It came to light last week that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration plotted with transportation officials to create traffic gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J., after its Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to back Christie's reelection bid. Lanes were closed for several days in September on the George Washington Bridge, the busiest bridge in the U.S., which connects New Jersey to New York City. Sadly, an elderly woman died of cardiac arrest when emergency paramedics were delayed by the hours of gridlock.
State legislators held hearings and subpoenaed witnesses and documents as suspicion arose about the gridlock. It was revealed that one of Christie's deputy chiefs of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent an email to a Christie appointee at the Port Authority, saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." The appointee, David Wildstein, responded with "Got it." Bill Stepien, the strategist who managed Christie's two gubernatorial campaigns, was implicated in the gridlock email chain describing the Fort Lee mayor as an "idiot." Christie fired those three, but denied knowing anything about it, claiming he had been told it was simply a traffic study.
I've worked in both county and state government in Arizona for years, as well as for politicians inside and outside of government, and my hunch is this goes all the way to the top. It happens all too frequently. Look at Arizona's Attorney General Tom Horne, a Democrat-turned-liberal-Republican, who is about to be defeated this year running for reelection by relatively unknown conservative challenger Mark Brnovich. Horne has been under investigation by more than one agency for allegedly illegally coordinating contributions to his campaign from an "independent" campaign committee. Although Horne denied the allegations, when all the documents were produced, an email trail was found leading back to him, and one of the county attorneys who investigated him found that he had violated the law.
Christie stated at his news conference last week, "There's no way that anybody would think that I know about everything that's going on, not only in every agency of government at all times, but also every independent authority." I hate to say this, because I want Republicans to prevail, but it is simply unlikely Christie was unaware of what his aides were doing. He may not have orchestrated the wrongdoing, but my gut instinct tells me he must have known it was taking place.
His statement ignores the fact that the actions were extremely salacious - the precise type of actions that would have been all over his radar. Does anyone really think Christie's aides would have dared to engage in that kind of illegal activity without running it past their boss? As relative no-names, why would they risk their jobs and careers to engage in illegal behavior unless they thought the boss had their back? They didn't benefit from the illegal activity, in fact, all they did was put themselves at great risk.
Christie claims he didn't know the mayor of Fort Lee nor seek out his endorsement. Yet his aides plainly stated in emails that the gridlock was being done in retaliation for not endorsing Christie. Rush Limbaugh observed that Christie said at the news conference he hadn't slept in a couple of days, but at the same time, he claimed that he had only found out about his staff's involvement the day before. My hunch is that Christie thought he wouldn't get caught since he probably avoided using email to discuss the illegal activity.
I've worked in government long enough to know where there is wrongdoing, there is often a massive cover up that goes much deeper and broader than anyone on the outside can imagine. II hate to be a naysayer, but what will likely happen down the road is additional facts will emerge tracing the scandal back to Christie. Emails, a tell-all book from one of the fired staffers, and you can count on the left to start digging now. The unfairness of the outcome as it stands now - these relative unknowns now lose their careers and reputations, Christie remains governor - demonstrates the inequities in our political system and surely one disgruntled fired staffer may squawk.
Let's not forget what happened to John Edwards. Tired of pretending that he was the father of Edwards' love child with his mistress, staffer Andrew Young finally came forward and wrote a tell-all book. In this era of texting and email, it is difficult to hide all the evidence. Six residents of New Jersey - no doubt orchestrated by the left - have filed a class-action lawsuit against Christie and the officials involved. Federal officials are reviewing whether to press charges.
It is frustrating that it is the left keeping the right honest. It is a double standard, because there are many parts of the country where crooked Democrats get elected again and again, like former Mayor Marion Barry in Washington, D.C. There is a perception that this is typical New Jersey thuggish politics. But Republicans will be held to a higher ethical standard, even moderate to liberal Republicans like Christie.
It's not fair, but it is something Republicans can control. Reining in liberal Republicans will always be problematic and difficult. But avoiding unethical behavior is something Republicans are completely capable of and must do if they want to keep winning elections. Hopefully some good will come from this; by sending a strong message to Republican officials around the country, averting some potential disasters. If Christie is implicated, the GOP can start grooming another frontrunner for president early on, instead of wasting time on someone who may end up dropping out.
Although I do not want Christie as our next GOP nominee, I genuinely hope the trail does not lead to him. But to expect otherwise is naive.