the law firm that produced it was hand-picked by the governor. But Christie made the point that to believe the report was a whitewash requires believing that a major national law firm and a handful of prominent attorneys would put their reputations for competence and integrity on the line for Christie’s sake.
The fact that several other entities, including the office of the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey and the New Jersey state legislature, are looking at the same evidence and may make their findings public means that any inconsistencies between the report and the evidence will almost certainly be made public.
With those investigations ongoing, the bridge scandal is surely not over for Christie. The same undoubtedly holds true for questions about whether he had knowledge of his staff’s actions, or about his judgment in hiring the people involved and the type of administration he runs, in which political revenge at the expense of ordinary citizens was apparently thought to be acceptable.
How that will all play out is anybody’s guess, and Christie, still considered a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, can’t afford to wait to find out if he wants to stay in the race.
While he denies he’s made a decision on whether to run or not, Christie is headed to Las Vegas this weekend for what is being called the “Adelson primary.” Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has expressed interest in providing financial backing for a Republican nominee who he believes can win the presidency in 2016, is hosting a number of potential candidates over the weekend for one-on-one meetings.
Christie made the scarcely believable claim Friday that he had “no idea” whether he will be meeting with Adelson over the weekend, claiming that the main purpose of his trip is to deliver a speech to a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. That conference just happens to be taking place in the Venetian casino hotel, of which Adelson is the primary owner.
Before the bridge scandal, Christie’s stock in trade was his tough-guy image, his straight talk and his willingness to bash the press and his critics. On his way out the door Friday, just in case there was any doubt in reporters’ mind about whether the real Christie had returned, he told them, “I’d love to tell you I missed you, but I didn’t.”
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