January 9
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts during a news conference in Trenton January 9, 2014. Christie on Thursday fired a top aide at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washington Bridge to settle a political score. Christie told a news conference he was stunned and heartbroken by revelations that his staff was behind the traffic jam designed to punish a local mayor who declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Gov. Chris Christie during Thursday’s news conference. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Chris Christie does a good grovel. He apologized and apologized, admitted responsibility — the usual buck stops with him stuff. It was, all in all, a terrific performance, apparently heartfelt and convincing but where the New Jersey governor was most persuasive is where he noted where he had gone wrong: Somehow his staffers thought they could lie to him.

Yes, yes, of course — this must hurt. But he did not seem half as put out by the fact that these very same staffers thought it was the height of political fun to inflict gridlock on the poor inhabitants of Fort Lee, New Jersey, where the George Washington Bridge begins or ends, depending on whether you’re coming or going.

Christie, as it happens, was going both ways. Yes, the caper had been stupid and, what were they thinking, but above and beyond what they had done to the public, above and beyond their abuse of power, above and beyond the ferocious stupidity of it all, was this bit about lying. They had lied to him! The governor! To the gallows with  ’em.

“It is heartbreaking to me that I wasn’t told the truth,” Christie said his news conference. “I’m a very loyal guy, and I expect loyalty in return. And lying to me is not an exhibition of loyalty.”

Or: “I work hard at this job, and it’s incredibly disappointing to have people let you down this way. I’m incredibly loyal to my people and I expect in return their honesty and their candor and their loyalty, and I didn’t get it. And it’s a hard thing — a hard thing after you work as hard as I do with them at it.”

Look, it would be wrong to suggest that Christie did not mention the foul treatment of the people of New Jersey. But it would be just as wrong not to suggest that ranking just as high — or higher — was this matter of personal loyalty. It told you something about Christie, both good and bad. He runs a personal governorship and even though he says all the right things about not taking political differences personally, his record and what he had to say regarding “Bridge-gate” suggests otherwise. Issue are important, but loyalty matters most.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.