Published January 09, 2014
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did a good job of apologizing for the George Washington Bridge scandal at his press conference on Thursday. He looked sincere in conveying sadness at being betrayed by a liar.
He held that top aide accountable by firing her.
On top of that he answered any question thrown at him for more than an hour, one more sign of a man taking a solid first step to rebuild public confidence in his once stellar reputation as a blunt but trustworthy leader.
Despite the winning performance the one thing Gov. Christie did not do was put an end to the scandal that threatens his political future as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
There are two very hot and politically charged investigations underway digging up emails and other evidence capable of drawing the governor back into this fire that threatens his political house.
The governor’s political opponents in the state legislature control one probe. The Port Authority, which controls the bridge, is doing the other investigation. The Port Authority includes people from other states who are often political rivals with the governor.
And the U.S. Congress -- with their federal agents and subpoenas -- are on the brink of jumping in with a third probe of the Fort Lee scandal.
In addition, there are several stories now attracting attention about other schemes by the governor’s office to punish people who crossed him.
Any of those stories is now primed to get new reviews from the press and prosecutors and could set off yet more investigations.
The current investigations and possible future dragnets now hang over the governor despite the bravura performance before the press.
And like an open wound these investigations will continue to weaken his political image, transforming the popular governor from a blunt, honest public official to a petty, mean politician bent on punishing rivals.
“The point of the story is that Christie will do payback,” is the way leading conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh described the scandal. “If you don’t give him what he wants, he’ll pay you back.”
That means Republican primary voters nationwide deciding on Christie’s likely future presidential bid are going to be getting regular reminders that they have had questions about him in the past.
The governor’s loud praise and embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy came in the middle of the 2012 election and infuriated some Republicans.
His changing position on gay rights has caused concern among social conservatives, too.
Those whispers and doubts about Christie among Republicans have not been quieted with the press conference.
If any subsequent investigation is able to tie the governor directly to any retribution against political rivals, Democrats or Republicans, then his political rivals in the GOP will be glad to use it against him.
In one case that has been already been reported but not investigated a Rutgers political science professor disagreed with the governor’s plan for redistricting the state. His political institute soon had $169,000 cut from its state funding.
In another case country prosecutors claim they were fired by the governor’s attorney general for an investigation that led to questions for one of the governor’s fundraisers and indictment of a Republican sheriff.
And then there is the story of a past New Jersey governor who had his police escort taken away by Gov. Christie’s staff when the old governor expressed policy difference with Gov. Christie. You can expect to hear more about that one, too.
But the big investigation is the one into the closing of lanes connecting Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge.
A press conference can’t stop damage from new stories emerging about sick people who did not make it to the hospital because of a traffic jam created by the governor to punish residents of his state.
And if Bridget Anne Kelly, the top aide fired by Christie, ever decides to go on television or to the papers for interviews that contradict anything he said in his press conference the scandal will also gain new life.
The bottom line is that the governor gets top marks for his performance at the Thursday press conference. Unfortunately for him that was just the first test. And it is going to be a long ride to get across this political bridge.