Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

In Unfolding Drama, a Curtain of Mystery

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

In Unfolding Drama, a Curtain of Mystery

Article excerpt

IT WAS as if the golden domed State House in Trenton had become a stage for a Shakespearean tragedy. In one room, the governor. In another, the political operator invoking his constitutional right to remain silent. And everywhere, a curtain of mystery, hanging like an omnipresent ghost.

This is Chris Christie's moment. He may not see that yet. But what happens in the coming months in the unfolding crisis over what now appears to be a politically vengeful series of traffic jams in Fort Lee by the George Washington Bridge will likely determine whether his gubernatorial career will take him to the White House or the dog house. Even if he never runs for president, though, how Christie handles the fallout over this crisis could determine whether he is remembered as a noteworthy governor or a has-been -- a Tom Kean or a Jim McGreevey?

Such is the legacy that Christie faces. He could be seen as transformative and memorable in a positive way -- like Kean. Or he could be seen as just another politician who tripped over himself when he reached the top - like McGreevey.

On Thursday, amid his nearly two-hour apologetic soliloquy that was billed as a press conference, Christie seemed strangely distant from the cloud that enveloped him.

Yes, he made continual references to how he felt personally "blindsided" by a staffer who "lied" to him and broke the "circle of trust." And, yes, he talked of apologizing to a long litany of people. But for all his lamenting about the tragedy that surrounded him, what was striking in Christie's performance was his admission that he did not personally ask his senior staff - his "circle of trust" - why these traffic jams were orchestrated in the first place.

Was he simply clueless?

Or was he just trying to keep his legal and political distance?

Think, for a moment, about the consequences and the common sense here. If you had been "blindsided" and lied to by a staffer that you now describe as "stupid" and "deceitful," don't you think you would ask a few more questions about how this whole mess started? That singular question lies at the heart of the mess that Christie finds himself in.

If you believe Christie is telling the truth and that he knew nothing about the politics behind the traffic jams and that he was rightly outraged, you have to wonder why he did not personally ask anyone for the full story.

The questions about the traffic jam began in September and lingered on the edge of Christie's reelection campaign in October and November. At that point, I would give Christie a pass. There was no real reason for him to get involved in the Fort Lee controversy or ask about it.

But after his landslide reelection and the legislative hearings in early December that revealed the traffic jams were no accident, then you have to ask why Christie did not ask more questions in a way that was designed to get to the bottom of things. …

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