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Scandals of past may offer lessons for Christie

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 3:23 PM EST, Fri January 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • When faced with scandal, some politicians fare better than others
  • But it might be more politically advantageous to fess up later, political observers say
  • Lies and especially cover-ups can tanks careers, they say
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be fine "if he told the truth," expert says

Washington (CNN) -- The political scandal involving vendettas and traffic jams ensnarling New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration could stall the expected presidential hopeful's career ambitions if he can't convince voters his apologies are sincere.

So a chastened Christie, his trademark braggadocio only somewhat in check, did what problem-plagued politicians have done in recent years when they faced scandals: offer mea culpas with a heavy emphasis on the "me" part.

Bold?

Yes.

Effective?

We'll see, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"If he told the truth, he'll be fine," Sabato said. "As long as he wasn't involved in the act itself and the cover-up and he fired those involved he's fine. If he lied, it's over."

But there are times when it might be more politically advantageous to lie at first, then come clean later, Sabato said.

Christie drops swagger amid heat of scandal

Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton was a veritable maestro of careful and calculated confessions during a career riddled with sexual scandals. His MO during these salacious sagas apparently was not to come clean until it was advantageous.

Hopped in the sack with model Gennifer Flowers? Nope. Then later, "yes." That admission, following rumors of his sexual indiscretions, helped him pull off a second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary and earn the moniker of "Comeback Kid."

1998: Clinton admits to Lewinsky scandal

As president he initially said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Of course, that all depended on how Clinton defined sex. He later admitted to the affair and apologized to the country. We'll spare you a trip down memory lane about the affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and just say that one stained blue dress and an impeachment later, Clinton was acquitted and remained in office.

Mark Sanford

2009: Sanford says he's been unfaithful

The former South Carolina governor-turned-congressman, Mark Sanford, pulled a disappearing act on the public's dime and time all in the name of love.

He was able to rehabilitate his career after revelations he disappeared from office for days and, at some point, had used public funds to fly to Argentina for trysts with his mistress. He bared his soul in news conferences and interviews with the media professing his love for the woman, Maria Belen Chapur, and apologizing for the hurt he caused his family.

State lawmakers censured him, but he served out his term and later was elected to Congress in a special election in 2013.

Mark Sanford has a woman problem

It worked out for those guys, but more often than not, political experts say, lies and especially cover-ups tank political careers.

John Edwards

Take John Edwards, a politician who did not fare as well as Clinton in a sex scandal.

Hunter, Edwards end relationship

Edwards, a Democratic presidential candidate for 2008, initially denied tabloid reports in 2007 that he had an affair with and fathered a child by campaign worker Rielle Hunter. Then he owned up to the affair but not the kid. Then, after details emerged about a plot in which campaign staffer Andrew Young falsely claimed paternity and campaign funds used to support Edwards' secret family, the candidate finally admitted in 2010 that he was indeed the baby's daddy.

Rod Blagojevich

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich had a penchant for Charvet ties, a big personality and big hair, and he made some big promises about filling President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

2008: Who is Rod Blagojevich?

Guess which one was illegal?

Nonetheless, Blagojevich took to the networks to proclaim his innocence. Neither the U.S. attorney's office nor Illinois state lawmakers believed him; the feds indicted him for "pay to play" schemes, and Blagojevich was impeached by the state House and Senate. He has since appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice" and penned a book. Now he's in prison, with plenty of time to work on his acting and writing chops.

Larry Craig

Sen. Larry Craig, a conservative lawmaker from Idaho who'd taken hardline positions against homosexuality, found himself in a gay sex scandal in 2007.

Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig
Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig

His comments about having a "wide stance" became late-night TV fodder after his arrest in the men's room at the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport. He was accused of soliciting sex from an undercover police officer by using hand signals and tapping his foot in a bathroom stall.

Craig first pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct, then said he regretted that plea. He said he was going to resign, then changed his mind about that, too.

He ultimately served out the rest of his term and did not seek re-election.

Then there were those baffling New York political sex scandals.

Eliot Spitzer

New York comptroller race heats up

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer fessed up to his involvement in a high-priced hooker ring during a 2008 scandal that rocked the Empire State. He recently lost a bid to become New York City comptroller. And, for good measure, shortly after his inauguration as governor, David Paterson, the lieutenant governor who stepped up to fill in when his boss resigned, confessed that he and his wife both had extramarital affairs and that he used cocaine in his youth.

Anthony Weiner

Weiner campaign bites the dust

And we all saw way too much of former Rep. Anthony Weiner during a 2011 sexting scandal.

He originally denied posting a lewd selfie to one of his Twitter followers but later came clean during an uncomfortable and awkward press conference. He resigned from office, but we were treated to Weinergate part deux when, during the 2013 New York City mayor's race, more explicit pictures emerged.

Can Rep. Anthony Weiner survive Weinergate?

Trey Radel

Rep. Trey Radel: 'I'm sorry'

And just this week, U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Florida, returned to work on Capitol Hill for the first time after pleading guilty to cocaine possession in November. He went to rehab and then set about rehabilitating his career by apologizing for his actions.

"I cannot express how sorry I am. I ask for your forgiveness. I've let down our entire country. I have let down my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I've let down my family," Radel told reporters Tuesday in his office, his voice full of emotion.

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