How Chris Christie Hoodwinked Charlie Rose on Bridgegate
Back when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was a surging politician on the national stage, he often pivoted from controversies back in New Jersey by going on national television, where he'd take advantage of the medium's short sound bites and interviewers' lack of familiarity with local issues. Christie played that same game this weekend, sitting down with Charlie Rose for a post-Bridgegate verdict "exclusive interview" that aired today on "CBS This Morning" (longer segments will run tonight on PBS and Bloomberg).
Rose turned out to be an inspired choice for Christie to correct what he called "lies" in the media and in the Bridgegate courtroom. Rose is a respected interviewer, and CBS is not Fox News — it is the mainstream media. For those reasons, Christie could not be accused of seeking a softball interview in the wake of the verdict, like he was after choosing ABC's Diane Sawyer when the scandal first broke nearly three years ago.
And yet Christie got that softball interview nonetheless. Christie's camp was thrilled with the performance, and is plugging the interview via email and social media. Here are six ways Christie got away with unchecked lies and misdirection, without follow-up questions, in his brief sit-down with Rose.
Christie said: "The jury confirmed what I thought on January 9th, 2014."
And yet: The date Christie refers to is the day after the Bridgegate smoking gun was revealed — "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." At the time he blamed the scandal primarily on one staffer — Kelly, whom he fired. And the jury agreed with that! But the jury also found Baroni guilty, whom Christie didn't blame at the time. When he accepted Baroni's resignation in December 2013, Christie said it was long planned and had nothing to do with the lane closures. Moreover, far from "confirming" Christie's version of the story, two jurors who have so far spoken to the press say the governor himself deserves blame. One juror told"It is my opinion that Governor Christie is a master puppeteer and was aware of everything." That is hardly a confirmation.
Christie said: "I had 24 hours to make decisions back then. And I thought there were three people responsible: David Wildstein, Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly. Here we are three investigations later, a federal grand jury investigation, an investigation by a Democratic-led legislature and what is the conclusion? The conclusion is that there were three people responsible."
And yet: Christie never said Baroni was responsible. In fact he only fired one public official: Kelly. Baroni and Wildstein resigned weeks earlier with acclaim from the governor himself, only to be later charged by federal prosecutors. And Christie didn't have just "24 hours to make decisions"; according to sworn testimony from even his own allies, Christie had known for weeks and perhaps months that Kelly, Wildstein and a third person, former campaign manager Bill Stepien, had knowledge of the incident.
Christie said: I've had 25 people serve on my senior staff over seven years, and I have one person who didn't get it. One out of 25. So I don't think it says anything about me. I think it says everything about that person."
And yet: Christie is referring to Kelly as the senior staffer "who didn’t get it" — in other words, who didn’t get how to act ethically. But in fact three other people close to Christie have been convicted of federal crimes, including his best friend, David Samson, who held the most important job after the governor was elected (transition chairman) and one of the most powerful jobs in the state (chairman of the Port Authority). Christie's use of "senior staff" is arbitrary and doesn't represent his complete inner circle.
Christie said: "I’m up by 25 points in a reelection in a blue state. And they decide they’re gonna create a traffic jam in a town that’s a Democrat town, that I wound up winning two months later in the election?"
And yet: What Christie described as preposterous — that he would agree to punish a mayor for an election that he already had in the bag — was actually central to Christie's 2013 reelection. His reelection campaign was centered on landing Democratic endorsements in order to win by a landslide and run for president as a bipartisan reformer.
Christie: "In the whole trial, no one — not even Bridget Kelly or Bill Baroni or David Wildstein — ever testified that anyone ever said to me this is an act of political retribution."
And yet: Kelly testified under oath that she told the governor during the lane closures that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had called to complain and say he thought the incident was punitive. Baroni and Wildstein also testified that they joked with the governor about Sokolich not getting his calls returned while traffic was piling up.
Christie: "If the media and others attack you relentlessly for three years and you cannot defend yourself because you are in the middle of cooperating in the judicial process and cannot stain that process — then if there’s only one line of information, then people will believe the line of information they’re being given.”
And yet: Christie defended himself repeatedly, both in national and local media, since January 2014. He also commissioned an internal investigation, known as the Mastro Report, through the Gibson Dunn law firm, that essentially defended Christie for any allegations of wrongdoing. Taxpayers have spent $11.3 million so far on Gibson Dunn's representation of Christie.