Last week, before an ever-fawning media that was being played like a fiddle, Donald Trump spent several seconds repudiating the despicable Obama birther lie that he had willfully helped to perpetuate. To exacerbate his offenses, Trump repudiated the lie in an especially grotesque manner, using the event to claim his actions as some kind of personal achievement, all while peddling hotel rooms. But there was more. He compounded the birther lie with another tried-and-true Trumpist falsity: blame Hillary Clinton. He claimed that she started the lie, contrary to all existing evidence (there is no evidence that Clinton ever personally believed or trafficked in the birther lie). And yet he was still not done. He also claimed to have finished the birther issue, despite overwhelming digital evidence actually showing him perpetuating his birtherism after the spring of 2011, when President Obama released his long-form birth certificate (the legitimacy of which Trump has repeatedly questioned in the years since).
Trump’s weak and rather pathetic self-repudiation event was, of course, the subject of much news and commentary. But perhaps just as grotesque as Trump’s fabrication-renunciation was the effort by his supporters this weekend to defend Trump. It was a humiliating spectacle, and one that should have embarrassed Republicans everywhere.
One of those defending Trump was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Sigh. This man was once a force of nature. Smart, skilled, funny, tough. He wasn’t an ideologue, and he had the right combination of experience to be a major national figure. Now, he’s relegated to defending Trump’s birtherism. This once credible and serious man now spends his days playing the role of Grover Dill to Trump’s Scut Farkus.
Yesterday, Christie’s complications deepened. During the “Bridgegate” trial in New Jersey, where federal prosecutors have charged two Christie aides with crimes related to civil rights deprivation and misuse of federal program funds, the prosecution stated that it had evidence that Christie knew of the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. This is a claim that Christie has repeatedly denied. And now career federal prosecutors are prepared to counter his denial.
It is not yet clear how the Government will prove this up, or how significant that the evidence is. If all they have is the testimony of their main witness, another former Christie associate and Port Authority official, the claim may ultimately appear thin. This may well be a question of credibility. Moreover, when Christie learned of the lane closures, if he did, might also matter. Learning about it as it happened, one might argue, is different from learning about the plan before it happened and giving approval. I am not yet persuaded that this is quite the bombshell that it appears to be. Notably, the Feds have not as yet decided to prosecute Christie. And it is unclear what the charges against him would include (conspiracy? false statements under 1001, if Christie lied during his interviews with investigators?).
But let us assume that Christie is never prosecuted (and that, I think, is the likely outcome here). Does this actually hand the Clinton campaign some ammunition? After all, Chris Christie is the one who “prosecuted the case” against Clinton during the Republican convention, despite no formal charges ever being brought against her. Christie’s case: a major political figure in a position of power broke the law, put lives at risk, misled people about the nature of her actions, and then avoided criminal prosecution because of who she is. Is that not the very narrative that Clinton could run against Christie?
Governor Christie may well avoid facing any legal consequences in the Bridgegate scandal. Indeed, perhaps he did nothing wrong and has been entirely honest with the public and with investigators. But if the trial’s opening day is really an indication of what is to come, the scandal could create an insoluble political problem for Christie – and for those who would be pushing for Christie’s high place in a Trump Administration.