One of my favorite scenes in “Lawrence of Arabia” is when Alec Guinness, as Prince Feisal, makes reference to a secret treaty that he’s not supposed to know about that will split up Arabia between the British and the French after World War I. He is talking to Lawrence and Lawrence’s boss, General Allenby.
Well, General, I will leave you.
Major Lawrence, doubtless, has reports to
make about my people and their weakness,
and the need to keep them weak in the
British interest...and the French
interest too, of course. We must not
forget the French now...
I've told you, sir, no such treaty
Yes, General, you have lied most bravely,
but not convincingly. I know this treaty
He does it better than you, General, but
then, of course, he is almost an Arab.
Please, far be it from me to call New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a liar after he has so convincingly pleaded his ignorance in the Bridgegate scandal today. Christie’s press conference -- which lasted just shy of two hours -- was a master class on contrition for a politician caught in a scandal. He said he had had no knowledge of the closing of the traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in Ft. Lee, New Jersey, and he had fired his top aide who, we found out yesterday, did know about it.
And if it turns out that Christie did have knowledge of the lane closings, we’ll all be saying -- based on how Christie handled himself at the press conference -- “Wow, he certainly fooled me.”
Oddly though, I thought, what seemed to most bother Christie is that the top aide in question, Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, had not stepped forward about a month ago when he asked all of his top staff whether they knew anything about the lane closings. To him, this was a huge, devastating betrayal.
And, Christie said, given how he thinks of those closest to him as “family,” and that he trusts them and considers their relationship with him one of mutual loyalty, he was thinking long and hard about how this could have happened.
What he said he was not thinking long and hard about is why some of those closest to him thought this would be OK to do. He claimed that Kelly was not acting on any instructions from either her boss -- his chief of staff -- or himself.
Kelly’s now infamous email to Christie appointee David Wildstein at the Transit Authority said, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Why would she act as a rogue player and send such an email? Of course we don't know yet if she was indeed a rogue player.
Regardless, my gut tells me that she sent the email that looks like it triggered the eventual lane closures because she thought that it was OK and the right thing to do, politically. Where would she get such an idea? If not from Christie himself, then most likely from someone who she knew or felt was very close to Christie. And, again, my gut tells me that she did it because she knew or she felt -- having worked with Christie for almost three years -- that it’s what Christie would have wanted her to do.
And since she most likely realized that this was a dirty tricks kind of operation, part of her job would have been to make sure that it could never be traced back to the governor, even if he did know about it.
We might have found out a lot more answers about all of this today because Wildstein was due to testify before the New Jersey State Legislature, but he took the Fifth Amendment.
Still, as noted, Christie dazzled during his press conference, invoking all the right adjectives. He said, repeatedly, that he was hurt and humiliated. He said he was heartbroken and stunned. He said he was blindsided. He said he was sorry to the voters of New Jersey. Since the emails and texts broke yesterday morning tying the scandal directly to one of his top aides, he has held her accountable by firing her. He also said he’s through with his former campaign manager, who was also involved in the materials released yesterday. As for anger, he said for the most part he’s not quite there yet, but he expects he will eventually experience that emotion as well. He was patient, soft-spoken and kept saying that he was taking responsibility for what happened, regardless of the fact he knew nothing about it.
As the press conference droned on and on, and began to get repetitious, I think I must have dozed off for a moment or two, and, somehow, my cynical side overtook me. Because I thought for sure that right before the press conference ended I heard Christie say, in all sincerity, that he most likely would not have stupidly ordered the lanes shut down in the first place on that hot summer’s day if he hadn’t been in a drunken stupor and maybe smoking crack …