In the first days after the Bridgegate scandal, it appeared likely to me that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 had been lost. But it never occurred to me that within a month he would be fighting for his political life rather than just a shot at the presidency. Yet the latest twist in this bizarre scandal has brought Christie to the point of a political death watch. On Friday, the New York Times reported that the lawyer for David Wildstein—Christie’s longtime friend, political ally and the man he appointed to the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that administers the bridge—stated in a letter that evidence exists tying the governor to the scandal.
It is true that the language in the letter was, as the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein pointed out, “slippery.” The governor, in fact, did not deny knowledge that the lanes were closed but rather that he knew the traffic jam was the result of a political prank played on the citizens of the region in order to get even with the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for his refusal to endorse Christie’s reelection. As such, it may well be that Wildstein’s mouthpiece is merely seeking to exonerate his client on charges that are serious enough to cause him to invoke the Fifth Amendment when he testified about the incident before the state legislature. On its own, the letter means nothing.
The willingness of the Times—and those who followed its characteristically anti-Republican lead on the story—to jump on the lawyer’s vague hints about possible evidence illustrates the widespread desire of the liberal mainstream media to destroy Christie.
But the blistering counter-attack from the governor’s office on Wildstein, his lawyer, and the Times tells us just as much about how much trouble Christie himself thinks he’s in today. By issuing a statement that dredges up every questionable incident in Wildstein’s life as proof of his lack of credibility, Christie’s office raised as many questions as it answered. After all, if Wildstein is as bad a character as Christie now claims, how is it that the governor not only wanted him as a friend but also gave him one of the most choicest patronage plums available for Christie to bestow? However justified the governor’s denunciation of Wildstein may now be, the desperate nature of this counter-attack may be a sign that Christie knows this struggle isn’t about the presidency but his ability to serve out the remainder of his term in Trenton.
The cascade of negative stories about Christie that Bridgegate has unleashed seemed to be creating a death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario that liberals could use to take down a political foe. By forcing the governor and his defenders to respond not only to the allegations of responsibility for the bridge lane closings but also accusations that he had wrongly withheld Hurricane Sandy aid dollars from cities with mayors who didn’t play political ball with his administration, such as Hoboken’s Dawn Zimmer, Christie’s political future would appear to be destroyed even if none of the charges turned out to be true. But the letter from Wildstein’s lawyer raises the possibility that there may be evidence that Christie lied about the bridge even after the scandal broke in January. If so, you can forget about the discussions about whether Christie can recover in time to run in 2016 or even if he should remain as head of the Republican Governor’s Association. If true, Wildstein’s bid to evade accountability for his role in this mess could end by forcing Christie’s resignation.
But even if Wildstein’s accusation comes up short on proof and Zimmer’s claim that she was blackmailed to agree to back a Hoboken project that would benefit another Christie crony also cannot be substantiated, Christie’s governorship has suffered a mortal wound.
If he is lucky, he will spend the next four years fighting a rear-guard action to fend off claims that he knew about the bridge scheme, the alleged Hoboken shakedown, and every other possible problem that will emerge as a Democratic legislature,the U.S. attorney and their cheerleaders in the press put his administration under a microscope. If he isn’t lucky, his opponents will find one or more instances of direct ties between the governor and some misdeed that he can’t talk his way out of or be dismissed as partisan smears.
In other words, whether he is guilty or not, his ability to govern New Jersey, let alone roam the country as a major political figure, may already be over.