“I am no bully,” said Governor Chris Christie at his January 9, 2014 press conference. And then he proceeded to pummel to death his best friends and closest political advisers. Now some of those advisers are coming back to haunt him.
Christie insisted that he knew nothing about the hardball, political pay back machinations of his own office which led to the shut down of traffic at Fort Lee. It was allegedly payback to a mayor who had not supported Christie for re-election. It tied up traffic coming out of New York City for a day.
The governor claimed that his staff was to blame. They had lied to him, he said, and what they had done reeked of “abject stupidity.”
Christie said he had immediately fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and was ordering his two time campaign manager, Bill Stepien, to withdraw his nomination to lead the New Jersey Republican Party.
Christie went out of his way to distance himself from another aide who had long been considered a high school friend, David Wildstein. “David and I were not friends in high school,” Christie lectured the press. “We were not even acquaintances in high school. We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.”
Richard Nixon had lost his presidency by trying to defend the Watergate burglars. “We have to help them,” he said, even though he had not ordered the break-in at the Democrat National Headquarters. It was the effort to get money to the burglars families that eventually implicated the White House in the scandal. And when the cover-up extended to the highest levels and Nixon was forced to fire his top aides, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, he told that nation, “I feel like I have lost my left and right arms.”
Said Nixon, “They were two of the finest public servants it has been my privilege to know.”
Later, when Sir David Frost interviewed Richard Nixon he asked why the president hadn’t blamed his staff for their mistakes and fired them and kept out of the scandal from the beginning.
Nixon quoted the British Prime Minister William Gladstone who said that the first requirement for a prime minister was to be a good butcher. Nixon answered ruefully, “I was a poor butcher.”
Not Chris Christie. Promoted by pundits on the Fox News Channel as their new Catholic candidate (ala Rudolph Giuliani in 2008) Christie had no problem immediately excising his arms, legs, hands, or anything else that might come in the way of more power. And he did so decisively.
Haldeman and Ehrlichman may or may not have been two of the finest public servants in American history but Christie’s appointees were “stupid” and “liars” who needed to be put down immediately. This was one Watergate lesson Chris Christie had taken to heart.
No one stopped to ask why Christie had surrounded himself with “stupid liars” as his closest aides. The Fox pundits, unperturbed, insisted that the incident was only a temporary setback for their man.
Anyone with experience working for a president or a governor knows that they are not ignorant of what goes on around them although they carefully nurture this idea to avoid blame for the things they can’t fix. Former Governor Sarah Palin pointed this out.
Information is currency, it has value. It is like finding a shoe box with hundred dollar bills that are disappearing before your eyes, you spend them as quickly as you can, while they still have value. If you have information, any information, you get it to the president or governor immediately.
Picture the young staffer bringing in some requested paperwork.
“So what were they talking about at lunch, kid?” The governor asks. “Why couldn’t they have the meeting here and what was so hush, hush?”
“You don’t want to know, governor, its some political payback thing and you need deniability.”
The governor smiles. “Okay, what is it kid?”
And the young staffer coughs it up immediately.
“Huh,” the governor grunts, acting dumb, apparently engrossed in a memo. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And the kid, if he should ever surface, would have to tell the grand jury that he can’t really say if the governor understood or not.
Usually, such a scenario is much too subtle. Consider Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who talked openly about selling a vacant U.S. Senate seat. But then, four of the last seven governors of Illinois have been convicted and imprisoned.
Now it turns out that David Wildstein, the Chrsitie appointee who ran the lane closing scandal is talking. In a letter through his attorney he said that “evidence exists . . . tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly.”
Now we will see how Gladstone’s axiom really works. Can a man cut off his arms and legs and still survive? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. And how are all of those arms and legs supposed to feel about what has happened? Now, it’s time for Governor Chris Christie to pay the butchers bill.