Last night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answered questions about his administration's Fort Lee lane closure scandal for the first time since his two-hour press conference and based on what he said, he's settled on his defense: That he sucks as governor.
Well, he didn't literally say that—but he might as well have. Here's the case he made:
Speaking for the first time since a former Port Authority official said that "evidence exists" to contradict the governor's blanket denials about his knowledge of the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge, the New Jersey governor waved off the suggestion that he wasn't being forthcoming.So, according to Christie, the most important issue here isn't that his staff thought lane closures were an acceptable political weapon, or why his staff thought that—the most important issue is the accuracy of his claim that he didn't know precisely what they were planning on doing. Think of it as the plausibly incompetent buffoon defense: Christie is basically saying that people shouldn't hold it against him that he's got a bunch of staffers who did something bad because he's such an out-of-touch boss that he didn't know what they were up to.
"The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close these lanes? Did I authorize it, did I know about it, did I approve it—did I have any knowledge about it beforehand?" he said during a regularly scheduled appearance on an "Ask the Governor" segment on WKXW radio in New Jersey. "And the answer is still the same: it's unequivocally no."
Please read below the fold for more on Christie's knowledge of Bridgegate.
Of course, even if he's telling the truth, that doesn't explain why the culture in his office apparently fostered such thuggery, and leaves open the possibility that this sort of behavior was condoned with a wink and a nod by a governor who intentionally avoided learning the details of what his staff was doing precisely so he could deny knowledge if and when it ever became public.
Moreover, his answer continued a pattern of Christie subtly changing his story about what he knew and when he knew it. In the scandal's early days, Christie said he hadn't even heard about the lane closures until after they had ended. But on Friday, his former high school classmate and Port Authority appointee David Wildstein—who with Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff oversaw the lane closures—said that he had evidence that Christie knew about the lane closures while they were happening.
Wildstein hasn't produced evidence backing his claim, but nonetheless Christie's story has changed from claiming that he didn't know about the lane closures until after they had ended to him not knowing about the plot to close the lanes before they began.
Christie later continued: "Here's the thing that I find so interesting, because what's going on now with all this other stuff is just a game of gotcha. When did I first learn about this or that, well, the fact of the matter is, I've been very clear about this. Before these lanes were closed, I knew nothing about it, I didn't plan it, I didn't authorize it, I didn't approve it. I knew nothing about it."It's a subtle shift, but it appears to be a calculated effort by Christie to change his story to something that's consistent with the evidence Wildstein claims to have. Ultimately, it would be a big deal if Christie knew about the lane closures while they were happening because it would raise the question of why he didn't stop them. (His explanation would certainly be that as a plausibly incompetent buffoon he believed it was a traffic study.) But it's also a big deal that Christie's story is changing about what he knew and when he knew it. And it's yet another sign that he's not just fighting to stay on the 2016 radar: He's fighting to save his second term.