Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Covering Governor Corrupt

Could this have been your first clue, Bill?  Karl Rove remarked on GOP TV (video, below)

There will be reasons why conservatives will have disagreements with Chris Christie. I don’t think the tea party is going to seize upon Fort Lee and the George Washington Bridge as their defining difference with Christie. In fact, I think his handling of this, being straightforward and taking action. Saying I’m responsible, firing people probably gives him some street cred with tea party Republicans who say, that’s what we want in a president.

Practically all of Chris Christie's administration is being investigated and a major honcho of his party still believes he is a strong presidential candidate.  That is only one reason Bill Maher was grossly misguided when on his blog he maintained

It's Valentine's Day, and I cannot go on any longer living a lie. MSNBC...we need to talk. 

Whatever we had is not working any more. You're obviously interested in another man: Chris Christie. You're obsessed with him. So I wanted you to hear it from me first. I'm going to start seeing other news organizations. I'll miss what we had. It was a rocket ship ride. We were both passionate flaming liberals and we didn't care what the world thought of us. It was a glorious time. We finished each other's Sarah Palin jokes. But now we never talk about any of the things we used to talk about: global warming, gun control, poverty... All because Chris Christie came along and put you under his spell. 

Look at yourself. You're turning into Fox News. Bridgegate has become your Benghazi, and this isn't easy to say, but you and I are no longer on the same news cycle. Sure, you read me the results of a recent Gallup poll, but you never really ask me how I'm feeling. It's not you, it's... Chris Christie. 

You've stopped leaning forward. Look, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little lanes of traffic don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. You're a young news channel. You'll meet other viewers. It's for the best. You can focus on your career. And we can still be friends. We'll always have Obamacare. 

Here's looking at you, kid.

The second clue could have been that Bridgegate is part of a pattern, exemplifying how Chris Christie has conducted business for a long time.   He amassed power and influence, and built a fictional narrative around himself, through selective enforcement of the law (going after the comparatively small fry and stroking the powerful) and a media anxious to build up a federal prosecutor.  In his far-reaching article for The New Republic, Alex MacGillis explains that as U.S. Attorney, Christie's

office had knocked out a swath of New Jersey’s biggest Democratic power brokers and weakened their organizations in crucial parts of the state. But that meant the bosses left standing had only grown stronger. 

In In 2002, an insurance firm in Mt. Laurel received an unexpected e-mail from a man named George Norcross. Congratulations, Norcross told the firm: It had won a big contract for the Delaware River Port Authority, which oversees four bridges in the Philadelphia area. The e-mail was unexpected because the firm hadn’t bid for the job. But there was no need for thanks. The company was simply expected to send Norcross’s insurance company $410,000 over the next few years, as a “finder’s fee.”

This is how things work in the world of George Norcross III. Officially, he is the supremely wealthy chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, one of the largest insurance firms in the nation; the chairman of Cooper University Hospital in Camden; and, as of last year, the majority owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Unofficially, he is the most powerful man in New Jersey never to have held elected office. Close observers of state politics have estimated that more than 50 elected officials in South Jersey owe their positions to Norcross (including his brother, a state senator). Much of the money he raises for candidates comes from people and companies eager to secure government work or development deals, as documented over the years by his local paper, the Courier-Post, among others. Norcross’s own firm holds sway over New Jersey’s large municipal insurance market. (He declined to comment for this article.) “George is probably the smartest politician we have now in the state of New Jersey,” says former Republican State Senator John Bennett. “He knows where the power is and goes to the power. Whether that power is a Republican or Democrat.”

One reason that Norcross is so good at working the machine is that he was born into it. His father, George Norcross Jr.—“Big George”—was a much-loved union chieftain, and he would bring “Young George” along to meetings around the state with governors, state legislators, and CEOs. Young George would go on to drop out of college—Rutgers wasn’t teaching him anything about politics he didn’t already know—and start selling insurance out of a basement office. In 1989, after Big George was snubbed for a spot on the New Jersey Racing Commission, Norcross entered politics, motivated by a specific grudge against the legislator who’d stiffed his father and a more generalized resentment over the slighting of South Jersey. Thanks to Big George’s lessons and his own hyper-confidence, it wasn’t long before he gained control of Camden’s Democratic organization and set his sights on the rest of South Jersey. Today, Norcross is silver-haired and impeccably dressed and runs his operation out of well-appointed boardrooms. He is only foul-mouthed in private.

One Jersey Democrat described to me the first time he experienced the Norcross treatment. Not long after this politician announced his candidacy, he was summoned to a meeting with the man himself. Norcross was all magnanimity. “He said, ‘You don’t need to do anything. I’ll raise all the money. You just go out there and meet people,’ ” the candidate recalled. 

There was no need for Norcross to spell out the rest of the arrangement: The fate of those who cross him is well known. When Bennett dared to oppose state financing for the arena of a minor-league hockey team Norcross co-owned, Norcross got in a shoving match with him at the State House. In the following months, a stream of critical stories about Bennett appeared in a paper edited by a Norcross friend, contributing to Bennett’s 2003 reelection loss. “He does everything in his power to go after you,” Bennett told me, almost admiringly. “He said, ‘I’m going to get you,’ and then he gets you.” 

On numerous occasions, Norcross’s operation has come under legal scrutiny—from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), state investigators, and the FBI. The cases are labyrinthine, but they all involve some dubious overlap of his many public and private interests. One case in particular threatened to get real traction. In the early 2000s, several New Jersey attorneys general investigated whether he had pressured a Palmyra councilman to fire a city solicitor, Ted Rosenberg, who wasn’t cooperating with the machine. Wiretaps offered a rare glimpse of a man completely convinced of his power. “[Rosenberg] is history and he is done, and anything I can do to crush his ass, I wanna do cause I think he’s just a, just an evil fuck,” Norcross said. In another conversation, referring to then-top Jersey Democrats, he declared, “I’m not going to tell you this to insult you, but in the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they’re all going to be with me. Not because they like me, but because they have no choice.” While discussing plans to remove a rival, he exclaimed: “Make him a fucking judge, and get rid of him!”

In February 2003, Norcross met Christie for a steak dinner at Panico’s in New Brunswick. It was, to put it mildly, highly unorthodox for a U.S. attorney to sit down with a political boss who was the subject of state and SEC attention. But Christie brushed off the criticisms. “I’m very careful with who I would go out with,” he said. “If I’m looking at somebody, I’d try to stay away from them.”

That, to the skeptics, was just the issue. His corruption squad was scrutinizing dozens of lower-profile figures, all the way down to an Asbury Park councilman charged for getting his driveway paved for free. Why wasn’t he looking at Norcross? And didn’t he realize that he might have to in future? Sure enough, the following year the state attorney general referred the Palmyra case to Christie’s office. 

Two years later, Christie issued a scathing six-page letter announcing that he would not bring any charges against Norcross. It was a remarkable document. Not only did Christie openly declare a controversial figure to be home free, but he accused the state prosecutors of bungling the case so badly that they may have been shielding Norcross. “The allegation of some bad motive on the part of the state prosecutors is very unusual,” says Andrew Lourie, a former chief of the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice. 

High-ranking legal sources in the state view the letter as the ultimate Machiavellian maneuver. They agree that there may not have been a strong case to bring against Norcross in the Palmyra case after so much time had lapsed. But by publicly accusing his state counterparts of protecting Norcross, Christie was inoculating himself against accusations of favoritism. One of the former attorneys general who’d handled the case, John Farmer, who went on to become senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission and is now dean of Rutgers Law School, told me: “The statements and insinuations contained in that letter were, as I said at the time, utter nonsense. The passage of time has only magnified their essential absurdity.”

The roots of Christie's deceit go back even further. When he was a candidate for county Freeholder in Morris County, NJ, the campaign ran on the last weekend before the primary an ad against the incumbent Republican he was challenging. It accused the opponent and his fellow prosecutors with being under federal investigation, which the prosecutor assured the incumbent was inaccurate. Though Christie later was successfully sued for defamation, there was no time to respond to the false allegation before the election, which Christie won.   Class act, even then- well before he became Governor and began to use Hurricane Sandy money from the federal government as a political slush fund. And before his lieutenants tried to blackmail the Hoboken, NJ mayor over Hurricane Sandy aid into approving a redevelopment plan to benefit a developer represented by the Samson Group, the firm of Port Authority and Christie appointee David Samson (as diagrammed below by MSNBC).

Further, Maher's analogy to Benghazi falls short. Fox's obsession with the Libyan city isn't reprehensible because of the scope of the issue or severity of the incident in which four Americans were killed.  It's because the claims are inaccurate and the furor ginned up.   On the Sunday following the attack, National Security Advisor Susan Rice appeared on five news programs and on one of them, Meet the Press, explained

Well, let us– let me tell you the– the best information we have at present.  First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing.  And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired.  But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of– of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.  What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.  They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya.  And it escalated into a much more violent episode.  Obviously, that’s– that’s our best judgment now.  We’ll await the results of the investigation.  And the president has been very clear–we’ll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Rice was attacked by various Repubs, typically in the manner of South Carolina Representative Trey (don't call me Curt) Gowdy, who declared "This was never about a video! It was never spontaneous! This is terror, and I want to know why we were lied to."

Rice never denied that terrorism played a role and in late December The New York Times reported

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Rice's explanation, a mere five days after the assault, was largely accurate.  In four of the five appearances, Rice noted the FBI was investigating the event, and- in what Repubs typically view as a mortal sin- expressed uncertainty.  Much to the consternation of critics, she did not mention Al Qaeda, which now appears to have been uninvolved. She was largely right and implied a more thorough explanation was forthcoming.

One network is throwing stuff against the wall in an effort to wound the President or the likely Democratic presidential nominee and then-Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton).  The other has been revealing information unknown to the public while Fox largely ignores the issue and which much of the media, which still pines for a President Christie, has been downplaying.  MSNBC has been part of the latter, with Chris Matthews still pretending the whole thing was encouraged, planned, and executed by a bunch of dopes betraying their boss, the Governor.  

It's not about a bridge but an abuse of power by a leading presidential aspirant who had most of the country conned for several years. As Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer put it in her diary entry of 5-/17/03, "I thought he was honest. I thought he was moral. I thought he was something very different. This week I found out he's cut from the same corruption cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years."


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