As a reporter, I used to cover suburban Philadelphia's Delaware County, a place so corrupt, it's hard to describe to outsiders because you'd sound like a paranoid loon. (Delaware County is even used as the Republican suburban counterpart to Richard Daley's Chicago machine in one political science textbook.)
I had brunch yesterday with a reporter I used to work with, and mentioned I was reading this book. He laughed and said, "You know, every time I hear a story about Christie, it sounds just like Delaware County."
And it does. Which is why nothing Christie does surprises me.
That's why I think it's almost cute, how indignant author Louis Manzo is over the many, many abuses of power that led to his own indictment for bribery. In "Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie," the former New Jersey politician rails against corruption in our justice system -- and specifically, abuses by the prosecutors Christie left behind, prosecutors who were eager to get positions in a Christie administration, he says.
And well he might. He was one of the targets of Christie's ambitious "Bid Rig III" plan to guarantee his own election as governor by weakening Democrat strongholds through mass indictments. Christie's office used real estate developer Solomon Dwek as a confidential informant to set up the politicians. It really sounds just like "American Hustle."
Now, there are reasons why innocent people plead guilty to federal charges, most of them having to do with money. The amount of cash necessary to defend yourself in a federal trial is more than most people can dream of -- so ambitious prosecutors who are willing to abuse their office in pursuit of their own agendas can generally persuade their targets to plead guilty.
He spells out how the prosecutors, in an attempt to cover their own trail, insisted pertinent text messages between them and the informant were deleted "to save space on the server." (Even though it was later admitted otherwise.)
Manzo bankrupted himself to defend his name and was one of the few targets who refused to plead. The result is an angry, searing book that's a political junkie's dream. He names the names, spells out Christie's political game plan, and supplies the narrative thread that explains Christie's actions. He even fills in a lot of the gaps and gives a lot more detail about the major players in the Bridgegate story.
A lot of the book is exhausting legal detail you can skip. But the personalities are sharp and compelling and it's otherwise a good read.
If you want to understand hardball politics, or if you live in New Jersey, you'll want to read this.