NEW YORK, NY—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and several of his allies, were demoted from President-Elect Donald Trump’s “transition team,” leaving observers wondering what the future holds for the embattled official.
Christie shocked some by endorsing Trump earlier this year, becoming one of the first establishment figures to do so earlier this year, after previously suggesting he was unfit for the office during his own campaign for President.
The two men have been friends for over a decade, such great friends that Christie’s administration settled for $5 million when Trump’s failed Atlantic City casinos owed the state nearly $30 million.
But, following Trump’s surprise victory, Christie was downgraded from being Chair of the improbable team to being relegated to one of several Vice Chair positions, just days after the stunning upset made the group’s work critically important.
The power move infused the team with Trump loyalists, including several members of his own family, and purged Christie’s people from all of the powerful roles.
It came as a surprise to some observers, but it’s ultimately been part of an ongoing drama over about the embattled Governor’s future, and his relationship with the next President.
Far from “strange bedfellows,” the the two men have remarkably a lot in common.
Both have somehow endured an remarkable number of damaging scandals and embarrassing failures in their careers, in many cases costing taxpayers millions of dollars and making many enemies along the way.
Influenced heavily by the presence of Trump, the 2016 election resembled something from the reality television world, with the two “friends” allegedly engaging in an alliance to support one another at the outset of the Republican primaries.
But, after drifting apart during the arduous campaign, it seems like Christie may now be on the outside looking in, when it comes to Trump’s inner circle while Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the Vice Preident-Elect Mike Pence have seen their influence increase.
In New Jersey politial circles, where intense focus is already shifting towards the 2017 election to replace Christie, the way the Governor exits the office is sure to have an impact on the future of the state.
Like US President Barack Obama, Christie is term-limited and cannot run for re-election. Christie’s term is set to expire in 2018, assuming he does not resign sooner than that.
Loretta Weinberg, the NJ Senate Majority Leader, has called for impeachment proceedings against Christie.
Christie getting a promotion, or leaving office for some other reason, would mean the elevation of Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno to NJ’s highest office.
Having previously served as a federal prosecutor, Christie’s name had been in the mix for US Attorney General, as well as a potential head of the US Department of Homeland Security.
The New York Times also lists Christie as a potential candidate for US Commerce Secretary.
But several criminal cases, including one against the Governor himself and another featuring a guilty plea from one of his closest allies, could stand in the way of those potential appointments, all three of which would require the approval of the United States Senate.
“No matter what he decides, we’re going to be friends,” Christie said.
Both men are authoritarian Republicans known more for their style than their substance, yet both also seem to find ways to turn their “tough guy” attitude into a political advantage at times, and have used it as a way to set themselves apart.
Both also seem to have left a wake of destruction in their past endeavors, from the New Jersey’s ten credit rating downgrades to Trump’s failed Atlantic City casino empire that led to four bankruptcies.
Perhaps most concering of all, the two men seem to have a track record of abusing their power, and obsessing over schemes to exact revenge and retribution upon their enemies in the New York metropolitan area and beyond.
The two have both been acccused of being “bullies,” but they are also very skilled at shifting blame to others. Both are known for changing their positions, often for questionable, selfish, or unclear reasons.
Perhaps a testament to their willingness to change their views, and abandon previously-held principles and positions, both men had harsh words for each other less than one year ago.
Before endorsement him for President, Christie referred to Trump as “a thirteen-year-old,” “painfully naieve,” and “an entertainer who doesnt have temperment or experience to be President.”
For his part, Trump insisted that Christie “totally knew” about the criminal conspiracy to purposefully cause traffic jams in Fort Lee and criticized him for spending so much time outside New Jersey while campaigning for President.
That scandal, which involved the enormously corrupt Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), may be a big part of the reason that Christie is not celebrating his own Presidential election victory this fall.
But, after the two men put aside their difference and joined forces, Christie helped to write several of Trump’s speeches, and even played the role of Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton during debate preparation.
Chrisite also famously called out Clinton at the Republican National Convention, claiming she was a criminal in front of an angry crowd, to chants of “Guilty!” and “Lock her up!”
The New Jersey Governor is also widely credited with damaging the Presidential campaign of US Senator Marco Rubio, another Trump rival who was seen as one of his most serious opponents during the Republican primaries.
Still, it may sting Trump and his supporters to learn that David Samson, the head of Christie’s own 2009 transition team is now a convicted felon, who pleaded guilty to abusing his office in a different Port Authority scandal.
Considred Christie’s “mentor,” or perhaps his “best friend,” David Samson was referred to by the unusual honorific title “General,” because he had served as the state’s Attorney General a decade before the scandals took him down.
Samson pleaded guilty to just one of many crimes he committed during his time simultaneously running a law firm and the Board of Directors of the Port Authority.
During the fallout of a conspiracy hatched by PANYNJ official David Wildstein, it became apparent that the authority was up to no good, in more ways than one.
The ensuing scrutiny severly damaged the bi-state agency’s reputation, and forced Samson to leave the post.
He has since admitted to convincing United Airlines, who will pay a multi-million dollar fine, to re-institute a cancelled route to accomodate his personal travel to a “weekend” home in South Carolina.
Along with Jamie Fox, another connection between the corrupt administrations of Christie and ex-Governor Jim McGreevey, Samson schemed to withhold approvals of items that the airline wanted passed by the Port Authority board as a way of coercing them to give him what he wanted.
The revelations about Samson’s unlawful behavior raise serious questions about what abuses may have gone without prosecution during his tenure as the state’s top law enforcment official.
Making matters worse, Christie’s approval rating among his own constitutents is now worse than ever before in his seven years as Governor: a paltry 19%.
That means that the Governor’s career in politics could be finished if he isn’t rescued by an appointment to a federal position soon.
And, just four days before the election, guilty verdicts came down against two more of his appointees in the Fort Lee scandal, including a former Senator who was Christie’s top man at the Port Authority.
Both were convicted of conspiracy, fraud, civil rights violations and a multitude of other charges in the absurd case known as “Bridgegate.”
The latest move by Trump amounts to a demotion for Christie and two of his closest allies–his former law partner Bill Palatucci and former Chief of Staff Richard Bagger–who were described as “returning to the private sector” just days after Trump’s unprecedented victory.
Palatucci, once a senior executive at the embattled private prison company that runs many of New Jersey’s halfway houses, is now a lobbyist for the law firm Gibbons PC. He served as general counsel to the transition team.
Bagger serves as an Executive Vice President at the biotech company Celgene, and also serves as a board member at the embattled Port Authority.
Additionally, former Congressman Mike Rogers and lobbyist Matthew Freedman were also dismissed from the transition team.
An anonymous source told the Washington Post that they believed the moves were a way for Trump “to get control of his transition.”
“It was populated with Christie loyalists… and it didn’t appear to be as ramped up as it should have been,” said the source, noting that George W. Bush had opted to put his Vice President, Dick Cheney, in charge of his transition into office after winning in 2000.
Bush appointed Christie to his first federal position, as the US Attorney for New Jersey, in 2001 despite him not having any courtroom experience.
Christie used the position to make a name for himself statewide, locking up a number of politicians, before the tables turned and his own administration eventually came into the crosshairs of the US Attorney’s Office.
The transition team demotions and departures sparked speculation in two diverging directions, with one suggesting a high-level appointment for Christie could be in the offing, and the other that Trump may be distancing himself from the unpopular Governor for good due to the taint of the criminal cases against him and his aides.
A New York Post article made the former scenario seem unlikely, quoting an anonymous insider in the Trump camp who said the President-elect was “disgusted” with Christie blaming the bridge scandal on a single mother who once headed his since-disbanded Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and letting her take the fall for the crime.
In response to that report, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is also in contention for the US Attorney General job among other positions, insisted Christie was still in line to get an “important” role in the Trump administration, according to NJ.com.
But word came out on November 18 that Chrisite won’t become the nation’s top law enforcement official, the US Attorney General, a coveted position that is reportedly going to be offered to Seantor Jeff Sessions.
Christie is currently facing a criminal complaint in Bergen County Superior Court for his failure to put a stop to the purposeful traffic jams being caused by his cronies in Fort Lee.
By most accounts, the trial of his two appointees was even more damaging to Christie than expected, despite television cameras not being allowed in the courtroom.
Still, major newspapers and television stations–both local and national–aggressively the captivating trial, which provided a rare glimpse into petty politics and government corruption at the Port Authority, the agency responsible for much of the region’s airports, seaports, bridges, tunnels, and trains.
The trial also showcased the exploits of an extreme character named David Wildstein, a high school classmate of Christie’s who allegedly hatched the plan to cause traffic jams near the world’s busiest bridge as a way to punish the Mayor of Fort Lee.
A last-ditch effort to move past the scandals–an interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose–did not successfully put the issue to bed, largely because Christie lied numerous times, and the falsehoods did not go unnoticed by journalists and others.
Christie and Trump have appeared to drift apart since Trump chose a different Governor to be his Vice Presidential running mate, with Christie’s role in the campaign diminishing over the months that followed.
However, a stunning new revelation in a book that is soon-to-be-released by cable television’s CNN, claims that Trump, not expecting to win the nation’s highest office, had promised to endorse Christie when he would inevitably bow out of the Presidential race.
But things didn’t work out that way, and while Trump prepares to be sworn in as US President, Christie is left to prepare for his own criminal defense after a judge signed off on a criminal complaint summons for a charge of official misconduct.
Fort Lee Judge Roy McGeady agreed to sign the complaint, a highly-unusual occurence that caused the audience in his courtroom to applaud. Christie has appealed the decision, effectively averting an upcoming court date on November 23.
But the taint of Bridgegate, and Christie’s unpopularity in general, aren’t the only reasons for the apparent distance between himself and Trump.
Wildstein, the mastermind of the criminal traffic jam scheme, had been an anonymous political blogger for years before selling the publication to Jarred Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and another new member of the transition team.
Kushner, who happens to be married to Trump’s daughter, is no fan of Christie, who successfully prosecuted his real estate developer father in another absurd corruption case.
Charles Kushner was sentenced to two years in prison after trying to set up his brother-in-law with a prostitute who had been paid to discreetly videotape their sexual encounter. The plan was a way to get back at his sister, who was a cooperating witness in a federal investigation spearheaded by Christie.
According to some observers, as Jared Kushner’s involvement in the Trump campaign increased, Christie’s role slowly but surely diminished.
But both Jared Kushner and Christie were among the dozens on-stage with Trump as he gave his victory speech in the early morning hours of November 9.
Christie pumped his fist after Trump thanked him during that speech, fueling speculation that the Governor’s career–which had already been written off by many pundits–could be salvaged if he were appointed to a position in the Trump administration.
After all, with a record-low approval rating and the potential of being impeached by the State Legislature, Christie could use an easy way out of New Jersey, perhaps now more than ever before.
Still, others insist Christie’s career is finished and will be lucky to get pardoned by President Trump should he be convicted of crimes.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.