ATLANTIC CITY, NJ—A man is known by the company he keeps, or so the saying goes.
New US President Donald Trump and New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie have been friends for over a decade.
Both Trump and Christie siezed power by defeating establishment candidates in upset elections.
While it remains to be seen whether Trump’s story arc will follow that of Christie’s spectacular downfall, it is apparent both men have quite a bit in common.
And Christie’s first seven years as Governor could serve as a cautionary tale for what a Trump administration might look like, given the similarities between the two men.
Both have left a wake of destruction in their past endeavors, ranging from the New Jersey’s ten credit rating downgrades under Christie, to Trump and his casino empire’s five bankruptcies.
During his time in power, Christie became known for vetoing legislation, knee-capping government agencies he does not like, retaliating against his enemies, and playing politics with just about everything.
The two men have track records of abusing their power in the notoriously corrupt NY-NJ area, and seeking revenge on their enemies in the metro area and beyond.
Christie’s administration was also shown to be petty and vindictive in a recent federal trial that resulted in convictions against two of his aides.
But both Trump and Christie are entertainers first and foremost, attracting media attention and using it to catapult themselves into positions of power and influence.
Trump made millions as the star of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” and Christie has arguably had greater success as a recent fill-in sports radio host on WFAN than as the state’s Governor for the past seven years.
Both men are authoritarian Republicans known more for their style than their substance, yet both have found ways to turn their “tough guy” attitude into a political advantage at times, and used it as a way to set themselves apart.
The two are skilled at shifting blame to people other than themselves, and they are known for changing their positions, often for questionable or unclear reasons.
Reportedly, they are often hot-headed and out of touch with reality, and at times can be known for being their own worst enemy.
In many ways, Trump stole Christie’s schtick–a schtick that once had national Republicans courting him to run for President in 2012.
But it wasn’t so easy four years later, after the Governor’s anti-corruption facade had begun to collapse. Instead of basking in the glow of his high-profile response to Hurricane Sandy, Christie was battling a years-long storm of his own: the infamous Bridgegate scandal.
Plus, New Brunswick Today had helped to expose false statements made by Christie’s administration related to the first housing development to break ground with help from the federal Sandy relief funds that he had fought for.
Both Christie and Trump also have a reputation for being ethically challenged, often leading them to engage in lying, self-dealing, and having connections to shady figures, including criminals.
Trump named Christie to the key position of leading the “transition team,” the same role that convicted felon David Samson served in for Christie when he became Governor in 2009, only to demote him after winning the election.
Trump’s transition team went on to select some of the most controversial choices in history for several top cabinet positions, including many individuals who had previously fought to undermine the agencies that Trump proposes to put them in charge of.
It stood to reason that Christie, one of the first establishment Republicans to support Trump’s candidacy, could get a very high-powered position in Trump White House, but that has not yet materialized.
Meanwhile, Christie finds himself in a treachorous political limbo, where his inability to agree on a federal role with the new President has combined with his severely low approval ratings and the NJ Legislature’s failure to impeach him, to make him nearly powerless but still ostensibly the most powerful public official in the state.
Like former US President Barack Obama, Christie is term-limited and cannot run for re-election. Christie’s term is set to expire in January 2018, but he could resign at any time.
Both men had harsh words for each other when they were opponents in the Republican Presidential Primary.
Before endorsing Trump, Christie referred to Trump as “a thirteen-year-old,” “painfully naieve,” and summed up his role in the race as “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, New Jersey.
The notoriously abrasive and unpopular governor also faces up to five years in prison if convicted of a pending state charge of official misconduct related to the Bridgegate scandal.
Judge Roy McGeady found probable cause to proceed with the complaint, which was filed by a citizen activist and retired firefighter who cited sworn testimony in the Bridgegate trial as its basis.
But Assignment Judge Bonnie Mizdol remanded the case back to McGeady after ruling that Christie’s attorney should have been able to participate in the probable cause hearing.
On February 2, the high-profile embarrassing case will be heard yet again in Bergen County Superior Court.
The relationship between Trump and Christie has appeared to be hot-and-cold in the weeks leading up to the election, leading to much speculation about Christie’s future.
Many in New Jersey were delighted to see Christie denied a chance to become the country’s most powerful law enforcement official, a position Christie had wanted as a consolation prize after being passed over for Vice President. Christie was reportedly offered other postions but turned them down.
While it might seem like Christie faces an uncertain future, both men have managed to endure an astonishing number of damaging scandals and embarrassing failures in their careers, sometimes costing taxpayers and American citizens millions of dollars.
In the 1990’s Christie was elected to be a county official in Morris County, only to eat his words, forced to publish apologies for false claims he made in his campaign ads, and losing his next two elections.
He became a lobbyist, representing Bernie Madoff’s organization, the Securities Industry Association, which succeeded in stopping regulations at the state level in New Jersey.
Christie then parlayed his brother’s Wall Street connections to become a top fundraiser–termed a “ranger”–for future President George W. Bush, earning the nickname “big boy” from Bush.
The relationship yielded a surprising appointment for Christie to be the US Attorney for New Jersey.
Christie proceeded to abuse his power as the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey, wasting taxpayer money on lavish accomodations for himself and Michelle Brown, whom he made a personal loan failed to disclose a personal loan to.
Even shadier were his efforts to steer a contract for monitoring big pharmacuetical companies to the firm of John Ashcroft, the former US Attorney General.
Christie also used his power to build cases against political opponents, fabricating charges and sometimes entrapping defendants, while going easy on key Democratic bosses like South Jersey’s George Norcross.
Even in the case of John Lynch, Jr., the notorious boss who served as New Brunswick’s Mayor in the 1970’s and 1980’s before becoming State Senate President, Christie worked out a deal for Lynch to plead guilty to just one instance of corruption after he had left office, and left Lynch’s criminal network otherwise intact.
Lynch is now out of jail, after a short sentence, and some still believe he is calling the shots in Middlesex County.
NJ State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg has also recently called for Christie to be impeached, or kicked out of office, for his behavior during a damaging scandal involving a scheme to cause traffic jams in the Borough of Fort Lee.
Just four days before the election, two of Christie’s appointees, including one who was previously a State Senator, were convicted of serious federal crimes by a jury.
Still, two others in Christie’s inner circle, including his mentor Samson, are also likely to spend some of the next few years behind bars after pleading guilty to federal crimes.
Samson pled guilty to a felony charge in a corruption scandal that may have stemmed from increased scrutiny on the Port Authority due to Bridgegate.
On November 9, many Americans woke up to the shocking news that Trump had prevailed in the Presidential election. We covered that for you on this program. But something else happened that very morning that was overshadowed by the election. Christie finally got his wish and the State of New Jersey officially took over Atlantic City.
Trump’s failed casinos once owed the state nearly $30 million, but Christie’s administration settled with Trump for $5 million.
He’s been able to appoint his own person to run the City, one of his lawyer buddies who used to work with Christie when he was the US Attorney for New Jersey: Jeffrey Chiesa.
Chiesa also served as one of Christie’s Attorneys General here in NJ, and he was even appointed to briefly serve as a US Senator after the death of Frank Lautenberg.
Now Chiesa, a Somerset County resident, is officially in charge of Atlantic City and he’s being paid $400 an hour to do it.
Chiesa works for his own law firm, a firm that recently changed its name just as Samson made a disgraceful exit from public life, and one of Christie’s best friends, pled guilty to a federal felony and left the firm.
Formerly called Wolff & Samson, the firm was named after the powerful Chairman of the Board at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in Christie’s administration.
Samson was implicated in emails as threatening retaliation in response to the Bridgegate scandal being exposed. But he weathered that storm, at least for a few months until he got in trouble for abusing his power by extorting United Airlines.
During the fallout of a conspiracy hatched by Port Authority official David Wildstein, it became apparent that the public agency 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 pleaded guilty, United Airlines replaced their CEO, and also paid a multi-million dollar fine.
Christie was so close to Samson and looked up to him so much that he had an unusual nickname for him, one usually reserved for high-ranking military officials. By some accounts christie consdidered Samson his best friend and his closest confidant.
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 enforcmennt official.
Christie’s own cavalcade of Attorneys General have become well-known for openly killing cases against powerful people, including a fiasco in Hunterdon County that cost taxpayers millions and led to an out-of-court settlement with a career prosecutor who questioned the move.
At issue in the case was a Sheriff, an ally of Christie’s Lt. Governor, whose office had been violating the law by giving a badge to one of Christie’s political donors, an executive at the company Celegene.
One additional commonality between Christie and Trump is Bill Stepien, nicknamed “Smoke” because he is good at disappearing. And disappear he did back in 2014 as the Bridgegate scandal unfolded.
That scandal took down three of Christie’s appointees and led to a criminal charge against Christie himself. The increased scrutiny also took down David Samson, Christie’s best friend and closest confidant.
But Stepien was never charged, though he was famously canned by Christie for using “callous and indifferent language” about the bridgegate scandal.
Stepien and Christie had a falling out but it worked to his advantage: Stepien ended up being the only Christie crony to actually make his way into the White House after he was named Trump’s political director.
Yet Christie stands to get a powerful job in a potential Trump administration. Failing that, his political career may be finished, given the latest Rutgers Eagleton poll shows his approval rating lower than ever among his own constituents: just 19%.
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 or get impeached sooner than that.
In Atlantic City, the two oligarchs effectively destroyed the economy of the struggling coastal resort. In an ironic twist, Christie got his wish as the NJ state government was approved to take over the city on the morning after Trump’s historic election.
“Yes, [Donald Trump] is an honorable man,” said Christie on April 11, in response to a direct question from New Brunswick Today about Trump’s role in Atlantic City’s downfall.
Christie blamed the city’s financial woes on Atlantic City’s municipal government, and lifeguards, rather than his own decision to dump billions into a casino that lasted less than two years.
“And I don’t believe he’s ever been an officeholder in Atlantic City and I don’t remember Donald being Mayor or on the Council, so he had no abiliy to make decisions as far as I could tell about over they spent their money, how much debt they went into, and whether there were pensions for lifeguards or not.”
It marked a decidedly different tack on the Atlantic City than what Christie had said in his first term, as he poured good money after bad towards the short-lived, extremely expensive Revel casino.
Trump, too, has also found a way to fail in a business where “the house” is famous for always winning. Every one of his casinos failed in spectacular fashion, causing investors huge losses.
Even though his Presidential administration is only a few days old, that hasn’t stopped massive demonstrations in every major city from drawing thousands of people to the streets.
But it’s not just these protesters marching in the streets that are targeting Trump.
Like Christie, Trump’is also under fire for his questionable ethics.
He’s already the first president in decades not to release his own tax returns, which would shwo the public where hes gotten his money, who he owes money to, and what investments he has made.
For the first time in a long time, his nominees for many key governmeet positions did not submit their ethics forms prior to confirmation hearings. Trump is also involving his own family members n his adminsitration in a way that no President has for a long time.
He’s also not completely divested from his business interests, sparking a federal lawsuit that claims Trump is violating the US Constitution.
A group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has brought a federal lawsuit “to stop Trump from violating the Constitution by illegally receiving payments from foreign governments.”
According to CREW, the “foreign emoluments” clause of the Constitution prohibits Trump from receiving anything of value from foreign governments, including foreign government-owned businesses, without the approval of Congress.
CREW contends that, since Trump refused to divest from his businesses, he is now getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals outside of the US.
Christie has more than his fair share of ethical lapses during his time in office, including accepting gifts from foreign leaders that he would not be allowed to accept if he was President.
After Christie’s Presidential dreams died one year ago, the unpopular Garden State Governor found away to keep himself nationally relevant by become one of the first major establishment figures to endorse Donald Trump for President.
Just four days before the election, two of Christie’s appointees, including one who was previously a State Senator, were convicted of serious federal crimes by a jury.
Still, two others in Christie’s inner circle, including his mentor, are also likely to spend some of the next few years behind bars after pleading guilty to federal crimes.
That makes four of Christie’s allies, including Samson, who he strangely referred to by the honorific title of “General” due to his past service as the state’s Attorney General, guilty so far.
Still, dozens more have been fired, promoted, re-shuffled into other organizations, and Christie expended more than $10 million in taxpayer funds to produce a highly dubious report clearly meant to exonerate him.
The details that came out in the seven-week trial against Christie’s former allies are also damning.
Because Christie’s cavalcade of Acting Attorneys General has failed to bring anyone to justice in the matter, a retired firefighter from Bergen County took it upon himself to bring a charge of official misconduct against the Governor.
Fort Lee Judge Roy McGeady agreed to sign the complaint, a highly-unusual occurence that caused the audience in his courtroom to applaud, and forcing Christie into a criminal courtroom as a defendant.
Trump, like Christie, is no stranger to the inside of a courtroom, having been involved in a whopping 3,500 legal actions during his time, often those brought by others claiming they were ripped off by Trump of his companies.
Perhaps the most troubling trait that Trump and Christie have in common is a strong resistance to admitting when they are wrong.
Christie famously doubled-down over and over again about his lack of knowledge about the political retribution his aides were engaging in. But several witnesses, including several of the Governor’s closest allies contradicted Christie’s story in their sworn testimony.
Making matters worse, multiple jurors in the case have said they feel Christie himself should have been charged, with one calling him a “master Puppeteer.”
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.