I have always felt a certain connection to Chris Christie. Until his recent “humiliation” he was a strong defender of the rights of a minority group to which I occasionally belonged: rude fat guys.

I came to envy him as chairman of the Financial Services Committee, when reacting as I always have under stress, I put on considerable weight. Given the pressures of that job as my waistline grew, my temper shortened. When I responded harshly to a LaRouche adherent who accused me and President Obama of being Hitler-like, Fox News delighted in presenting my answer without showing the provocation.

When Christie came along as a promising Republican, Fox demonstrated its commitment to fairness and balance by changing its view of belligerent politicians and hailing him for his refusal to be docile in the face of verbal abuse.

But my sympathy evaporated after his administration’s assault on the people of Fort Lee, N.J. – which I gather is being called “Bridgegate,” it ought to be called “Toll-gategate” since those are the choke points the governor’s appointees used to strangle that city.

I have no basis for disbelieving the governor’s assertion that he had no knowledge of the role his appointees played. But that still leaves ample grounds for criticism.

I am particularly angry because this fiasco strengthened a poisonous element in our society: a virulent distrust of government. This comes not from the governor, but from some of his self-appointed defenders who have argued that this is after all, only to be expected from politicians. “His people were just doing what all politicians do,” is the refrain.


After 40 years in Massachusetts politics I am aware that, as the governor quoted Mr. Dooley, politics ain’t bean bag. But neither is it extortion, or the persecution of innocent people.

Incredibly, Christie seemed far angrier at the fact that some of his top appointees had “lied” to him than that they had seriously disrupted people’s lives. After he repeatedly expressed his dismay that his people he had not been honest with him, one questioner asked if he were not even more upset at what they did. He seemed puzzled by the question and reaffirmed that he was more infuriated because they had not told him the truth than because of the outrageous acts they had committed.

Second, he sought to minimize his responsibility for the actions of his appointees by noting that there are 65,000 employees in the state, and that he could hardly be expected to be blamed when they egregiously misbehaved. The fact that there are employees of the New Jersey Turnpike, the New Jersey Highway Department and other agencies hardly mitigates the fact that the miscreants in this escapade included four of the people closest to him. My guess is that if you were to count the people of comparable closeness to him the number would be more like 40, and a 10 percent ratio of very bad appointments is a sign of a poor executive.

My third criticism is not of what he said, nor of what he did, but what he very conspicuously and did not do: find out what was going on when he was first alerted to the problem. Christie’s defense is that as soon as he realized there might be a problem he, summoned his top assistants and asked them if any of them were responsible. When they all said they were innocent, he closed the case and mocked those who said – correctly – that his appointees had in fact been involved. I am not familiar with Christie’s record as U.S. attorney in New Jersey, but I am certain of this: If investigators of potential federal crimes under his supervision told him that their investigation consisted entirely of asking those accused if they had done something wrong, and on being told that they had not, ended the investigation, he would not have been pleased.

Finally, and this is not specific to Christie, his repeated statement that he was to be held accountable, accompanied by his equally repeated statements that he had not done anything wrong, leaves me with this question – what do people mean when they say that they should be held accountable, while doing everything possible to exonerate themselves? I did not hear this question to him, “Given that you acknowledge that you should be held accountable, does this mean that you think people should take this into account the next time you are a candidate, and that it would be one reason to vote against you, even though that might be outweighed by other considerations?”

I acknowledge that there is in my own past an incident in which I held a long news conference to acknowledge that “mistakes had been made.” But in my case I made it very clear that I was the one who had made them, and that if I could not persuade people that it was a mistake I was unlikely repeat, they should consider it a factor when they vote.


One of the most important jobs of the president is to appoint people. Even if Christie had no knowledge that his appointees were acting so badly, he should explain why people should be assured that he will not make a similar number of bad appointments in the future.

There is a final point Christie ducked: What is it about his relationship with his top appointees that led them to think that this is the sort of thing he would want them to do?

My own conclusion is – if he says they were wrong to think that – these four confidants had a better insight into him than he professes to have himself.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: @BarneyFrank

— Special to the Telegram

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