The Washington Post

How Chris Christie is screwing this up

From the time Bridge-gate broke — lo these three weeks ago! — we've generally thought that Chris Christie has handled himself well. He got rid of the two people on his senior staff who were directly implicated in the lane closures. He held an almost two-hour press conference in which he answered questions until even the reporters were sick of asking them. He avoided making any new news.

Bridge-gate could hurt Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination for president. PostTV takes you through the story, from the beginning. (Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

And then, over the weekend, Christie's team released a memo entitled "5 things You Should Know About the Bombshell That's Not a Bombshell." Wrong move.

The memo, which you can read in its entirety here, starts off okay — noting that the New York Times changed the lede of its story alleging that "evidence exists" that Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening. It also reiterates that Christie had "no involvement, knowledge or understanding of the real motives behind David Wildstein's scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge." (Okay, although judging from the text and e-mail traffic, it seems pretty clear that Bridget Kelly, a deputy chief of staff for Christie, was the one giving the order to close the lanes, not Wildstein.)

It's when Christie gets to point #4 in the memo that he starts to go way off track. "In David Wildstein's past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as 'tumultuous' and someone who 'made moves that were not productive.' " As evidence, the memo notes that Wildstein sued over a local school board election when he was 16, was publicly accused of deceptive behavior by his high school social studies teacher and, worst of all, "was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge." (I mean, blogs are bad enough. But an anonymous one?  There is a special circle of hell for those people.)

First of all, high school? Seriously? I mean, this is what I looked like in high school — and if the things I did then were used as evidence of the relative worth of my current character, let's just say I wouldn't be too happy. Second, if Christie thought these high school foibles were so disqualifying, why did he bring Wildstein into his administration — as director of interstate capital projects (um, what?) at the Port Authority. If Christie knew Wildstein was such a bad guy dating all the way back to high school — Christie said of the two mens' shared high school experience: "You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time" — it seems implausible that he would have considered him for a well-paying job within his own administration.

Take one big step backward. Why, regardless of the reasons, is Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and a serious candidate for president in two years, picking on what one of his appointees did in high school? And that question becomes even more perplexing when you consider that Christie is trying to beat back the idea that he is a bully and fostered that sort of bullying mentality in his administration.

Look, we get why Christie put this memo out. He wanted to slam the Times for making a big deal out of something he and his team don't believe is that big a deal. And he wants to make sure his friends and allies as well as the media and the donor community know that Wildstein is desperately looking for a way out of his role in Bridge-gate. But there's a far better way to do that. How about releasing a statement that says "David Wildstein is making allegations about me and my administration that are simply not true. He is doing so to save himself — simple and plain."  Instead, Christie put out a memo savaging Wildstein for things that happened three decades ago and, to be frank, don't even seem like all that big of a deal.

It reeks of some combination of panic and vendetta-settling — neither of which do Christie any good in getting out of his current morass.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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