There's one thing missing from the recently unearthed emails that show Chris Christie's underlings conspired to jam up traffic for political revenge: Any messages from Christie himself. He claims he knew nothing of it. He claims, in other words, that he's not an evil string-puller, just an ineffective slackjaw.
Perhaps the New Jersey governor can refine that thesis in his first public appearance today, a live press conference at 11 a.m. But more likely, he's going to profess outrage, announce firings, and vow that he's learned something: how to do a better job of policing his own people while governing for the people of New Jersey, and geegle florp buz gagat narboza.
But mostly, he'll profess ignorance. Christie didn't know that, after Ft. Lee's Democratic mayor shrugged off his pressure and denied him a re-election endorsement, his deputy chief of staff emailed a Port Authority appointee: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Christie didn't know that the appointee, a high school classmate of his, replied, "Got it." Christie didn't know that after the traffic cones were set out, jamming traffic from the George Washington Bridge all the way into the town of Fort Lee, an ailing 91-year-old woman died in an ambulance waiting to move in the packed streets. Christie didn't know that the Port Authority appointee dismissed reports of kids stuck in the traffic on their school buses by invoking the name of Christie's opponent in the upcoming gubernatorial election: "Those are the children of Buono voters."
A guy who wants to be leader of the free world, who spent most of his adult life as a federal prosecutor—turning over rocks, investigating criminals and organizations deeply—claims he had no clue that his closest aides conspired with one of his top political appointees—again, a high school classmate—in manufacturing a public transportation crisis for political getback.
He claims further that after journalists and Jersey residents started asking questions about the traffic closures, his administration did an internal investigation—his vocational specialty, remember—and turned up no evidence of a conspiracy.
And then the New York Times got a bunch of emails that contradicted him.
At that point, he did what real political leaders do; he
took ownership of the problem canceled his public appearances and pushed the scandal off his table like a plate of moldy carbonara:
What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable. 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. [emphasis added]
Here's the tl;dr: "Corruption is bad, and I don't tolerate corruption, except that I didn't know about my subordinates' corruption, and it doesn't reflect on me at all because I didn't know about it, but I still will never tolerate it, as soon as I know it exists, which now I do."
Okay, give Chris Christie the benefit of the doubt. Assume that the guy is telling the truth, and this happened without his knowledge or sanction. What he's saying is he's an idiot who can't manage the people he hired, and no matter how much he would like to blot out corruption on his staff, he's not equal to the task. Now, would you please vote for him for commander in chief of the United States armed forces, please?
There's an old standup bit about how awesome it must be to really be stupid, because it's an easy out for fouling up any situation: "What are you, stupid?" "Well, yeah." "Oh. Sorry..."
Most scoundrels caught in the orgiastic throes of their worst political and legal sins play this incompetence card. It's not that they're cold, calculated or callous; it's just that they're stupid and awful at what they do. Nixon in Watergate; Reagan in Iran-Contra; Ken Lay at Enron; "money-losing" Major League Baseball owners; Bernie Madoff; every government or corporate entity involved in the primary and secondary mortgage markets from 2003-2008: These people first eschew public scrutiny of their jobs by arguing that they're consummate professionals doing work that no one else can possibly comprehend or manage.
Then, when public scrutiny turns up misdoings on their watch, they claim it's not their fault; they failed to comprehend what was happening! They mismanaged their personnel! How can you expect these things not to happen in organizations this complex?!
So place your bets. Bet No. 1: Chris Christie is the slappy, snippy, sly dog he's played for us these past few years, the kind of guy who runs a ship so tight and digs so deeply into a problem that something like Bridgegate could never happen on his watch without not only his knowledge, but his blessing. Bet No. 2: He's a bumbling moron.
The governor would prefer you take Bet No. 2. That should tell you everything you need to know about Chris Christie.
[Photo credit: AP]