The recent “news’ coverage of former Governor Chris Christie and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s high profile luncheon date at a trendy Manhattan Italian restaurant demonstrated that even in disgrace, this axis of ego commands fawning media attention down to the recounting of details about the fallen power couple’s meal choice.
Even without the official trappings of power, these two disgraced operators are granted the bandwidth to shape their own narrative by a largely compliant news media literally dependent on crumbs off their table.
While inquiring minds might want to know what the two bully boys talked about for two hours, it might be more edifying to learn more about the mechanics of how such a story gets planted in the press in the first place and whose interests it serves.
In the 20th century it was sufficient for journalists to be satisfied with who, what, where and why. In a new century, we need to add how we know what we know as we ferret out the identity of the anonymous source that set the stage for the planted story to be told in the first place.
And while Christie and Cuomo are nominally from two different political parties, they are really from the same illuminati whose organizing principle is summed up by the Latin phrase ego sum lex, I am the law. Whether it was Christie’s successful deflection of his Bridgegate gambit, or Cuomo’s bullying Attorney General Letitia James, who he asked to investigate allegations he sexually harassed subordinates, they just power on eluding accountability.
And like Donald Trump, it’s not about any particular set of guiding principles or ideology. It’s about power and holding on to it.
These two accomplished sculptors of the news narrative have been at it for a long time.
Even though Christie’s endorsement for Trump was critical to legitimizing the would-be dictator, the former governor now gets embraced by the news media desperate to find a Republican who will speak out against the former president.
Both Cuomo and Christie campaigns have extracted millions of dollars from corporate interests looking to win their affections while the two governed often to the benefit of those donors.
In Christie’s case, during his tenure leading the Republican Governors Association, it was his fundraising prowess that made it possible for the GOP to establish their strangehold on the nation’s state capitals from where they have been able to turn back the clock on voting rights after the January 6 insurrection failed to restore Trump to power.
Back in 2015, the Christie administration settled an $8.9 billion environmental damage lawsuit against Exxon for just $225 million, or less than three cents of the dollar. The year before, when Christie was chair of the Republican Governors’ Association, Exxon and a top official there donated $525,000 to the GOP. 40,000 New Jersey residents wrote in asking that the court reject the sweetheart deal but it was too late, as is usually the case in our region, the fix was in.
In 2018, Cuomo faced the likelihood of a challenge during the state’s Democratic primary, when the state’s Democratic party that backed him got more than one million dollars in contributions from the Greater New York Hospital Association.
“Less than two years after that flood of cash from the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), Cuomo signed legislation last month quietly shielding hospital and nursing home executives from the threat of lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus outbreak,” reported the Guardian. “The provision, inserted into an annual budget bill by Cuomo’s aides, created one of the nation’s most explicit immunity protections for healthcare industry officials, according to legal experts.”
It’s just the way that bullies run things.
In recent weeks, the partisans around Cuomo appear to have grown increasingly desperate to get their man back in the mix. We know how he can be when you don’t produce results. The New York Times reports Cuomo has dipped into his $16 million campaign war chest to proclaim his innocence with a TV ad campaign.
The New York Post reported that a double-sided mailer had been recently mailed out to union households with logos from the New York Nurses Association, New York City’s Council of Carpenters, Teamsters and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
It features the logos of several unions — including the New York State Nurses Association, the political committee for the city’s District Council of Carpenters, the national Teamsters Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — printed on the front. The newspaper reported that several of the unions whose logos were used were “outraged” by the use of their logos without their knowledge.
“Governor Cuomo led the hard-hit state of New York through the worst pandemic of our time and as a result, became a role model for the world,” the flyer proclaimed. On the back it slams Ms. James. “August 2021 the Attorney General held a news conference stating, she believes Andrew Cuomo was guilty of sexual harassment, but in reality, that was a politically motivated ambush against Governor Cuomo.”
“The mailer lacks the type of legal disclosures typically found on campaign paraphernalia and is simply signed by a group identifying itself as New Yorkers for Justice,” the newspaper reported. “There is no such group registered with the State Board of Elections, online records show.”
This latest reporting on Christie’s and Cuomo’s midtown Manhattan luncheon included thumbnail sketches of their fall from grace but failed to recount how their axis of egos kicked into high gear when they ran the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as a patronage mill in the service of their political ambitions.
The power couple, posing as political polar opposites, had a behind the scenes compact to use the bi-state agency as a straw man they could be seen taking to task on behalf of aggrieved motorists angry over toll hikes. According to multiple reports they coordinated what was in essence feigned outrage over the Port Authority’s 2011 proposal to raise tolls by 50 percent, setting the stage for them to ride to the rescue of motorists with just a $1.50 hike.
Over a period of days in September of 2013, including the 9/11 anniversary, when Port Authority police
The George Washington Bridge.
should be on high alert for potential terrorist attacks, they instead closed lanes feeding into the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee.
On the surface, the plot that emerged was that David Wildstein, a Christie operative, placed inside the Port Authority, conspired with other Christie partisans to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election by staging the lane closures. Yet, what was entirely missed was the criminal cover-up of who knew what when.
This politically induced traffic coronary slowed emergency vehicle responses and paralyzed traffic on the first day of school at Fort Lee. For months, the Wall Street Journal, along with the record, pressed to get to the bottom of the story.
The Port Authority initially claimed the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. It wasn’t until January 2014, when the media published an email from Bridget Kelly to Wildstein saying it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” that the cover story was fully discredited.
It was enough of a live issue that Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, then chair of the Commerce Committee, wrote to the Port Authority taking it to task for providing no proof of an actual traffic study. He blasted the agency for the lane shutdown, writing that it was “unconscionable that anyone would block commercial traffic and risk the safety of thousands on our interstate highway system in this way.”
In response, months after the lane closures the Port Authority was still obfuscating, claiming the lane closures were “aberrational events” and that it still did “not have many of the facts as to the motivations behind actions taken at the GWB.” That’s right, a several-billion dollar public authority just couldn’t get to the bottom of what happened.
Both New Jersey and New York have a real hard time getting to the bottom of political corruption cases because both states are so tainted. When we do get a prosecution, it’s usually out of the Department of Justice. Here in New Jersey, the state’s attorney general is appointed by the governor and in New York, the district attorneys, as well as the state’s attorney general, are elected by voters and the candidates affiliate with political parties.
Ultimately, prosecuting the Bridgegate caper would fall to New Jersey US Attorney Paul Fishman, who zeroed in on former Port Authority executive director Bill Baroni and former Christie chief of staff Bridget Kelly as where the criminal liability should fall. Fishman had the help of David Wildstein, who opted to become a cooperating witness.
Federal prosecutors managed to get a pair of convictions that were ultimately overturned. Christie was never charged, although the prosecution’s position during the trial was that he was aware of the plot as it was unfolding. In essence, the prosecution itself was a masterful stroke that protected the existing power structure over which Cuomo and Christie had reigned supreme.
As was widely reported at the time, and reaffirmed in testimony during the criminal trial, Port Authority police were actively involved in executing the scheme. Senior officers were aware of the plan to alter traffic before it happened, and when rank-and-file officers raised concerns about the problems it was causing at the time, they were told to keep it to themselves. In September 2014, the Record reported that when Port Authority police officers used their radios to report that the lane closures were creating “hazardous conditions” on local Fort Lee roads, their supervisors told them to “shut up.”
It’s important to put this in context: Christie was in a heated re-election campaign against state Sen. Barbara Buono, and the lane closures were a hot issue. Had the Port Authority come clean, it could have been a very different race.
At the time, Cuomo insisted he knew nothing about Bridgegate beyond what he read in the newspaper. But WNYC later reported that based on emails it received through a freedom-of-information request, “Cuomo and his top aides” were “responding instantly and far more intensely to the abrupt lane closures on the George Washington Bridge than had previously been known, ” which helped “keep a lid on the scandal.
In 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that Christie had called Cuomo to complain that Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye “was pressing too hard to get to the bottom of why the number of toll lanes onto the bridge from Fort Lee, NJ, was cut from three to one.” The Journal attributed its story to “a person familiar with the matter.”
At the criminal trial, three people tested that Cuomo was part of the effort to cover up the real origins of the Fort Lee lane closures after a conversation with Christie where the latter asked his New York counterpart to have Foye, a Cuomo appointee, “stand down.”
As NJ.com reported, although Foye ordered the lanes reopened and “suspected foul play was involved,” he still issued a press release claiming the Port Authority was conducting “a week of study” and would “review those results and determine the best traffic patterns at the GWB.”
Under oath at the criminal trial, Foye admitted that he knew the statements in the agency’s press release were false and that the agency used the excuse of an internal probe to stave off reporters’ questions for a month after that investigation was over. And there was of course the obfuscation the agency served up when it tried to throw Senator Rockefeller off the scent of another Christie/Cuomo masterpiece.
With his mission accomplished, Foye was rewarded by Cuomo with an appointment to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority where he was installed as CEO and chairman of the board.
Bullies can always spot a tool.
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