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IN MY OPINION . . .

Christie and Cuomo, Perfect Together

As the Bridgegate investigation runs its course, we learn more each day. Nothing ties Governor Chris Christie directly to the planning or execution of the GWB lane closings—something he avowed in his January 9th press conference and has affirmed in the few public comments he has made since.

I think we can believe him on that specific and narrow aspect of the case—he didn't take part in the planning or execution of the scheme. Still, it seems clear that an atmosphere existed within the governor's office that allowed subordinates to believe they were carrying out his agenda. An experienced political operative like Bridget Kelly did not go rogue on this; she had to believe she was acting with the approval of higher-ups.

Here is where I think the governor is treading on thin ice, and it is something he has never directly commented on. However light and insulated his touch, I think the governor had a hand in the cover-up, the fabricated story of a "traffic study," and, as we have so often learned, the cover-up is often worse than the scandal.

There is a court hearing on March 11th to determine whether Kelly and Bill Stepien, Christie's former chief political advisor, who held the deputy chief of staff position before Kelly and who brought Kelly into the governor's office, must turn over subpoenaed documents. Kelly and Stepien are claiming Fourth and Fifth Amendment privilege in refusing to provide the documents. Perhaps we'll learn more when that issue is resolved by the court.

Here is what I find strange: the silence of New York governor Andrew Cuomo throughout this entire affair.

Early on, there was a report in the Wall Street Journal, hardly a bastion of liberal media bias, that Christie had phoned Cuomo in an effort to have Cuomo squelch any investigation by Patrick Foye, the New York-appointed executive director of the Port Authority, into the lane closures. Cuomo has refused to give any substantive explanation of that phone call, while Christie denied making any such request of Cuomo. Moreover, after the revelations about the Port Authority being a cesspool of politics—layer upon layer, from Port Authority police to management—Cuomo has stayed silent. He has not uttered a word to condemn what was clearly misconduct by at least the New Jersey appointees to the bi-state agency. Why no comment from Cuomo, someone who has prided himself on being a reformer, a good-government advocate, throughout his career in public service?

Well, I think we now have the answer. Governor Andrew Cuomo does not have clean hands; he is as culpable as Christie has been in using the Port Authority as his cash cow, fed by bridge and road tolls. And he colluded with Christie to make that cow produce more money, the milk of politics.

The NJ Assembly's Transportation Committee had begun looking into the GWB toll hikes of a few years back, well before Bridgegate turned their focus elsewhere. Last week, the New York Times reported that Christie and Cuomo had a private dinner meeting in New York City prior to the toll increases and that, afterwards, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, Christie's henchmen on the Port Authority—I'm sorry, but there is no better word for those two—began implementing a strategy for the toll increase roll-out.

The Port Authority would announce a massive toll hike, to take effect all at once, and the two governors would condemn the plan, only to reach a kinder and gentler compromise that would lessen the increase and spread it out over several years. Both Christie and Cuomo would appear to be the white knights, riding to the rescue and saving commuters from the callous Port Authority. In other words, they would get the toll increases they both desperately wanted, to fund pet projects in their respective states, but would not incur the wrath of citizens in the process. As a bonus, they would reap political benefits by appearing to have moderated the toll increases.

Cuomo cannot criticize the Port Authority scandals that have emerged—including the many questions about PA Chairman David Samson's actions—because he is vulnerable to a backlash from Christie, no shrinking violet when it comes to dealing with political enemies. If Cuomo were to speak out against Christie and the corruption that has occurred at the Port Authority, he opens himself to a retaliatory attack from the New Jersey governor.

When you have a situation of one hand washing the other, the inescapable inference is that both hands were dirty to begin with.
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