- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2014

Leading Republicans on Sunday rushed to the defense of embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as he contends with the so-called Bridgegate scandal that threatens to undermine his 2016 White House hopes.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Ariozna Sen. John McCain and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus were among the top GOP figures who said Mr. Christie, the outspoken second-term governor who sits atop the Republican field in some early presidential primary polls, deserves credit for the way he’s handled the unfolding controversy.

“He admitted mistakes happen. He admitted he trusted people that lied to him,” Mr. Priebus said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Americans are “a forgiving people, but they’re forgiving when you take ownership, you make mistakes you take corrective action, and that’s what Chris Christie showed.”

Last week, Mr. Christie cut ties with two top aides who helped orchestrate weeklong lane closures along the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York and New Jersey. The move apparently was political payback against Fort Lee, N.J., Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who didn’t endorse Mr. Christie’s re-election bid last year.

The matter has sparked both state and federal investigations and given Mr. Christie’s critics, who paint him as a bully bent on getting what he wants at all costs, additional ammunition.

While there is no evidence Mr. Christie knew anything about the situation, some Democrats believe his denials simply aren’t believable.

“I don’t think it’s credible for a governor to have his chief of staff, his communications director, his deputy chief of staff, all involved, his chief counsel, all involved in email communications on the day this took place and the days after talking not only about the problems that were created in Fort Lee but also talking about how to spin it to the press,” said state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat who leads the Assembly’s Transportation Committee and is heading up a state investigation.

If evidence emerges that Mr. Christie did, in fact, have knowledge of the lane closures, Mr. Wisniewski said that may be grounds for impeachment.

Mr. Sokolich also weighed in on “Meet the Press,” saying he takes Mr. Christie “at his word” but said even if the governor didn’t know what was happening he certainly should have.

As the controversy swirls around him, Mr. Christie has plenty of allies coming to his aid.

In fact, if Sunday’s comments were any indication, the Republican Party establishment has become more passionate in its support of Mr. Christie, not less so.

Leading GOP strategist Karl Rove said on “Fox News Sunday” that the scandal will by no means sink Mr. Christie’s presidential hopes and that it will be hard for Democrats to use the issue against him.

Mr. McCain said he believes Mr. Christie did “an excellent job” of defusing the situation with last week’s 108-minute press conference and believes the governor can now move on.

Mr. Giuliani said he believes the scandal will “go away” in relatively short order.

Going a step further, Mr. Priebus argued that Mr. Christie actually has demonstrated a sharp contrast with President Obama. The president, Mr. Priebus said, failed to hold anyone accountable following the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, last year’s revelation that the IRS targeted conservative groups and other recent incidents.

The outspoken support of Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain and others, however, does not mean Mr. Christie is out of the woods.

While thousands of pages of internal emails and text messages from top officials in the Christie administration and executives at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey do not show Mr. Christie was directly involved, they do paint a clear picture that numerous aides and allies of the governor had a hand in the lane closures.

Given Mr. Christie’s reputation as attentive to detail — critics call him a control freak — the sheer volume of texts and emails between his aides may make it difficult to believe the governor was out of the loop.

But there’s a legitimate reason why he may have been uninformed, according to Mr. Giuliani.

“Frankly, he was in campaign mode at the time. During campaign mode, you miss a lot of things. You’re not paying as much attention,” he said.

Mr. Christie won a landslide re-election victory last November.

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