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For Chris Christie, good news is relative

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and his team will probably feel quite satisfied with today's Bridgegate news. They shouldn't be.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at an event Oct. 7, 2014, in New Brunswick, N.J. (Photo by Mel Evans/AP)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at an event Oct. 7, 2014, in New Brunswick, N.J.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and his team will probably feel quite satisfied with reports like these, but as is often the case for the scandal-plagued governor, the good news is burdened by some important caveats.

A legislative inquiry into the George Washington Bridge scandal couldn't determine whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew about the controversial lane closures before they occurred, with investigators saying they were stymied by a lack of access. The 136-page report -- reviewed by The Wall Street Journal -- found "no conclusive evidence" that Mr. Christie "was or was not aware" of the September 2013 lane closures in advance or while they were happening. But the report found that accusations by a former ally of the potential 2016 Republican presidential contender left "open the question of when the governor first learned of the closures and what he was told."

While I have not yet read the report in question, news accounts from reporters who have seen it suggest this is hardly an exoneration. The legislative investigation didn't say Christie was unaware of the misconduct, only that investigators couldn't conclusively answer the question one way or the other.
This same report, meanwhile, also apparently concluded that the lane-closure scheme was part of a deliberate political plot hatched by top members of Christie's staff.
And why did they do that? We still don't know and the report concedes it lacks information needed to explain the mystery. The report notes that because "several critical witnesses" have not testified, the record of the incident "remains incomplete and leaves several important questions unanswered."
And whether the governor and his allies like it or not, the public still deserves answers to explain Team Christie's abuses and misconduct. Indeed, even if every word of this leaked information is accurate, the governor still has a serious problem on his hands.
I'm reminded of this Star-Ledger editorial from September, following reports that Christie probably won't face criminal charges in this scandal.

Before he finishes this victory lap, a few reminders: No one on the investigative committee has accused him of personally ordering these lane closures. It is hard to believe he would be that stupid. But what about the cover-up? What about the bogus claim that this was all part of a traffic study? That came from Bill Baroni, Christie's appointee as deputy executive director at the Port Authority, after he was coached for several days by senior members of Christie's staff. Was Christie so out of touch that he was oblivious to all that? Hard to believe he was that stupid, either.

As we talked about at the time, part of the problem for Christie from the very beginning is that the governor’s best case scenario -- the version of events that are the most favorable to him personally -- is that Christie was such an inept and incompetent leader that has no idea that some of the top members of his team conspired to abuse their power in his name.
The governor, guided by willful ignorance, was clueless to the events unfolding around him, executed by his own top aides who were abusing their power in his name.
Under normal conditions, this might sound like scathing criticism, but in Christie’s case, it’s his best defense. The governor's backers -- gearing up for a presidential campaign -- are now prepared to boast that Christie’s aides crippled a New Jersey community on purpose for partisan political reasons, but the governor was too ignorant to be properly blamed.
For that matter, let’s also not forget that this isn't the only Christie scandal that remains ongoing, and this report does not touch on the Hoboken allegations.
In other words, the governor and his supporters should probably keep the champagne on ice.