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Bill Press: Unbelievable Gov. Christie

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Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave a 107-minute-long news conference last week, pirouetting from skeptic to penitent on the George Washington Bridge scandal. Whether you like his politics or not, you have to admit it was one hell of a show.

For four months, Christie had made fun of the whole incident. Then, overnight, he was forced to acknowledge it was a serious problem that his close aides had instigated as a childish act of political payback.

Suddenly, we saw a Chris Christie we’d never seen before. He was embarrassed. He was contrite. He was even — almost — humble. 

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The likely presidential candidate flat-out apologized for the closure of two out of three lanes of traffic leading into New York for four days in a row in September, and accepted full responsibility for it. He fired his deputy chief of staff, who had first suggested the closure as a way of punishing Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for reelection. He severed his ties with political consultant Bill Stepien for expressing too much glee over the closures. And, throughout, he maintained that he knew nothing about the bridge closure or his office’s involvement until the incriminating emails were released on Jan. 8.

It was an Academy Awards-winning performance by the governor. There are only two problems with it. 

First, nobody believes him. Not even my Republican friends believe him. It has nothing to do with his politics. It’s simply hard to believe that a man who brags about being such a hands-on governor — and proved it, after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012 — could hear about massive congestion on the world’s busiest bridge for even one hour, let alone for four days, and not raise holy hell about it and demand a top-to-bottom review. Instead, Christie dismissed the controversy, accused the media of “sensationalizing” it and, by his own admission, never asked his senior aides about it.

The second problem: What the New York media is gleefully calling “Bridgegate” is far from over. 

Christie might be asked to testify in two ongoing investigations, by the state Legislature and the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York, which could drag on for weeks, and federal officials are probing his alleged misuse of Hurricane Sandy funds. Meanwhile, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey is weighing a possible criminal investigation. Shutting down a vital public roadway for political games is, in fact, a crime.

In addition, everybody’s waiting to see what his former deputy, Bridget Anne Kelly, says when she finally emerges. Will she fall on her sword for Christie? Or will she stab him in the chest with it? 

As they say in New Jersey, “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” The question of Christie’s political future is still very much up in the air. If he was lying, he’s toast. But even without evidence of direct involvement in the bridge shutdown, the New Jersey governor has already been weakened by the certainty that he created a work environment where political vendettas were not only tolerated but encouraged. 

When you have to insist, “I’m not a bully,” you probably are one.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.