Christie’s Fortunes Fade After Bridge Plot Convictions

(Bloomberg) -- Chris Christie’s role as Donald Trump’s transition chief may be his last in politics, as guilty verdicts for two former allies further tarnish the New Jersey governor’s administration and bring corruption talk uncomfortably close to the Republican presidential nominee.

With four days before the presidential election, the timing couldn’t be worse for Christie, who is expected to campaign for Trump this weekend. The governor continues to say he had no knowledge of the plot to punish a mayor for refusing to endorse his re-election bid by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in his town. During the trial, however, jurors were told that Christie was aware of the scheme and he was painted as a bully who rewarded loyalists and punished dissenters.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta on Friday said that the convictions should prompt Trump to fire Christie.

“Rather than just crisscrossing the country and hopscotching talking about cleaning up the swamp, he might start by draining his own swamp and asking Mr. Christie to resign as the head of his transition,’’ Podesta told reporters aboard Clinton’s campaign plane.

The conviction of Christie’s former aides does no favors for Trump, who has in recent days intensified his argument that Clinton isn’t to be trusted. Last week, an FBI investigation of Clinton’s handling of classified e-mail was revived after messages were discovered on a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner’s sexting scandal cost him his career in Congress, and Christie is now spoken of in the same breath by some.

Ignore Verdict

“The only politician with less of a chance of a political revival is Anthony Weiner,” said Matthew Hale, who teaches political science at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. Despite the fact that Christie wasn’t on trial, “the rest of the country is going to look at this as Bridgegate was his fault and something that he did.”

Christie in a Friday statement pledged to “set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom.” Lawyers for the convicted former allies have laid the groundwork for an appeal.

In a Thursday statement from the Trump campaign, Christie was listed among allies and relatives scheduled to make campaign stops in battleground states. The governor, whose Trump campaign appearances have been limited in recent weeks, would visit New Hampshire and Pennsylvania on Saturday, the statement said. Jason Miller and Jessica Ditto, press aides for Trump, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Christie’s standing.

Ford O’Connell, a former presidential campaign official for Republican John McCain, said Trump’s strongest move might simply be to ignore the verdict until after Election Day, given the late focus on Clinton’s own investigations.

“The Democrats want to make this the latest thing that raises questions about Trump’s judgment, but it’s far too late in the game for that,” O’Connell said. “It’s only going to become an issue if Donald Trump wins.”

Lingering Questions

The trial has taken a toll on Christie’s approval, which surpassed 70 percent during his first term and recently hit a low of 21 percent. His ratings began sliding in 2014 after e-mails revealed the traffic scheme. In September, the governor told MSNBC host Brian Williams that lingering questions about the plot were a “factor” in his not being chosen as Trump’s running mate.

During the primary campaign, Trump mocked Christie’s professions of ignorance about the lane closings. Christie made a surprise endorsement of Trump in February, weeks after ending his own presidential bid after a crushing primary loss in New Hampshire. 

In May, Trump named Christie to lead the team planning his White House transition, calling him “extremely knowledgeable and loyal.”

Last month, after a tape of Trump’s lewd comments sparked furor in the Republican Party and beyond, Christie stood by the candidate.

Christie’s tenure in office ends in January 2018, and he is barred by term limits from running again next year. A former U.S. prosecutor, the governor had been named as a possible Trump choice for attorney general.

The verdict makes it increasingly unlikely that Trump would find a home for Christie, or that he would be able to survive nomination hearings in a Senate where Republicans may hold a slimmer majority after the election, O’Connell said.

“Christie is starting to hear footsteps in terms of the future of his political career,” he said. “If he wants to do something in the future this will be an albatross around his neck.”