Chris Christie

Christie works to contain bridge scandal: The governor’s decision to oust Bill Stepien and Bridget Anne Kelly, aides implicated in the burgeoning scandal over George Washington Bridge lane closures, demonstrated the blunt force that Christie is willing to use to contain a crisis, even if it means exiling members of his innermost circle.

By Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa
Sunday, January 12, 2014

The brash qualities that have made Chris Christie one of the fastest-rising stars in politics — and a putative Republican front-runner for the presidency in 2016 — are suddenly looming as the biggest threat to his future prospects.

Is he the pragmatic, bracingly forthright leader seen by his admirers, who include much of the GOP establishment? Or is Christie a petty, unprincipled bully, whose only agenda is his own aggrandizement, as his growing list of adversaries say?

“On the one hand, I think he’s got a lot to offer. I think he’s the most able politician since Bill Clinton,” said former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R), a revered figure who was one of Christie’s earliest political mentors but who has since had a falling-out with him.

“On the other hand,” Kean said, “you look at these other qualities and ask, ‘Do you really want that in your president?’ ”

As a legislative investigation proceeds into the circumstances around a massive traffic snarl on the George Washington Bridge in September — a nightmarish jam that documents show was engineered by those close to the governor in an apparent act of retaliation against a mayor — there is also going to be more scrutiny of Christie’s management style and personality.

Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a voice of the Republican establishment, suggested that as Christie’s national profile rises, he had “better get used to all of this attention.”

“The liberal media is chasing this story as if it’s the Lincoln assassination and writing baloney about him being a bully,” Barbour said. “I think his effusive personality and enthusiasm is and will be an asset, and as he continues to lead, people will look back at this and shrug.”

Indeed, the governor’s in-your-face, all-politics-is-personal style has been a big part of his appeal, and is one of the reasons he cruised to a second term in 2013.

“You always have a shadow side to your strengths,” says former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich, another outsize personality. “One of the dangers he will face is how this will lead to a whole series of questions about whether there are other examples of bullying.”

There is no evidence that Christie knew anything about the actions of his subordinates and allies in shutting down access lanes to the bridge for several days in September. At a marathon news conference, he repeatedly insisted that he had been blindsided and accused them of betrayal.

Lawmakers will continue their inquiries this week. On Saturday morning, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, a Democrat and speaker-elect, announced that the chamber will hold a special session Thursday to evaluate how to proceed with regard to subpoenas. “Many questions remain unanswered about this threat to public safety and abuse of power,” he said in a statement.

Kean — who has known Christie since the current governor was a teenager — faulted Christie for creating a culture among his tight inner circle in which no one “will ever say no to him, and that is dangerous.”

Questions remain as to why those around him would have taken such action, and whether Christie had fostered a management culture in which vindictiveness would have been deemed acceptable behavior.

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