Governor Chris Christie says he’s been humbled, that he’s been doing some “soul-searching” after his staff got caught arranging traffic jams to punish political enemies.
But bullies bully out of weakness, and Christie is now weaker than he’s ever been. He can’t possibly give up his only real political asset—a talent for intimidation that makes victims want to be on his side to win his protection—when he needs it most.
In only the latest example, his legal team is spitting paper at the Jersey pols who’ve crossed him. Christie’s choice as lead attorney for his office’s “internal review,” Randy Mastro, sent a letter, obtained by the Bergen Record, to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer requesting a “private interview” and documents, including her correspondence with the press.
“In a show of force,” the Record reports, Mastro also wrote to “Hoboken officials that he had assembled a team of ‘five former federal prosecutors’ to look into Zimmer’s claims.”
Zimmer, of course, claims that Christie officials had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t support a particular real estate development, charges those officials deny.
At the same time Christie lawyers were beckoning Zimmer to their den, the governor’s office sent a memo to supporters with press clips about Zimmer that, it says, found “serious questions of authenticity, contradictions, and hypocrisy.”
Zimmer’s allegations are now the subject of a US Attorney investigation, and her attorney replied to Mastro by saying, “We question whether it is appropriate for the Governor’s Office, in essence, to be investigating itself, particularly when an investigation of the same subject matter is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
“Five former federal prosecutors,” charges of hypocrisy, a “private interview”—this stuff reeks of bullying. But Mastro, the Record writes, “seems to try to dispel any notion that the letter is meant to intimidate a witness—he notified federal authorities in advance that he would be contacting potential witnesses, he wrote.”
Still, as James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, told The Star Ledger, Mastro’s letters show him acting more like a defense attorney than as a fact-finder conducting an “internal review” to learn who dunnit. “The letters strike me as a fairly heavy-handed attempt to intimidate—and cleverly done,” Cohen said.
No matter how much humble pie Christie insists he’s eating, he just can’t quit the bullying. Remember how, during his marathon press conference, a reporter told him that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said it’d be “premature” for the governor to visit his town and apologize for the dangerous, five-day traffic jam his people created at the George Washington Bridge? Christie ignored Sokolich’s wishes, parked his entourage at Sokolich’s office, staged some photo ops with citizens not throwing tomatoes and left the Fort Lee mayor saying he was relieved that Christie promised there’d be no more retribution. Now Christie’s lawyers have invited Sokolich and his staff to hand over documents, too.
The attempt to put the squeeze on New Jersey mayors does double duty by also intimidating other potential witnesses and officials receiving subpoenas (the New Jersey legislators investigating the bridge scandal issued eighteen new subpoenas yesterday).
It’s all part of the web of fear that Christie has established throughout New Jersey. It’s aimed as much, if not more, at Democrats than at Republicans, and until the GWB scandal broke, that fear was passed off as the Christie miracle of “bipartisanship.”
Even though the former front-runner in the GOP presidential race now looks like he’ll never make it to the primaries, even though Christie boosters like Joe Scarborough say he should resign as the head of the Republican Governors Association, anyone who the governor’s office can conceivably touch still lives in fear of his wrath.
The bully can still steal their lunch.
UPDATE: This afternoon Christie spokesperson Colin Reed sent an e-mail pushing back against New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, saying she made “no fewer than five misleading statements” on Morning Joe today. Most irksome perhaps was what she said about Mastro’s letters: “They’re trying to sort of threaten people, not explicitly, but saying, you know, we’re going to go back after you if you come after us.”