It’s been a while since I wrote anything about the ongoing troubles surrounding (engulfing?) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Heck, it’s been a while since I wrote anything at all, for various reasons. That should not be taken to mean, however, that Chris Christie’s troubles have evaporated or even receded significantly. In fact, despite his best efforts, Chris Christie’s entanglement in various scandals continues apace. The end of last week brought two key developments, both of which are significant, but one of which is far more significant than the other.
To begin with, last Thursday brought the final report undertaken at the New Jersey state government’s (i.e., Christie’s) behest into the “Bridgegate” scandal, and – whaddaya know? – Christie’s own lawyer exonerated him of any involvement in the scandal. This immediately engendered a reaction I’m sure Christie and his administration weren’t overly pleased with: a round of forehead-slapping and jokes about letting himself off the hook everywhere from political blogs all the way up to SNL, who ran it as a segment on Weekend Update, suggesting that “you can totally trust the report because it was fact-checked by independent investigator ‘Trish Trishtie’,” accompanied by this photo:
Not exactly the reaction I’m sure Team Christie would’ve preferred, but I have to assume they were probably at least expecting it. The largest part of the reason this investigation’s conclusions were mocked is not just the obvious one (that it cleared the man who commissioned it from any wrongdoing), but rather the knowledge that the real investigations – the ones with potentially fatal consequences for Chris Christie’s political ambitions or even his current career, continue apace, completely separate from any results of Christie’s little sideshow investigation. Those investigations are the one led by New Jersey legislator John Wisniewski, and the federal investigation being conducted by the US Attorney in New Jersey. Both of those investigations continue to steam methodically along, neither concerned with nor bound by the results of “Trish Tristie’s” self-exoneration.
Both those investigations, however, will undoubtedly be quite interested in following up on the ramifications of news announced in what can only be described as yet another instance of spectacularly bad timing for the Christie administration on Friday of last week, one day after Christie’s administration announced the results of its own internal investigation. On Friday, news broke of the resignation of Port Authority head David Samson. Samson is a very influential figure in New Jersey politics, and had until now remained unscathed by the turmoil rocking the Christie administration’s involvement with the bridge scandal despite multiple signs indicating an increasing likelihood that Samson must have been involved with – or at least known of – the plan to harm Fort Lee with a traffic jam. Up to Friday of last week, it appeared that both Samson and the Christie administration were simply going to tough it out, leaving Samson in place and stonewalling investigations into him, in a way they very clearly and very publicly did not with other aides such as Bridget Ann Kelly and David Wildstein.
It’s unclear as of now what shifted in either Samson’s or the Christie administration’s thinking with regard to Samson resigning, but it’s significant that Samson was the last major figure involved in “Bridgegate” who had not already either resigned or been fired. Samson’s resignation completes the list of people who now have no further official ties to Christie or his administration, and who might very well be able to exchange information substantially damaging to the Governor in exchange for immunity for prosecution for potential crimes committed as part of their own roles in various misdeeds.
In fact, “Bridgegate” proper may not be David Samson’s largest worry, nor the reason he resigned. The North Jersey article linked above notes
The Record reported last month that Samson had voted in favor of giving NJ Transit a $1-a-year lease for a North Bergen parking lot it had previously paid more than $900,000 a year for at the same time his law firm was representing the state agency. Samson later said the vote was a clerical error and that he meant to recuse himself.
There may be much more where this came from, as well, but none of it is good news for the Christie administration. They face two ongoing investigations into not just “Bridgegate,” but also what appears to be a host of other potential misdeeds of the cronyism and patronage variety (though of course the US Attorney’s office will be rigorously tight-lipped as they usually are in such cases). In short, “Trish Trishtie’s” splashily-announced exoneration last Thursday was little more than a sideshow to the ongoing investigations which have real teeth and which still pose a significant problem for Christie. My guess is that Christie realized that he cannot control the course or the results of either of those other two real investigations, so he made the calculated decision that returning the results of his whitewash investigation before the other two at least allowed his allies to attempt to claim the other investigations “contradict the facts” and are therefore biased or politically-motivated. If Christie’s internal investigation returned results after either or both of the independent investigations, then it would be seen as even more an abject attempt at damage control and whitewash than it already does. In such a case, it seems clear Team Christie chose the least-bad option, and released their findings when they could still hope to possibly control, or at least alter the course of, the debate. However, with two potent investigations Christie cannot meaningfully influence still steaming along, the results of Christie’s investigation are a mere temporary flash of good news. The resignation of David Samson, on the other hand, indicates the severity and persistence of the problems facing the Christie administration.