From the top of the press conference, Christie pledged to interview his staff to discern what had led to the closures in September. His objective was "to determine if there's any other information that I do not know and need to know in order to take appropriate action." But when pressed later if he had talked to Bridget Anne Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff who he had just fired, Christie said he had not and had no plans to. That was despite the fact that the scandal blew up on the governor earlier on Wednesday when Kelly's email saying it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" became public. "I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly," he said. "She has not given the explanation why she lied. I'm quite frankly not interested in the explanation at the moment."
'Cognitive dissonance and rhetorical flubs'
Chris Christie's admirers came away from his press conference impressed, but it's worth taking a closer look at the substance of what he said.
Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean (R), who seemed quite alarmed by Gov. Chris Christie's (R) bridge scandal as recently as yesterday, now appears satisfied. Referring to Republicans in the Garden State, Kean said, "The general feeling was a sigh of relief" after Christie's press conference this morning.
Listening to Beltway pundits, I get the sense that much of the political establishment feels the same way. Christie spoke at length, fired an aide, and said he was sorry, so everything's fine now.
That's an exceedingly generous approach to this still-unfolding controversy. Indeed, though a variety of pundits were impressed with Christie's Q&A earlier, Dylan Scott explained that the governor "routinely slipped into moments of cognitive dissonance and rhetorical flubs" this morning.
It was odd. Christie said he wants to know exactly what happened, but he's decided not to talk to the one person we know for certain could shed light on every relevant detail.
But there were several moments like these. Christie clung to the fiction that a "traffic study" might still exist, which seemed bizarre given yesterday's revelations. Christie said another administration official, David Samson, wasn't involved in the scandal because Samson assured him he wasn't -- as if that should settle matters.
Christie said his chief of staff, Kevin O'Dowd, didn't know about the misconduct -- despite having been Kelly's boss during the incident -- and the debacle shouldn't stop O'Dowd from being confirmed as New Jersey's next state attorney general.
The governor even said he must visit Fort Lee today to apologize, even if the local mayor prefers he postpone to a later date. Why? Christie just wants to go.
He also insisted the Fort Lee fiasco was some kind of wild aberration because political retaliation is inconsistent with "the environment I've worked so hard to achieve," despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Republicans and pundits may have been impressed by the way in which the governor spoke and showed contrition, but the substance of what he said did little to downplay the significance of the scandal.