The problems of New Jersey governor Chris Christie were a long time coming, though they came in an unforeseeable way. A tough, large, and very effective protagonist found himself sorely taxed in a skeptical press encounter, professing to be “embarrassed and humiliated” by the misconduct of senior underlings, of which he was blissfully ignorant. The idea that the senior officials of a governor of any state would judge it appropriate to resolve a disagreement with a mayor of a community within his state by inflicting terribly inconvenient traffic snarls on the residents of that community is shocking. These were the chosen collaborators of a man who came into office to clean up a state that has been misgoverned almost uninterruptedly since the single term of Woodrow Wilson as its governor ended in 1913.
Governor Christie did face down corrupt and overindulged public-service unions and, on his record, deserved to be reelected by a heavy majority, as he was. But he had also affronted the liberal sensibilities that usually prevail in New Jersey and that certainly are oppressively prevalent in the borough across the George Washington Bridge, to which access was restricted for the unoffending residents of Fort Lee, N.J. The governor’s entourage knew that their leader had a target on his back in the eyes of the liberal media who were everywhere about them and oozing through the doors and windows of the governor’s mansion in Trenton like green sludge. Any sane person would know what a shameful, abusive misuse of high office it would be to close down access to one of the busiest and most famous bridges in the world (and a magnificent bridge, on which a chauffeur in The Godfather executed a brilliant U-turn) to people living beside it and using it frequently for their livelihoods. They must have known how likely it would be that someone would reveal the fact.
Let us assume for a moment that the governor’s claims to have been completely ignorant of this initiative, so discordant to Madisonian and Wilsonian principles of good government, are absolutely true, and he deserves that presumption in the absence of stronger contrary evidence. It doesn’t speak flatteringly of his judgment that he employed such goons as close aides, and gave them the ability to dispose his authority arbitrarily. In denying any knowledge of these actions, the governor was not speaking under oath; he was just speaking to the press. But his opponents have the ability to require those who have been lumbered with responsibility for shutting access to the bridge from Fort Lee to testify under oath. Governor Christie was a U.S. attorney prior to his election as governor, and he knows better than almost anyone the arsenal of persuasive legalisms that are available to prosecutors and congressional and legislative committee counsels, to incentivize testimony damaging to the chief target in proceedings, starting with light treatment, moving on to immunity from charges of perjury, and ending with draconian penalties for failure to inculpate the target.
Former prosecutor Christie propelled himself into the governor’s chair by imposing these deformations of the plea-bargain process, which have made the American criminal-justice system the scandal and mockery that it is, in which 99.5 percent of prosecutions are successful, 97 percent without trial. It is much too early to speak of trials in this case, but there can be no doubt that the governor’s enemies, led by all the Democrats and joined by many of the Republicans, and encouraged by the energetic cheerleaders of the liberal media of New York City, local and national, will put such heat on the ostensible authors of this oppression of Fort Lee that they will be irresistibly encouraged by the familiar rites and foibles of American justice to suggest that their governor was more knowledgeable of this unconventional approach to interstate travel than he has admitted. If the almost unbroken experience of modern American jurisprudence, which has had few more ardent and successful practitioners than the governor in his previous occupation, is not suddenly to be consigned to the proverbial dustbin of history, they will soon be singing, like canaries flying backwards at three o’clock in the morning, that Governor Christie ordered the closing of access to the bridge. And they will rival each other in imputations to the governor of colorful orders to shut down access to the bridge from Fort Lee.