Chris Christie can't dance away his growing scandal

Chris Christie has been dancing and joking and trying to put the scandal behind him. But it's just beginning

Published June 20, 2014 2:14PM (EDT)

Chris Christie                             (AP/Mel Evans)
Chris Christie (AP/Mel Evans)

Wasn't it all ... over? ... for Chris Christie? The void of negative national Christie news stemming from the George Washington Bridge scandal seemed to be leaving him room to rebuild.

Just this past weekend, Christie spoke at Mitt Romney's summit in Utah. At the event, according to a piece in the Washington Post, Christie told the prospective presidential campaign donors that the scandal is "over, it’s done with and I’m moving on.” Good, good and good. He even played a video for the donors: a clip from a recent episode of "The Tonight Show" in which he dances and chest-bumps with host Jimmy Fallon. It appears he's carting around this video to boost his profile in much the same way he and his staff used to manufacture viral videos of him berating unionized teachers.

The message in this clip is friendlier than the old head-bashing clips: Look at me! The media loves me again, and I can tell jokes again. All that bad stuff is in the past. The dancing and jumping and playing also affords Christie the opportunity to show donors that he's working his way into fine racing form. According to a recent intrepid Politico report that asked "two experts to estimate the governor’s weight loss by comparing several pictures of him from 2011 with recent photos," the governor has lost 85 pounds since his lap band surgery.

What we're seeing, in other words, are the beginnings of a very orchestrated "Christie rebound" project pitched to the teetering Wall Street donor class and the media. But it may not just be about putting what's already happened behind him. It's also more likely intended to be a distraction from what's ahead.

And what's that? The conclusion of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman's investigation into the whole matter, of course -- the suspicious closure of several access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, other allegations about the Christie team withholding funds to politicians in localities that didn't play ball, and other charges relating to the corrupt diversion of Port Authority funds.

As Simon Maloy wrote yesterday, Esquire's exclusive report into the Fishman investigation should be taken with a grain of salt, since it relies on two anonymous "sources with intimate knowledge of the case." Scott Raab and Lisa Brennan report that "Christie’s Port appointees -- not only Samson, but former PA Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and his oddball sidekick David Wildstein -- all face near-certain indictment." They report that Fishman is hoping to catch the governor himself, however, and is pressing Christie's ex-colleagues "to hand up Christie" in exchange for a deal. The report closes with a bit of a flourish: "The safest bet that is obvious: there’s no future for Chris Christie in the White House. The Big House is a safer bet, by far."

Well. What was that we said about taking the news with a grain of salt? Because we're going to. Let's not hold our breath waiting to see Chris Christie in an orange jumpsuit.

But even if we split the difference here and guess that Christie is cleared while some of his cronies are indicted, their trials should align nicely with the 2016 presidential calendar. "One source expects Fishman to return some indictments as soon as next month, Raab and Brennan write. "Both sources say that all of those four certainly will be indicted -- and both further note that Fishman, an Obama appointee, hopes to see the entire matter resolved before this President’s term expires."

The scandal is not over; it's barely even begun. It's going to take a lot more dancing and joking and jumping from Christie to distract the presidential campaign media into looking the other way as the gritty realities of corrupt New Jersey politics are aired out in courtrooms. Which is not to say that Christie can't do it! He's a charismatic guy, always bustin' everyone's chops. A lesser politician wouldn't even have the audacity to attempt a rebound, ever, after what's already gone down.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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