The New York Times had what looked like a bombshell late Friday: David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official at the heart of the Chris Christie lane-closing scandal, had evidence that Christie himself knew of the closings, which were allegedly an act of political retaliation by Christie allies against the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. According to the Times, Wildstein said "that the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening, and that he had the evidence to prove it." They then slightly changed the wording to more accurately reflect the source of the story, a letter form Wildstein's lawyer. The updated version reads:
The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge in the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Friday that “evidence exists” the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening.
"Evidence exists," then, but there's no way of knowing whether Wildstein has it. The evidence is not that Christie personally ordered the lane closings, or that he was aware of the supposed reason for the closings, but that he was aware of the closings while they were happening. This contradicts the account Christie gave at his notorious Jan. 13 press conference. But that account itself contradicted an earlier statement by Christie. It was already known that Christie wasn't telling the whole truth about the timeline, because he had already said conflicting things. Christie's statement on Wildstein's lawyer's letter basically sidestepped the question: The governor's office now says he "had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened." So, the governor didn't know about it before it happened. That clears everything up.
When the Times story went live, everyone from Charles C. W. Cooke to John Podhoretz declared Chris Christie's political career over. Dozens of smart political journalists and commentators tweeted variations on "Chris Christie is toast." His office's statement shows why he's not: He's shameless and unwilling to go down without a fight.
Maybe Christie has read Matt Yglesias, who has argued for years that the best way to weather a scandal is simply to not resign. David Vitter is living proof of the wisdom of that advice. A political scandal, especially one that involves actual harm coming to constituents, is categorically different from a sex scandal. Christie's popularity in New Jersey may never recover, but he already won reelection, and a third consecutive term was impossible anyway. The Legislature could impeach him, but it would require an Assembly vote, a Senate trial, and then a vote to remove with a threshold of 27 votes in a chamber in which Democrats control 24 seats.
Christie, in other words, isn't going anywhere any time soon, barring his arrest, illness, or a shocking Senate vote
That is not to say that Wildstein's claim isn't damaging to Christie at all. As Alec MacGillis says, it at least shows that Wildstein has turned on Christie and will make life as difficult for him as he can. And Wildstein is unpredictable. But barring a shocking Senate vote, or I guess an arrest, Chris Christie isn't going anywhere. He was just reinaugurated. If this scandal forces him to sit out 2016 -- and that's still a huge if -- and a Democrat wins the White House, he can spend the next four years of his governorship and then an additional two years out of it rehabilitating his image. Then he's tanned, rested and ready in 2020.
There's one other thing working in Christie's favor: The longer the investigation drags on, and the more revelations that make it to the press, the greater the chance that eventually the scandal becomes a net plus for Christie among conservative voters in the rest of the country. Because now he's the victim of the liberal media. That's why I'd still hesitate to count him out for 2016. He can play the persecuted victim of liberal overreach to the Republican base while still saying the entire scandal is irrelevant old news, with his own refusal to resign proof that it wasn't such a big deal. (Honestly, I still think the biggest threat to Christie's presidential ambitions is simply that the far right still don't like or trust him.)
If Chris Christie doesn't want to go away, he won't go away. And he doesn't want to go away. Does a man who spent last Friday attending Howard Stern's birthday party sound worried?