Host of Up, Steve Kornacki, who cut his teeth as a beat politics reporter in the Garden State, answered your questions about the latest revelations in Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal. Here are the highlights from the Q&A:
Question from Bill King-1634445: If all these e-mails and Text Messages were revealed prior to the November Election would the results have been different? Would Barbara Buono have became Governor Barbara Buono?
Steve: I like this question and I’ve been thinking about it. And I guess under this hypothetical, the question would be: When? In other words, if the texts and emails all came out a week before Election Day, no, I don’t think it would have reversed the outcome. It would have reduced it, but he had such a big pad, I don’t think the immediate fallout from this would have cost him. But… what those emails and texts have done is set in motion all sorts of mechanisms that figure to bring more information to light, and soon. That information could end up allowing Christie to maintain that he knew nothing; or, it might implicate his office or him in a more damning way. So if the emails and texts had come out, say, around Labor Day, then I do think it could have cost him the race – if the ensuing revelations proved damning enough. I just don’t think that we’re at the stage of the story (not yet, at least) where we could say this would kill him with NJ voters.
Question from lenox114: Did anyone see any emails from the New York side of the PA [Port Authority]? Did they raise concerns about the closings with NJ? Is there a timeline on the emails?
Steve: We know that the executive director of the Port Authority, who is appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, fired off a scathing memo on September 13 when he learned of the closures. This was the 5th day of the closures and in his memo he suggested that, among other things, state and federal laws might have been broken. We know that that email was sent to Bill Baroni, Christie’s point-man at the Port Authority and that Baroni – just three hours later – forwarded it to Regina Egea, who ran the Authorities Unit in Christie’s office. He marked it “high” priority. Egea is very close to Christie; that job – running the Authorities Unit – is very senior, and she is currently slated to serve as his chief of staff. The question that I have, in terms of the New York side, is what Foye said to HIS boss – to Cuomo. And what Cuomo did if Foye shared that same memo and those same observations with him. I think that question needs some exploration.
Question from Soniasvoting: Christie’s stated position in this in incomprehensible, especially given his known abilities, track record handling [of] people/staff/opponents. Willful ignorance has been suggested but how is that in anyway a possible shield against criminal conviction or impeachment?
Steve: In the court of public opinion, it may not be a sufficient defense. Christie’s calling card in politics has been his supposedly unique leadership skills – a take-charge guy who gets results and doesn’t accept excuses. So his defense here – and, really, at this point, it’s the only defense he can offer – is that he had no idea about any of this. But even if voters accept that, it still could change their impression of Christie as a uniquely gifted leader. In terms of impeachment; I think that will only enter into the conversation if he is directly implicated. Otherwise, the cost he pays politically will have to do with his standing in the polls, his 2016 prospects, and his leverage with legislators and local leaders in New Jersey.
Question from Mike Strycharske: It seems implausible that Governor Christie would not want to understand why his appointments or staff are resigning. And it seems odd that he would fire someone without at least giving the person an opportunity to apologize or defend herself. Do you know what type of working relationship Governor Christie has with his most immediate staff? I would expect it to be comfortable and chummy, or is it more formal?
Steve: It’s plausible to me only if he knew or suspected what was going on. In that case, then he had an incentive to play dumb – to not ask questions and to treat it like a joke in the press. That’s because there was a potential endpoint – an escape hatch – on the calendar: January 14. Next Tuesday. The end of the current legislative session and the start of the new one. Why is that significant? Because the subpoena authority of the legislative committee that’s been looking into this will expire with the end of the current legislative session. And the incoming Assembly speaker, who is a Democrat, was *not* expected to renew that subpoena power. That probably sounds weird. Why would a Democratic Assembly Speaker essentially end an investigation into some very suspicious conduct by the Republican administration? The reason is that Christie has some powerful Democratic allies in New Jersey politics – allies who basically control key members of the legislature. It’s a strange situation. Officially, Democrats control the legislature in Trenton. But Christie has a working majority among them – sometimes because he has relationships with them, but mostly because he has relationships with the bosses from the machines that sent them to Trenton. So, long story short, the incoming Democratic Speaker is a product of that alliance that Christie has with Democrats – and, thus, he was not expected to renew the subpoena authority. Meaning that if you were Christie, you thought all through November and December that you could run out the clock without asking questions, get to January 14, and then it would all go away. But the surprise release of those emails and texts this week – and, truly, they were a *shock* to the administration; they didn’t think anything like this was out there – changed all of that. It took the soon-to-be-speaker a LONG time to say it, but on Saturday he finally publicly stated that he’d hold a vote on renewing the subpoena authority next week. So now Christie has something very serious to worry about. But a week ago at this time, I bet he was counting down the clock to January 14.
Question from ezell dunford: Were Christie not a front runner in the 2016 Presidential race, would Bridgegate be as big a story as it now is?
Steve: If this were the governor of, say, Minnesota executing a similar scheme, no, I don’t think it would be getting this much coverage. Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing. I mean, Christie is clearly angling to become the next president of the United States. He doesn’t just want the job – he and his allies (like every other potential candidate) are taking active steps to court key political players and to cultivate positive press coverage and a national image. So he deserves more national attention – and scrutiny – than the average governor.