Scandal Playbook

09.22.14 9:45 AM ET

Chris Christie Isn’t Out From Under Bridgegate Just Yet

Attention, media: The New Jersey governor may not have been implicated so far in the Bridgegate probe, and his own attorney may have exonerated him, but you can’t say he’s off the hook.

Some members of the media have been echoing Chris Christie’s long-stated assertion that he is scandal-free. Just one small problem: There is no evidence to suggest that is true.

Unnamed “federal officials” told WNBC on Friday that the New Jersey governor has not yet been implicated in the investigation into Bridgegate being conducted by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Paul Fishman. A few journalists took that to mean Christie had been exonerated: The Washington Post and the NBC Nightly News initially misinterpreted the report, with the latter issuing a correction immediately afterward. However unintentionally, the reaction was surely what Christie wanted.

The governor’s own playbook for coping with scandal is simple: First, publicly repent. Second, conduct an investigation into yourself that concludes you did nothing wrong. Last, dismiss anyone who continues to ask questions about your involvement in the scandal as politically motivated and remind them that, duh, you already were exonerated by your own attorney.

Mostly, he has been successful. “There are very few people who have been following this who think Chris Christie is being completely honest, but they don’t think his dishonesty moves him into the realm of criminality,” Patrick Murray, a pollster at Monmouth University, told The Daily Beast. Further helping Christie is the constant hounding by the liberal media, particularly MSNBC, and by Democratic lawmakers in Trenton, playing into the belief that—guilty or not—he is the subject of a partisan witch hunt.

But Christie is still very much under investigation by multiple entities, in multiple states, over multiple alleged potential wrongdoings.

In New York, the district attorney and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating reports that $1.8 billion, intended for a tunnel project, was illegally used to pay for other projects, as allegedly lobbied for by the Christie administration. The joint State Senate and Assembly committee in Trenton also is still investigating the governor in connection with Bridgegate—though, as The Daily Beast reported, that probe has devolved into a political sideshow and has gone almost nowhere since it began.

But perhaps most important, Fishman, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, is still investigating the governor, his administration, and his associates at the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York over Bridgegate. Additionally, and potentially more damagingly, Fishman is probing whether the Christie administration threatened to hold up recovery funds for Hurricane Sandy from the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, if she did not grant their requests with regard to a real estate deal.

So far, not a single alleged leak from Fishman’s investigation has proved accurate. Most memorably, in July, Esquire reported that Fishman was closing in on Christie—making it appear as if indictments could be handed down any day. So far, that has not happened.

In July, following the Esquire report, Fishman publicly declared: “I will say this: Reports in the press that purport to describe what I might be thinking or what the people who are working on that matter might be thinking or contemplating have been almost entirely incorrect. And you should be wary of reports that attribute, for attribution or otherwise, what we’re thinking or what we’re doing.”

When Christie was U.S. attorney, he frequently leaked information to the press, ensuring that journalists would be in attendance during busts and perp walks. Since Christie had his own grand political ambitions, his every success as a federal crime fighter needed to be documented as loudly as possible. Fishman, by all accounts, has no such ambitions, and his style stands in stark contrast to that of the man he is now investigating.

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted last month on two felony counts, the news seemed to come out of nowhere. In reality, it hadn’t. Perry had been under investigation for a year, but since the scandal had failed to puncture the mainstream media bubble, and since grand jury investigations are secretive by their very nature, hardly anyone outside of Texas had heard more than a whisper as they built a case against him. The difference with Christie is that his scandals made national headlines immediately—and they stayed there for months. The lull in the release of new information has had the deceiving effect of making it feel as though the dark clouds of scandal have passed.