Allies and admirers of Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., fanned out across the airwaves Sunday to defend the governor amid a growing scandal about his administration’s involvement in closing several lanes of traffic on the George Washington Bridge last September – an act of apparent political retaliation against a local mayor who’d declined to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.
The message from Christie’s fans: Move along folks, nothing to see here.
Still, several politicians from both parties – even those inclined to believe Christie’s insistence that he was unaware of his staff’s malfeasance – said they would reserve judgment while they await the results of multiple investigations into the incident.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., praised Christie’s performance Thursday at a nearly two-hour press conference and suggested the governor could soon put the mess behind him.
“I think that he can now move on as long as another shoe doesn't drop,” McCain said on CNN. “I'm a great admirer of Governor Christie. I thought he handled himself extremely well in that press conference and now we'll have to wait and see whether there's any more to the story.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close Christie ally within the GOP, said Christie never would have issued such ironclad denials if they weren’t true.
“He says he didn't realize. He says he didn't know. I think it's pretty darn credible,” the former mayor said.
In the end, barring more revelations, Giuliani said, “I think it just goes away.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus similarly argued on NBC that another shoe is unlikely to drop. Asked whether a direct link between Christie and the lane closures will emerge in subsequent revelations, Priebus responded, “I don't think there will be one because I think we've got a really smart person in Chris Christie, who's a former U.S. attorney, who understands what's out there, and thousands and thousands of documents have been revealed and not one single link to Chris Christie has been found.”
Priebus and Giuliani also contrasted Christie’s forthright, unequivocal performance at his press conference with what they saw as the Obama administration’s lack of transparency about its own controversies, from the IRS targeting scandal to Benghazi, suggesting President Obama would do well to emulate Christie’s example of leadership.
Others, though, weren’t so quick to let Christie off the hook. While nobody was ready to indict the governor immediately, several politicians – including several Republicans – adopted a considerably more tentative outlook on the scandal.
Some simply said as little as possible. “I don't know that I can really shed more light on it,” Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., told CNN. “I think this is something for the people of New Jersey and the authorities up there to get to the bottom of.”
Similarly hands-off was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “I think it would be a mistake for me and others like me to comment on this,” Rubio said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “First of all, we don't know all the facts. I think this is story that is still developing and we should reserve judgment.”
Fort Lee’s Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich, the apparent target of the traffic jam, said he took Christie “at his word” when the governor professed no involvement, but Sokolich added that the tenor of Christie’s management style may have induced his subordinates to step out of line.
“He's certainly tough. He's certainly hard, he's certainly strict,” Sokolich told NBC. “Whether it rises to bully I leave that to your judgment. But he's tough and outspoken. And, you know, I think a lot of this he brought upon himself. I'm not so sure much of the issue and the attention that this is garnering would actually be the case if he hadn't conducted himself the way that his office has been conducting itself.”
And former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., voiced a similar concern about the atmosphere of an administration that could produce such gross misconduct.
“Chris Christie went up, manned up, and took it on and was decisive,” Santorum said on NBC.
Still, he added, “I have several concerns about it. And one of the concerns I have is the -- Richard Viguerie, a good friend of mine, always used to tell me personnel is policy. And the people that you hire are the policies that are implemented…it is very clear that the personnel there was not sensitive to what seemed to be a fairly obvious wrong thing to do.”