Three thoughts on Bridgegate

Governor Cuomo should make clear exactly what contact he had with Chris Christie over the GW Bridge closure.

Governor Cuomo should make clear exactly what contact he had with Chris Christie over the GW Bridge closure.

For politicians, weeks don’t get any worse than the one just endured by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

There’s an old (and, yes, crass) saying that some elected officials are so popular that it would take a scandal involving a live boy or a dead girl to endanger their fortunes.

For Governor Christie, all it took was the closure of three lanes on the George Washington Bridge.

Shows you that for East Coast commuters, a good solid traffic controversy even trumps a sex scandal.

As the Republican tries to fight his way out of a very dodgy corner, here are three thoughts about the broader meaning of Bridgegate.

1.  Meanness just doesn’t play well.  People have tried to compare Bridgegate to the awful roll-out of Obamacare.  But Obamacare was a very real effort – some would argue misguided — to extend health care coverage to millions of Americans.  The shenanigans surrounding the GW bridge?  That was apparently just good old fashioned nasty machine politics at its worst.  Motive really does matter when it comes to public perception.

2.  Every politician needs a BS detector.  I’ve written this before and it’s more true now than ever before.  Every politician in America needs someone on their staff whose sole job is to call foul balls.  Otherwise, the fishtank reality of power and government drag even the best administrations into the muck.  People start to cut corners.  They start to feel entitled.  They start to feel like the power and money entrusted to them by voters is actually, you know, theirs.

In this case, Christie’s top staff members allegedly started playing the fool at a time when their boss was looking untouchable in a walk-away election.  This was, in the parlance of politics, an unforced error.

Imagine if his team had employed an internal ombudsman charged with calling BS on this whole scheme?  If I were a powerful guy (or gal) I’d go hire a feisty, unapologetic truth-teller tomorrow and I’d give them an office right next to mine.

3.  Finally, and this is a big one, we need to hear very clearly and directly from Andrew Cuomo.  The Wall Street Journal has reported that Chris Christie reached out to New York’s governor as this scandal was beginning to unfold.

A member of Cuomo’s staff has denied this happened.  Cuomo needs to put this to bed immediately and finally with a public statement, also taking questions about what he knew, who he talked to, and when — and any actions he took, if any.

It looks like there’s plenty of mud here to go around.

If Cuomo is truly watching all the whole mess unfold, safe and clean from his vantage point on the Washington Heights side of the Hudson River, this would be a good time to make that crystal clear.

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62 Comments on “Three thoughts on Bridgegate”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    First thought. Don’t call it Bridgegate. Don’t ever call anything somethingoranothergate. That is so trite,

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  2. Scandals like this are always most damaging when they appear to confirm an already widely believed narrative about the candidate… in this case that Christie is a bully.

    Ironic because there’s the same narrative about Cuomo but a not-dissimilar case, the apparent retaliation by his staff of a DOT bureaucrat in the Tri-Lakes region, didn’t stick to him in the same way.

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  3. Jim Bullard says:

    I have to agree with Pete on the “gate” thing. It’s a (very) tired cliche.

    As for Andrew Cuomo, he’s not his father, that’s for sure. Whatever else you might think about Mario he was a terrific communicator. Andrew, not so much and he seems prone to back room dealing. I’m not impressed with him so far. Would a statement from him of the sort you want help my opinion? Not really. It would take more than that.

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  4. The Original Larry says:

    Without judging or commenting on guilt or innocence, I have to say that Christie’s performance at his recent press conference was much less than I would expect from someone with Presidential aspirations. His mealy-mouthed, hand-wringing explanation made him look foolish, and worse yet, un-presidential.

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  5. Ken Hall says:

    Does anyone seriously believe that an aide to a high powered executive (President, Governor, CEO, ., .) would unilaterally take it upon him/her self to initiate an audacious tactic such as Watergate or Bridgegate without informing or more likely being directed to by such executive?

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  6. Gary says:

    The other day I was carrying in firewood and I thought to myself how the liberal media and Democrats must love this Republican bridge mess. It provided the perfect opportunity to divert attention away from the Obamacare mess. Then I thought, “wow Brian hasn’t jumped on that band wagon yet!”. Well, needless to say you have not disappointed me.

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  7. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Funny one Gary!

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  8. Gary says:

    khl, Well, in the news, Accenture will take over construction of healthcare.gov. Wonder why? The cost will be $45 million for a one year contract. Funny?

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  9. Brian Mann says:

    Gary -

    This idea that somehow the GWB scandal is diverting attention away from Obamacare is one of the more absurd conceits in recent political discourse. I mean…truly goofy.

    The Affordable Care Act was signed into law three and a half years ago. And we’re still talking about it, reporting on it, debating it, wrangling with it.

    Sometimes because there are legitimate policy questions about implementation or funding or whatever.

    But also, often, simply because conservative media have insisted that we keep talking about it.

    We’ve reported here in great detail about the woes and travails of the ACA’s implementation. We’ve also reported, accurately, that problems of this kind always arise when complicated new laws go into effect.

    And fair enough. It’s a big deal and it’s controversial.

    But the idea that we haven’t given the debate over Obamacare enough ink? Please.

    We’ve wrestled with it and wrestled with it and long after Chris Christie’s scandal is passed we’ll still be wrestling with it.

    Is your idea that we should never talk about anything else until this nearly four year old law is repealed? If so, then…no.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  10. Paul says:

    I don’t see where he suggested that the law should be repealed? Reporters should not jump to colusions (not sure how to spell that hybrid word)!

    This whole bridge thing is weird. When you are doing something as retribution (which I am sure it was based on what we know) why would you do something that you can’t really rub it in their face?

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  11. JDM says:

    Finally, a scandal involving a Republican.

    IRS scandal – don’t touch it.

    Fast and Furious – don’t touch it.

    Benghazi – not a chance.

    Bridgegate – all over it.

    Welcome to 21st century ??news?? reporting.

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  12. Gary’s right. The media’s barely mentioned the botched rollout of the Obamacare website. *eye roll*

    JDM’s entertaining though> I heard about all of those things he mentioned through the mythical liberal media.

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  13. dave says:

    Ha! Are you implying that Benghazi has not received media attention? I don’t see how anyone could seriously make that claim.

    Anyway… Bridgegate diverted attention from website gate which in turn diverted attention from republican shutdowngate…

    Thus is the cycle of news. There is nothing nefarious at play.

    Speaking of nefarious… why are we linking Cuomo to all of this? I must be missing the point of bringing him into it. Do people think he had something to do with it?

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  14. brian mann says:

    JDM –

    This is one of those instances where we don’t have a disagreement about analysis or an interpretation — your facts are simply untenable.

    IRS, Fast and Furious, Benghazi have all been covered extensively, deeply, intensely, at great length by the mainstream media. Coverage of those stories is on-going.

    Most of what conservatives are agitated about was revealed by mainstream reporters covering these stories.

    And the coverage is on-going, despite the fact that some of these stories are years old.

    (Parts of the he Fast and Furious operation began in 2006 and it has been the subject of aggressive reporting since at least 2011.)

    Do a Google News search on any of those stories and you’ll find recent coverage in outlets like NBC, CNN, the New York Times, NPR and others.

    On this issue, the conservative media victimization argument is just plain hooey. Again, that’s not some kind of analysis or argument – it’s just a reflection of the facts.

    You have to have been literally living in a cave not to have seen widespread, rigorous coverage of Obamacare, F&F, the IRS and Benghazi.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  15. Gary: Of course Benghazi’s gotten attention. Maybe not the non-stop 24/7 obsession that right-wing extremists want but it’s been covered a decent amount… at least by the “liberal” (according to your biased definition) media outlets I use.

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  16. Paul says:

    I think even a lot of liberals are getting tired of hearing about this bridge thing. There are so many other interesting things to report. Sure this is a big deal and they need to investigate and punish those responsible. But as far as I am concerned this is totally boring.

    So Christie called Cuomo and asked him to tell his Port Authority guy to ease up and he didn’t? Big deal.

    Sometimes your goons tell someone (Port Authority) to punish your enemies by snarling traffic in their towns, or sometimes your goons tell someone (the IRS) to punish your enemies by singling out their interests and making their life difficult in some other way. Then you both sit back and pretend that you are appalled by the actions of your people.

    They are all bullies. The point is not the news coverage but that they all be held accountable if necessary.

    So far Christie has fired the goons he thinks are responsible has the same happened at the IRS?

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  17. brian mann says:

    Paul –

    Yes, it has happened at the IRS. This from the Guardian back in May:

    Barack Obama fired the most senior tax official in the US on Wednesday in an effort to bring a speedy end to a scandal over the targeting of Tea Party organisations and other conservative groups for special scrutiny.

    Obama, speaking at the White House, described the conduct of the employees at the Internal Revenue Service office in Cincinnati, Ohio, as “inexcusable”.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  18. Mervel says:

    I think this sort of thing does happen more than we want to know or believe.

    However the disturbing thing which has been mentioned, if you look at the emails, this seemed like a normal thing for these guys to do. It was not odd or the seeming work of one nutcase or over enthusiastic partisan Christie supporter, it seemed more like business as usual.

    Politicians can get around character issues when it comes to personal weaknesses and temptations be it drink or sex or even drugs, but I think a basic level of corruption is almost impossible to overcome and that to me is the dangerous part of this whole thing for Christie. Right or wrong we forgave Clinton we never forgave Nixon.

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  19. Dave asks why we are linking Andrew Cuomo to this. Apparently he missed the (as yet unverified) report that Chris Cristy contacted Gov. Cuomo by phone in an effort to quash an investigation of the affair by the NY side of the Bridge and Port Authority. Cuomo has been silent on that as Brian observed in his post.

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  20. brian mann says:

    One other note: Not that it matters outside of the debate over media ethics, but this story has been driven in significant part by strong coverage in the Wall Street Journal and on Drudgereport — both of which are conservative-leaning news outlets.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  21. dave says:

    “Dave asks why we are linking Andrew Cuomo to this. Apparently he missed the (as yet unverified) report that Chris Cristy contacted Gov. Cuomo by phone in an effort to quash an investigation of the affair by the NY side of the Bridge and Port Authority. Cuomo has been silent on that as Brian observed in his post.”

    Still not getting it.

    He may or may not have received a phone call from Christie asking him to do something shady, which he didn’t do…

    What exactly is he supposed to do or say about that? I guess I don’t understand what people suspect him of doing wrong.

    Or is it not about what he did wrong… but more about wanting him to provide information that might implicate Christie?

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  22. Paul says:

    Brian, Thanks I thought that one head did roll but my quick search didn’t find it.

    Everyone involved in the IRS thing should have been terminated. That is one thing that Christie seems to be getting right here. Only question is if he is on the list.

    If you have ever been stuck in traffic on that bridge purposefully causing a jam on that bridge should be a capital offense. It is pretty scary in a regular jam.

    One thing that may be similar for these two events is the idea that if you create an environment under your watch that allows for these kinds of things to happen you too should probably be held accountable in some way as well.

    Both men seem to feel that the other party is considered their “enemy” as the president once termed it in a speech he gave. One says to punish them at the polls the other maybe wanted to punish them on their commute.

    Either way this is why US politics is broken.

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  23. hermit thrush says:

    i’ve gotta throw my hat in too about how insane it is to try to claim that the media “didn’t touch” things like the irs “scandal.”

    but it’s actually even more the opposite of that! the irs story was heavily covered and hyped when it first broke. and hey, fair enough, where’s the smoke you look for fire. but then the slow, painstaking work of subsequent reporting revealed that it wasn’t a scandal at all:

    But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG’s report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans’ request; and that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn’t even know about it until shortly before the public did.

    if there’s any reporting bias at play here, it’s anti-liberal/progressive/obama, since the initial charges got much more media play than the subsequent revisions (which seems to be evidenced by the state of knowledge of the story on display in this very thread). if the roles of left and right were reversed, conservatives would no doubt be howling to the rafters about the media bias here. but i genuinely don’t think that’s what’s going on. it’s just that the initial story was pretty juicy, and the subsequent revelations are much less so. journalists have a product to sell and clicks to generate.

    the next time conservatives want to cry to about media bias, they’d do well to keep examples like this in mind.

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  24. Peter Hahn says:

    This is a bizarre story. I still can’t figure out why they did this. Send a message to a mayor? Thats what they say but it doesn’t make sense.

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  25. hermit thrush says:

    one more obvious point. i think we’re going to see a big difference in how the christie bridge story develops in the media compared to the irs story. get yourself ready right now — the reason for that is not media bias. the facts between the two stories are totally different. one of them is a real scandal, and one of them isn’t.

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  26. hermit thrush says:

    i agree with peter that this business about the (democratic!) mayor of fort lee not endorsing christie sure doesn’t sound right, but who knows. here’s the hottest new theory at tpm, which posits that it was about a land deal.

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  27. Mervel says:

    Throw in the Sandy stuff and he may have a big problem.

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  28. JDM says:

    Brian Mann: “IRS, Fast and Furious, Benghazi have all been covered extensively, deeply, intensely, at great length by the mainstream media.”

    ???

    Reaalllllyyyy…

    Ok.

    #1) who was responsible for the IRS scandal? (who was fired? no one)
    #2) who was responsible for Fast and Furious? (who was fired? no one)
    #3) who was responsible for Benghazi? (who was fired? no one)

    Nothing.

    Nada.

    No interest.

    Not a Republican scandal.

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  29. hermit thrush says:

    i think the real lack of interest here is shown by jdm, who seems to have no interest in learning from this very thread that a) the most senior tax official in the u.s. was fired in the wake of the irs “scandal,” and b) it wasn’t a scandal anyway.

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  30. Walker says:

    And of course JDM is either unaware of or simply dismisses out of hand the report by David Kirkpatrick, the New York Times’s Cairo bureau chief that found no evidence that Al Qaeda or another international terrorist group had any role in the assault, as Republicans have insisted without proof for more than a year. The report concluded that the attack was led by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s air power and other support during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and that it was fueled, in large part, by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

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  31. hermit thrush says:

    another thing about this unending rain of media bias nonsense we get from conservatives*.

    even if you think the msm (whatever that’s supposed to mean) is politically biased against conservatives/republicans/the right — which you shouldn’t, because it’s not true, but never mind that for the moment — there’s still a perfectly sizable and influential right-wing media.

    if there were smoking guns in any of jdm’s “scandals,” or answers to any of his questions #1)-#3), don’t you think right-wing journalists would have uncovered them?

    either jdm’s scandals are phonies, or we’re talking about an incredibly inept right-wing press corps.

    *i often call out people like larry for accusing liberals of being horrible in some general way when conservatives are just as bad, but i do think it’s beyond dispute that conservatives complain about media bias way way more than people on the left do.

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  32. Michael Ludovici says:

    Is there a Saint out there who can also do a “song and a dance”?
    Very few exist, but that is who we need for public office holders.

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  33. oa says:

    Hey JDM!
    If you want a real Obama scandal, try this:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/the-us-government-and-the-sinaloa-cartel-2014-1#ixzz2qJjRwxe3
    Sorry that it sounds like Bush’s folks were in on it, too, but it’s the best I can do on short notice.
    Always thinking of you, which is what all good Americans should always do!

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  34. JDM says:

    The real humor in all this is that conservatives don’t want Christie as president, anyway!

    You guys can have at ‘em.

    Hillary, Cuomo, Romney, Christie, Issa, and others are all cut from the same cloth. I’ll even throw in Bush ’41 and ’43.

    No matter which one of these clowns in the White House, we will get about the same policy.

    So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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  35. The Original Larry says:

    I’ll be specific: Walker, nobody seriously credits that BS about Benghazi being motivated by a video. Please, get some new material.

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  36. Walker says:

    “…nobody seriously credits that BS about Benghazi being motivated by a video.”

    Larry, you’re making stuff up again. Source please!

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  37. Mervel says:

    I agree with Hermit it seems very odd to cause these problems simply because one mayor did not support him? Many Democratic Mayors did not support him. I mean did he do something really bad to Newark because Cory Booker did not endorse him? It makes no sense, I bet there is something else going on.

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  38. Peter Hahn says:

    Benghazi and the IRS “scandal”. does the phrase “flogging a dead horse” ring a bell?

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  39. Paul says:

    It sounds like we have some consensus about how this bridge thing doesn’t seem to make much sense. Like I said above you can’t seek retribution very well for something you have to try and cover up and blame on something else. Hardly worth risking your political shirt over especially when the guy isn’t ever going to scream uncle and support you, EVER! I guess we will see later if this was just plain meanness or something bigger?

    On the IRS thing, maybe you don’t want to describe it as a scandal but even the president described it as a pretty terrible thing to do. No one here should down play the seriousness of a government agency (one with huge powers over the American people) behaving in this manner, whether the targets were conservative or progressive (and the facts show that most were conservative as I understand it). But we will have to wait and see the investigation is just beginning. The fact that the DOJ selected an Obama donor to head up the probe seems a little weird:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal_government/obama-donor-leading-justice-departments-irs-investigation/2014/01/09/980c010a-796a-11e3-8963-b4b654bcc9b2_story.html

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  40. Paul says:

    That is the problem with the 24 hour news cycle. The media reports like crazy early on when a story breaks (usually when very little information is available). Then when we actually start to learn about what did or did not happen they forget about it.

    Here is a good example on the IRS scandal (sorry it is a scandal) from the WSJ early this fall:

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304213904579093491966449908?mod=WSJ_Opinion_RIGHTBelowPepperandSalt&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304213904579093491966449908.html%3Fmod%3DWSJ_Opinion_RIGHTBelowPepperandSalt

    The same kind of thing will happen with this scandal if there is more to it. By then we will have moved onto the next breaking scandal.

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  41. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – no one wants the IRS to target anyone for any reason. That would be far worse that closing traffic lanes for whatever Christie’s people were trying to do to whoever they were after. But the “evidence” is that non-political people working at the IRS used a lousy (lazy) key word search. It was a major news event, but Im not sure it qualifies as a scandal unless you are really into exotic conspiracy theories.

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  42. Walker says:

    Paul, as I understand it, the IRS was targeting political groups of all persuasions because the 501-C tax exemption is predicated on being a “Social Welfare Organization.” Such organizations “Section 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from supporting political candidates, and are subject to limits on lobbying. They risk loss of tax exempt status if these rules are violated. An organization that loses its 501(c)(3) status due to being engaged in political activities cannot then qualify for 501(c)(4) status.” (Wikipedia)

    …voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that

    (a) would favor one candidate over another;
    (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or
    (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates,

    will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

    The Internal Revenue Service provides resources to exempt organizations and the public to help them understand the prohibition. As part of its examination program, the IRS also monitors whether organizations are complying with the prohibition.

    I believe they ended up investigating more conservative than liberal organizations because more of the former appeared to be potential violators of the rule.

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  43. Walker says:

    “It sounds like we have some consensus about how this bridge thing doesn’t seem to make much sense.”

    Rachel Maddow has another theory on the bridge closures:

    Turns out Loretta Weinberg (NJ Democratic Senate Minority leader, who represents Ft Lee) and the Democrats were blocking some nominees to the State Supreme Court by Christie. The genesis of this was Christie not renominating an African American to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court and instead yanking him off when his 7 year term was up. The first time this was done supposedly in NJ State history.

    In response, Democrats told Christie that they would not approve anyone for his seat. Earlier last year a Republican judge and wife of a member of Christie’s staff was up for renomination. Instead of allowing her to take questions from the Senate Judiciary committee, which Weinberg is a member of, he yanked her as well. Christie then called an afternoon press conference and what happened after that is where he may well be politically be sunk for good. Christie called the Democrats ‘animals’ said he would not allow this judge to be subjected to them and said that there would be ramifications and they should have thought of them before opening up their mouths. That was afternoon August 12, 2013. The following morning at 7:34am word was sent out from his office to create some traffic in Ft Lee. (Daily Kos)

    (I know, I know, hardly neutral sources. Too soon to tell.)

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  44. All the talk about the IRS “targeting” people makes me wonder… are they supposed to just accept at face value every group’s assertion that they are a “social organization whose emphasis is not political or should they verify that the group is actually eligible for the status they are applying for? I’d prefer the latter and from subsequent reports it appears that is what they were doing. I don’t categorize doing their job as “targeting”. YMMV

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  45. Walker says:

    WSJ: “Gov. Chris Christie was with the official who arranged the closure of local lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 11, 2013 — the third day of the closures, and well after they had triggered outrage from local officials beset by heavy traffic.” (photos)

    “I have had no contact with David Wildstein in a long time, a long time, well before the election,” which was held Nov. 5, Mr. Christie said last week.

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  46. myown says:

    And there is this article about our friend Gov. Christie:

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2014/01/the-trouble-with-christie.html

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  47. The Original Larry says:

    “…nobody seriously credits that BS about Benghazi being motivated by a video.” Larry, you’re making stuff up again. Source please!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/16/world/middleeast/senate-report-finds-benghazi-attack-was-preventable.html?hp&target=comments#commentsContainer

    Happy now?

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  48. Walker says:

    Larry, your link says nothing about the attacks not being triggered by a video. And the Times piece linked from your link (“Deadly Mix”) says that “it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”

    So I reiterate: your claim that “nobody seriously credits that BS about Benghazi being motivated by a video” is unsupported.

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  49. The Original Larry says:

    “Finally, the report does not go far enough to address the Administration’s
    failure to correctly label the incident as a deliberate and organized terrorist attack
    in the days following the attack. As our “Flashing Red” report found, there was
    never any doubt among key officials, including officials in the IC and the
    Department of State, that the attack in Benghazi was an act of terrorism. Yet,
    high-ranking Administration officials, including the President himself, repeatedly
    cast doubt on the nature of the attack, at times attributing it to the reaction to an
    anti-Islamic video and to a spontaneous demonstration that escalated into violence.”

    http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/benghazi2014/benghazi.pdf

    You can read the report in its entirety, if you like.

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  50. Walker says:

    Thanks for the link.

    See pp. 40-41

    Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM, Ansar al Sharia, AQAP, and the Mohammad Jamal Network, participated in the September 11, 2012, attacks. Intelligence suggests that the attack was not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic; however, well-armed attackers easily overwhelmed the Libyan security guards and the five U.S. Diplomatic Security agents present at the Temporary Mission Facility. It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day’s violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning. [Emphasis added]

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