One thing about the BridgeGate scandal we can be sure of: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in a huge heap of trouble. It really doesn't matter whether or not he ordered or had prior knowledge of the George Washington Bridge access lane revenge-closings last September to punish Fort Lee's Mayor Mark Sokolich for his failure to endorse Christie in his re-election bid. Either way, the Big Guy's screwed.
The facts are clear, and by his own admission: either he's a lying, potentially criminal bully, or he's an utterly incompetent chief executive unable to control a rogue senior staff. So whether he's broken the law, committed severe ethics violations or simply had his head up his ass matters little in his quest to be President of the United States come January 2017. This scandal all but kills that hope and, pending the outcome of myriad state and federal investigations now underway, might also cost him the governorship.
"I am not a bully," Christie pleaded from the podium during his nearly two-hour woe-is-me mea-culpa before reporters Thursday in an unprecedented demonstration of narcissism. That bold denial reminds us of Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" and Bill Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman." History has demonstrated that when one utters the words "I am not," he typically is.
What else is certain here is that the facts and timeline of Christie's story simply don't add up. It's unfathomable that a widely-known, self-admitted micro-manager, feared by many for his brute tactics towards those who cross him, had neither created a culture of retribution which guided his senior team, or one in which he wielded the heavy-hand himself. Whining for 108 minutes about how "blindsided...sad...embarrassed...and humiliated" he is that those in his intimate "circle of trust" have betrayed him doesn't change that suspicion.
Serious questions remain:
-- Could Christie really have only found out about the BridgeGate mess for the first time
this Wednesday morning after the news officially broke... and by seeing it online on his iPad after a workout at home with his trainer?
-- Is it in any way plausible that he did not have have any idea that there were abuses of power both in his top ranks and at the Port Authority, even though his PA appointees David Wildstein and Bill Baroni resigned in December over this very same mess?
-- Are we to believe that no one from his senior team bothered to tell him about the Bergen Record story that was about to be published this week? There's no way the newspaper didn't call senior administration officials to discuss the story, or at least tip them off to it, before it went public.
-- Is it possible that Christie's #2 official, Bridget Anne Kelly, working for such a tight-fisted, control-freak of a boss, would venture on her own to execute such a bone-headed, Tony Soprano-like act of retribution without any discussion with him, or at least without the belief that she had his tacit approval?
The worst thing that can happen to a politician is that a scandal breaks that reinforces the existing narrative. In this case, it's really not a surprise that Christie's now battling accusations of bullying. To be sure, his reputation as an enforcer pre-dates BridgeGate. The events of this week serve to feed the concerns of nationwide Republicans about the back-room chicanery and corruption in Garden State politics, casting even greater doubt on his presidential electability in 2016. Perhaps you can take the boy out of New Jersey, but you can't take New Jersey out of the boy...
Follow Andy Ostroy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndyOstroy