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Chris Christie: The End Game

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Spencer Platt via Getty Images
Spencer Platt via Getty Images

Let me go out on a limb here. Chris Christie will not run for president, and he is very likely not to serve out his term as governor of New Jersey.

The reason is very simple. Given everything we know about Christie's style of governing, it is inconceivable that he did not know what his underlings were up to.

His story that he was somehow like the piano player in the whorehouse just does not stand up. Even in New Jersey.

This is a man who is an obsessive micro-manager, as well as a vindictive bully. Does any serious person think that he would tolerate senior people who would pull a caper like blockading the George Washington Bridge without keeping the boss informed? Such a person would never have been hired.

Does any serious person believe that his staff did would keep the governor in the dark about any ploy involving big-time political retribution and public-relations risks? Does any serious person think that Christie's attitude after the bridge blockade made headline news was indifference, except for the purpose of what was known in the Nixon era as "plausible deniability?"

Because there is no proof of his hands-on involvement -- yet -- much of the press and nearly all of the Republican Party has been content to play along with Christie's game of The Staff Did It. The criticism has been directed at his failure to keep tabs on rogue employees.

Based on Christie's entire prior pattern of conduct, if we assume that he either instigated the lane closures himself or was kept fully informed of the scheme, then Christie doubled down with an even bigger risk when he solemnly denied knowledge or involvement. If he knew all along, Christie compounded a major blunder with an outright lie.

It's a high-stakes game. But if Christie went to great pains to keep his fingerprints off the entire affair, why do we think that his cover story won't stick?

Mainly because there is no honor among thieves. If you assume that this is one big cover-up, then several people who lost well paying jobs and who have been willing to take the fall for their boss must have been given big incentives to stick to the story. Some friend of a friend of a friend, after a decent interval, must have committed to a well-compensated job or consulting gig, or something else to purchase their silence.

The only problem is that several civil and criminal investigations are underway, armed with subpoena power. It's hard to believe that a cover-up with benefits would not unravel. Prosecutors can squeeze small fry with all manner of threats. In a scheme such as this one, the odds are overwhelming that sooner or later investigators will find some underling who decides that he'd rather rat out the boss than go to jail.

Of course, it's still possible that Christie will survive, and that everyone will stick to the story that the governor knew nothing and was not even curious after the fact. It's possible that Christie will go on to win the Republican nomination for president.

It's also possible that the missing traffic study will turn up and that global climate change is God's revenge against homosexuals.

If Christie survives this -- if he is not impeached, or forced to resign, or otherwise disgraced -- then American democracy is even more damaged than it appears.

Robert Kuttner's new book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior Fellow at Demos.

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