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In Christie Scandal, A Question Remains: Who Was The Target?

Jan 10, 2014
Originally published on January 10, 2014 5:19 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. We begin this hour with 900 pages, a stack of correspondence just released today that may shed light on one of the week's biggest stories, what appears to have been an act of political retribution in New Jersey. Governor Chris Christie fired his deputy chief of staff yesterday morning after it became clear she had a hand in several massive traffic jams that paralyzed Fort Lee, New Jersey.

NPR's Joel Rose has more on the scheme and its intended target.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: In emails released this week, Chris Christie's political allies have harsh words for the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. They refer to Mark Sokolich as, quote, an idiot and the Serbian. He is, in fact, Croatian. Monmouth University political scientist Patrick Murray says it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Sokolich was the target of their manufactured traffic jam.

PATRICK MURRAY: Calling him the Serbian and actually expressing joy over the fact that they were keeping him in the dark, so it really does look like Sokolich was the target.

ROSE: Sokolich is a Democrat who declined to endorse the Republican Christie in his reelection bid last year. But that, in itself, is not unusual. Christie and Sokolich seem to agree that the governor never even sought the mayor's endorsement. There's another theory circulating about why Christie's staffers were so keen to punish Fort Lee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW")

RACHEL MADDOW: Maybe it wasn't about the endorsement. Maybe it was something else special about Fort Lee.

ROSE: On her show last night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow posited that perhaps the real target of the Christie administration's ire was another Democrat, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who represents Fort Lee. She and Christie have clashed on a lot of issues, including nominations to the state supreme court. Are you the target?

STATE SENATOR LORETTA WEINBERG: I can't get it into the governor's mind or heart, but what I can say is that the governor has been less than forthcoming. The whole idea that this governor suddenly realized the day before yesterday that somebody in his front office was implicated in this is a pretty bizarre thing for the average person to believe in.

ROSE: Political scientist Brigid Harrison from Montclair State University says it may not matter who was the intended target.

BRIGID HARRISON: What is perhaps more important here is that there seems to be this practice of retaliatory politics. You know, reward our friends, punish our enemies.

ROSE: But Christie insists he is not a bully. In yesterday's rambling news conference, the governor painted the lane closures as the work of a few rogue staffers, but Monmouth University's Patrick Murray says the longer Christie talked, the less sense that story seemed to make.

MURRAY: The governor spoke for two hours and ended up raising a lot more questions, and that means that this investigation is going to go on for a long time and it's not going to go away anytime soon.

ROSE: Today, the state assembly committee that's investigating the traffic jams released more than 900 pages of emails and other documents. They show that there was an attempt to study how the Fort Lee lane closures affected traffic on the bridge, but they do not answer other big questions about who in the governor's office new about the lane closures or why they were ordered in the first place. Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.