Stepien, who is also working now as a consultant for the Republican Governors Association, the national party fund-raising vehicle that Christie is chairing this year, was described by a source yesterday as Kelly’s “political mentor.”
With incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) breaking weeks of silence yesterday by announcing he planned to extend the Assembly Transportation Committee’s subpoena powers, Wisniewski said he expected to subpoena Stepien, Drewniak, Samson, and Baroni, among others, as part of his Bridgegate investigation.
“It certainly begs credulity to think people in the front office were doing things the governor was not aware of,” Wisniewski said yesterday when asked if he believed that close aides like Stepien and Drewniak would not keep him informed of what they knew.
“The governor joked about this, he denied it, now the governor has got to come clean and say either that he had no control over his front office or he was not telling the truth,” Wisniewski said. Democratic Sens. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), who lost to Christie by a landslide in the November election, and Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) yesterday called for the United States Attorney’s Office to investigate the Bridge-gate scandal.
That would be ironic in that it was President George W. Bush’s appointment of Christie, whom he nicknamed “Big Boy,” as United States Attorney in 2001 that rejuvenated Christie’s career as a corruption-busting prosecutor, a platform he rode to the governorship in 2009.
The next few days will be critical for Christie’s hopes of surviving the negative fallout from Bridge-gate both as a leading GOP presidential contender and as an asset to the national Republican Party in his high-profile role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association this year.
Christie and his top aides undoubtedly spent much of yesterday crafting a media strategy to deal with what for him is an unprecedented crisis. The first step was the release of last night’s press statement, which was notable not only for its avowal that Christie was shocked by what he learned yesterday, but also for its failure to include Kelly’s resignation or even name her in the press release.
“What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” Christie said in the statement. “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”
Christie’s most likely next step is either to hold a press conference today or tomorrow, or to seek a friendly TV or talk radio show to make his case directly to voters, bypassing a New Jersey media backed by national reporters that will come armed with tough questions. The longer he waits to make public case, however, the more the furor is likely to grow, and Christie’s annual State of the State speech is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
The attacks on the governor by columnists and editorial writers, liberal talking heads, and talk show hosts are to be expected. What was more ominous was the nasty tenor of yesterday’s evening drive-time callers on 101.5 News Radio, usually a bastion of Christie supporters.
“Anybody who thinks Chris Christie didn’t know all about this, I’ve got a bridge to sell you,” one caller said.
“I pray he didn’t know about this,” a woman Christie supporter said fervently. “I hope he’s not that stupid.”
“I don’t think this is an impeachable offense,” said a third, “but I hope his political career is over.”