If you'll recall, yesterday I talked about the most likely scenario about how and why the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge came about. Now, while we don't know for certain exactly who the Christie team was trying to screw (Rachel Maddow wondered last night if it wasn't actually state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who represents Fort Lee), we do know they were trying to screw somebody.
Remember what I said about plausible deniability? At this point, with the feds involved, Christie's not just looking for political deniability. The former U.S. attorney is looking to avoid criminal charges, and that requires him to distance himself. He knows how the feds work -- and he knows how things look to a grand jury. He must be sweating bullets. From the things he's said and done, I imagine he's already retained a criminal attorney.
(It's a neat trick that he already nominated Kevin O'Dowd, his chief of staff and chief counsel, as NJ's attorney general. O'Dowd's confirmation hearing today will probably be more adversarial than expected.)
Why didn't Christie talk to Bridget Anne Kelly? Because he couldn't have her tell him who ordered her to close the bridge. That would put him in a bad legal position, because if he had to follow that trail, where would it lead?
Why didn't he talk to his pals David Wildstein or Bob Baroni? Same thing.
Christie already knows who told them. He knows because whoever it was was carrying out his wishes. During a campaign, the highest ranking staffer is still outranked by the campaign manager. That leaves Bill Stepien as the logical set-up man.
Campaign culture is traumatic. It's like being at war. By the time you're within spitting distance of Election Day, you're frothing at the mouth over the opposition, and a lot of the ideas that get kicked around the higher levels are childish, mean, and yes, even criminal. You're stuck in the inner circle of hell with a bunch of frat boys drunk on their own power.
But things like this, with the opportunity for real blowback? That's not initiated by staffers. They would lose everything if it came out. No, these plots are launched in private conversations, with no one in the room but the candidate and the campaign manager.
Stepien was the man who put Christie in the governor's mansion -- twice. He helped Christie strategize his way to serious consideration as Mitt Romney's running mate, and then as a presidential candidate. He was just named as head of the New Jersey GOP -- and also as consultant to the Republican Governors Association, where Christie is now serving as president. Imagine the fun he would have had there!
Me, I don't have any questions. I think the answers are clear: Chris Christie is trying to keep himself out of jail.