Ever Hear of Watergate Governor?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The bizarre part of what has transpired over the past few days in what is now being called Bridgegate is that no one seems to recall exactly what the basis of Nixon’s impeachment was. At the end of almost two years the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. vs. Nixon that the President could not withhold evidence (the tapes) from Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski who had demanded the tapes in conjunction with his prosecution of Messrs. John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, et.al. The fact that in turn these tapes are what undid Nixon was because the tapes also provided evidence that the President was involved in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in, which was considered to be an impeachable offense.
Governor Christie has spent three months now denying and carrying-on about the entire September episode in Fort Lee, New Jersey in his now classic manner of sarcasm, braggadocio, and bullying. As a result of the disclosures which have emerged over the past few days, however, it makes his conduct and knowledge of the events prior to as well as since the bridge lanes’ shut down seriously suspect. The legal and legislative investigations which now are only beginning will clarify the verity of Christie’s two hour press conference mea culpa today. It will undoubtedly take time as the various probes begin and as witnesses are granted protections or receive immunity; but clarity will win out given the extent to which various governmental authorities are likely to go.
The political future of Governor Christie’s political career will likely be apparent rather quickly. The consequence to his continued tenure in office will also be determined presumably by the legal investigations and the extent to which he will be shown to have known of the initial decisions to close the Fort Lee bridge lanes or not. It will also become clear as to whether he knew and/or misled the public and the media over the past several months; thus participating in a cover-up. Whether he violated any laws will be determined, but that he would have violated the public trust of his office would be clear. To maintain a notion to run for the Presidency in 2016 with probes and questioning hanging over him is unlikely.
The U.S. Attorney and Justice Department will undoubtedly also be considering how to proceed. Given the dramatic GOP kick-back that the Obama Administration will receive if they move too aggressively or too quickly, it would behoove them to let the matter proceed first in New Jersey; despite the fact that the multi-state Port Authority agency was involved.
For the Republican Party–at least for it more traditional wing–this scandal could kill a Christie candidacy. For the Democrats, it may well remove one of their most formidable potential challengers to any Democratic nominee as well. Given his personality, it is a guarantee that if there indeed are serious incriminating questions, Christie will not fall on his sword quietly.