Skip to main content

We need the full truth from Chris Christie

By Sally Kohn
updated 7:25 AM EST, Tue January 14, 2014
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is embroiled in unfolding controversies over alleged political payback. The primary scandal involves suggestions key aides and supporters orchestrated traffic gridlock around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year to punish that town's mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection. A separate controversy involves a federal watchdog's review of whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy funds to produce tourism ads starring him and his family. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is embroiled in unfolding controversies over alleged political payback. The primary scandal involves suggestions key aides and supporters orchestrated traffic gridlock around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year to punish that town's mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection. A separate controversy involves a federal watchdog's review of whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy funds to produce tourism ads starring him and his family.
HIDE CAPTION
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in the Christie controversies
Who's who in the Christie controversies
Who's who in Christie controversies
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sally Kohn says Chris Christie needs to go further in commenting on bridge scandal
  • She says he needs to explain why he didn't respond to the controversy for weeks
  • Kohn: Christie also under fire for handling of Sandy relief funds
  • She notes that Christie's ratings among New Jerseyans are declining

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn.

(CNN) -- It's time for Chris Christie to come clean.

At a dramatic press conference last week, the New Jersey governor tried to apologize and said he had no advance knowledge of the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge. But he came across mostly upset that his senior staff had lied to him instead of upset that the citizens of Fort Lee, New Jersey, suffered during days-long politically motivated gridlock.

Plus, no amount of talking would mute the lingering questions: Even if Christie hadn't ordered the lane closings (a significant and still-to-be verified if), why wasn't he at least digging into the truth of the story in October and November, when the press and state legislators certainly were? Saying he just didn't know just doesn't seem credible.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

At worst, Christie seems like a bully who ordered or inspired his staff to punish political opponents. At best, Christie seems like a passive leader who doesn't have a handle on his top staff. Either way, Christie is taking a hit; as a new poll shows, Christie's approval rating among New Jersey voters has fallen from 65% to 59% in one month.

Moreover, the incident has taken a toll on his personal reputation. A year ago, 70% of New Jerseyans held a favorable personal impression of Christie. Today, that number is just 44%. And cementing the sense that Christie hasn't told the full story, 51% of New Jerseyans said they believe Christie hasn't been completely honest yet about what he knows about the bridge closings.

Adding to Christie's woes and image problems is news, first reported by CNN, that federal investigators are looking into whether the governor improperly used $25 million in Hurricane Sandy relief on a tourism marketing campaign that featured Christie and his family. The ads ran in the lead-up to the 2013 election, in which Christie successfully sought a second term.

Did Christie misuse Sandy aid money?
Christie probes are 'just the beginning'
Fmr. Gov. Richardson on Bridge Scandal

At the time, Democrats skewered the ads, as did some Republicans. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, like Christie considered a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, said in November, "That's a real problem and that's why when people who are trying to do good and trying to use taxpayers' money wisely, they're offended to see our money spent on political ads. That's just offensive." Of course, to New Jersey's hurricane victims, many of whom are still living in trailers and 75% of whom feel forgotten by the recovery, describing Christie using aid money as his personal slush fund as "offensive" is an understatement.

Meanwhile, just 15% of federal aid for Hurricane Sandy had actually been spent as of last fall. And that's just what we know now. Ironically for Christie, scandals are like gathering storms that tend to gain momentum and sweep up everything in their path.

In addition to previously reported stories about Chris Christie's bullying political persona, this week more New Jersey mayors came out of the woodwork to allege that the Christie administration retaliated against them for not endorsing his re-election. According to the Wall Street Journal, after declining to endorse Christie, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop found he was no longer able to get meetings with state commissioners to address key governance issues.

Fulop's name came up in the cache of e-mails recently released on the Fort Lee scandal. The day of the lane closings, when Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly e-mailed Port Authority appointee David Wildstein to ask if Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's complaints had been responded to, Wildstein wrote back, "Radio silence. His name comes right after Mayor Fulop."

Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken said she has also suspected retribution from the Christie administration after she did not endorse the governor for re-election. Zimmer said she believes her city received less post-Sandy storm preparation funding because of her lack of endorsement.

Meanwhile, more e-mails and documents are coming out about the bridge scandal, implicating other members of Christie's senior staff and at least suggesting they knew about the alleged retribution scheme, or perhaps were more involved. That makes it even more far-fetched to imagine that Christie really only learned the truth a few days ago.

The media started sniffing around about political motivations for the bridge closures in mid-September. By mid-November, the State Assembly was convening hearings. By mid-December, Wildstein and Bill Baroni, Christie's top appointees at the Port Authority, had both resigned over the growing scandal. Why did Christie finally ask his staff for the facts around the lane closures a few weeks ago? Was Chris Christie stuck in traffic for three months? Did he willfully rip the rear view mirrors off and put on blinders?

NBC's Chuck Todd said that watching Christie try to defend himself was reminiscent of Bill Clinton's denying his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Indeed, the analogy is that Clinton was handicapped from the get-go by the common knowledge that he was a philandering cad, just as many New Jerseyans and voters across the country find it hard to believe that a governor known for being a political bully had absolutely nothing to do with the bridge scandal.

Chris Christie built his political career with a reputation for directness. But increasingly, it seems as though he has something to hide. And so the questions will keep mounting until Christie comes clean.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sally Kohn.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT