A couple of weeks ago, aides to Gov. Chris Christie (R) leaked word that they were growing tired of “playing defense” in response to growing corruption allegations dogging the Christie administration. As the scandals intensified, the governor and his allies were prepared to “play offense.”
The manifestation of this strategy took shape in earnest over the weekend, though it’s a gambit fraught with risks.
David Wildstein’s attorney on Friday suggested “evidence exists” that Christie’s claims about the bridge scandal are not true. It’s unclear what kind of proof, if any, Wildstein has, but 24 hours later, the governor’s office was concerned enough to go after Wildstein’s credibility in an attack memo.
“Bottom line – David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” the email from the governor’s office says, referring to the former appointee who reignited the controversy. […]The subject line of the 700-word email from the governor’s office is: “5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell.”
On the surface, the pushback makes strategic sense – if Wildstein has materials that may be incriminating to the governor’s office, it stands to reason that the governor’s office would want to call Wildstein’s reliability into question.
But the closer one looks at the attack memo itself, the weaker Team Christie’s standing appears.
Indeed, note that while trying to make the case against Wildstein’s credibility, the governor’s aides specifically point out incidents from when Wildstein was literally a teenager: “As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election…. He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”
To clarify, this isn’t a joke. Team Christie, worried what a former ally might have on them, hopes to tear down a possible witness by shining a light on his high school antics – in 1977.
This is not the kind of move you make if you’re in a position of strength. Rather, this has the whiff of panic. As Andrew Kaczynski put it, “Anyone who has to go back to high school for [opposition research] is not in a very good position.”
Also note, Team Christie’s latest position is that David Wildstein has long been some kind of fringe nut – the same attack memo highlights the fact that Wildstein was a pseudonymous blogger who registered people’s names as website addresses – who isn’t to be taken seriously. That, of course, raises a series of difficult questions for the governor’s office: if Wildstein is a strange and unreliable figure, why did Christie give him a powerful and lucrative job? Why did Christie praise him just seven weeks ago as a “tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests”?
Why were Christie and Wildstein palling around last September, during the Fort Lee gridlock the administration created on purpose?
In effect, the governor’s operation is going after a long-time ally, telling the public not to trust the man Christie trusted – in part because of odd things Christie’s ally did as a high-school student.