OTR Interviews

Will 'I'm not a bully' haunt Gov. Chris Christie?

Was an apology and a firing enough for the N.J. governor to put scandal behind him? Or has he lost the public's trust?

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 9, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a FOX News alert. Six New Jersey residents have just filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Chris Christie, the state of New Jersey, and the port authority of New York and New Jersey. The suit is the first civil claim over traffic jams that appear to be politically motivated. Lawyer Rosemary Arnold said she filed the class-action lawsuit after learning the lane closures were deliberate actions. She says her clients were late for work and one even suffered a panic attack. Governor Christie has denied all involvement.

Karl Rove joins us. Good evening, Karl.

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST/FORMER BUSH ADVISER: Good evening. How are you?

VAN SUSTEREN: Good. Well, it seems like it's just starting, this bridge where 300,000 cars a day go over, this is not an insignificant bridge. But your thoughts about Governor Christie tonight?

ROVE: Well, I thought the news conference was classic Christie -- direct, blunt, to the point, there was no equivocation. The mistakes ultimately were his responsibility. Actions, decisions, tough decisions had to be made. He fired his chief of staff, distanced himself from his long-time campaign manager. Had previously, I believe, accepted the resignation of appointee to the authority. He made clear these people had lied to him, had mislead him, and that was unacceptable behavior. I thought it was a good first step.

I thought it was also good that he said he was going to Fort Lee to apologize personally to the mayor and if the mayor wouldn't see him, he was going to apologize to the people of Fort Lee for having caused such disruption in his life. I thought it was pretty direct. Pretty straightforward. Refreshing for a leader to step forward and do that.

If I -- if I was critical, I would be critical of two things. First of all, he talked about firing his chief of staff because she had lied to him. I wish there had been a little bit more emphasis on the fact that she not only lied to him but also that she had taken actions which were not in keeping with the tone and responsibilities of his administration. She had done bad things. The other thing is that, in politics, it's sometimes very easy to say what we are not. It's harder to say what we are. I think Governor Christie is probably going to look back and regret saying "I'm not a bully." That phrase is going to linger, and not to his advantage. It would have been better if he had said, as governor, I had hoped that my administration, I insist that my administration serve all the people in New Jersey in the best way we possibly can without regard to partisan considerations and politics. And this did not happen. People's lives were disrupted. People's lives were -- work was delayed. Their school was delayed. The people were forced to suffer through waiting a long time to get across the bridge to Manhattan. And it was simply unacceptable that that should not have -- that should never have happened. Instead, it was more like he fired her because she lied to him, which was, you know, wrong, reprehensible, but is part of the bigger problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, a couple things. One is the news just broke moments ago that the mayor of Fort Lee has accepted the governor's apology and said, I take him at his word that he had nothing to do with it. That's good for the governor. Senator Lindsey Graham has been quoted as saying the controversy really plays into what you just said, reinforces the image of Governor Christie as a bully. Now, do you think anyone's opinion changed of Governor Christie today, and assuming that there are no other skeletons in the closet, that we're not going to hear any more about this, we take him at his word that he doesn't know anything about, is he still on the path to 2016, something that you mentioned in November that he was on the path.

ROVE: Yeah, look, you put your finger on the important point. If he told the truth today, which I think we have every reason to believe he did, that he did not know about these emails, that he was not aware of this activity, that he had been mislead and lied to by his staff, that not only had he been lied to but his chief of staff and his council was lied, if that turns out to be true, then, yes, I believe he has the capacity to move beyond this. If, on the other hand, it turns out that there was somebody inside his inner circle that did make him aware of this, then it would be a campaign-ending event. But I doubt that -- from what I know of Chris Christie, and I have known him a long time, this guy has got a lot of personal integrity and he is very straightforward. And when he says something, for good or for ill, it's what he believes, and it is what he is. And --

VAN SUSTEREN: It's interesting to note though, Karl, even with this class-action lawsuit, whether you're for him or against him, he is a named defendant. And even if you are just a named witness in it, he will be deposed. He will be put under oath.

ROVE: Sure. Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: This is not going away. We are going to hear a lot more, plus from everybody else who may have a little information on this.

ROVE: Yeah. And, look, he is the ostensible front runner in a crowded Republican field for 2016, which makes him not only the target of other Republicans but also makes him the target of people who are not Republicans. The fact that he has been doing so well in the polls against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, probably causes a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum to do what they can to drag him down.

But, look, let's put this in perspective. I think he probably did himself a lot of good today by coming out and being so straightforward. The question is going to be, if in the weeks and months ahead, do we find out things that contradict what he said today, then he has got a problem. If not, I think it's going to look like -- look, somebody picked up a phone, looked at the back of the phone book and picked up the phone and called somebody and said, I want to see if I can get some money out of this, let's sue. That's one of the big problems with our society today is that we litigate more than we should. And I'm not certain that's necessarily a problem for him.