"I don't know if we'll ever know what the motive is," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared Friday of the George Washington Bridge scandal that hangs over his political future. "It mystifies me on every level why this was done."
It shouldn't. After all, at any time Gov. Christie could have asked his top aides why the busiest bridge in the world—and a longtime target of terrorists—was at a standstill during the entire week of the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Instead, the 2016 White House hopeful has alternately claimed, he either had no reason to doubt his staff's veracity or no reason to believe them. Regardless, Christie insists, the would-be Leader of the Free World preferred to remain in the dark rather than be accused of witnessing tampering.
That last explanation is one of two Gov. Christie gave during his marathon two-hour press conference on January 9, 2014. When one reporter asked why Christie didn't "get some information" from Bridget Kelly, or simply ask the deputy chief of staff "why did you do this?" the governor recalled a defense from his days as a federal prosecutor:
"Listen, Bob, and then if I did that, then you'd have the legislature complaining that I'm talking to someone who the chairman has said yesterday publicly he intends to call as a witness.Please read more about this story below the fold.
And I think the higher priority is for me not to interfere with what the legislature is in the process of doing. And so no, I'm not going to do that because then -- listen, the political nature of this would lead charge -- to charges of interference. I'm not going to do that. If after -- if she's brought to testify there, which the chairman says he intends to do, and she testifies, if after that time I have -- we have other questions, then we can make the decision at that time whether to pursue that information. But it is my judgment -- you can disagree with it, but it's my judgment that for me to get involved with someone who the chairman has said he's going to call as a witness between the time I discovered this and the time that she may testify would be not the right thing for me to do."
But moments before offering fear of witness tampering as the basis for his Sgt. Schultz defense, Christie said instead he didn't ask Kelly why she wrote it was "time for traffic problems in Fort Lee" because he wouldn't have believed anything she said:
"I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since the email came out. And so she was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had. And I'm, quite frankly, not interested in the explanation at the moment."Not at that moment or, it turns out, any other moment. Even as the GWB imbroglio was growing late last year, Governor Christie told a New Jersey radio station on February 26, he had no reason to doubt his closest aides and best friends. As the Wall Street Journal summed it up:
Appearing on a radio show aired by New Jersey 101.5, Mr. Christie grew frustrated with some of the bridge questions, saying he had "no idea" if Bridget Anne Kelly personally ordered the lane closures in early September and refused to speculate. After the disclosures, Mr. Christie said he ordered her fired--and didn't do it himself--because of possible legal consequences for "her and others."If that "we'll never know the answer because I didn't ask the question" formula sounds familiar, it should.
He was asked by radio host Eric Scott why he didn't question ally Bill Baroni when he resigned from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in December, after damaging articles appeared in the press and legislative hearings were called into the closures. Mr. Christie said he had no reason to ask questions and believed Mr. Baroni's testimony that a traffic study closed the traffic lanes. "I didn't ask the questions because I didn't think they needed to be asked," he said.
As you may recall, President Bush promised to "fire anyone found" to have revealed the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Despite the fact that not one but three administration officials (Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Richard Armitage) had spoken to the press about Plame, her husband Joe Wilson and what Wilson didn't find in Africa, Bush similarly played dumb. As he put it on October 7, 2003:
"I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is -- partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers."As his re-election the next year showed, Bush's attempt at plausible deniability worked. Chris Christie, appointed by Bush to U.S. Attorney, is now hoping to follow in his boss's footsteps. In the case of the George Washington Bridge, Governor Christie would have us believe, inquiring minds don't want to know.