Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
At his Thursday press conference, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he played no part in causing a traffic jam last fall on the George Washington Bridge and in nearby Fort Lee. He ultimately took responsibility for the debacle, but Christie said his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had ordered the traffic jam without his knowledge. Emails showed that she had been in cahoots with David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Christie fired Kelly on Thursday, and he insisted that she was the only member of his inner circle who knew that the traffic mess was politically motivated and not the result of a supposed traffic study.
Here's the backstory. The traffic jam happened on the week of September 9 and quickly became a local controversy. Lawmakers began investigating, and on November 25, Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee at the Port Authority, testified before the New Jersey Assembly's transportation, public works, and independent authorities committee. Baroni told lawmakers that the lane closures were part of a study to determine whether Fort Lee should have three dedicated lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge.
State lawmakers didn't buy Baroni's explanation. "I think that at best this was clumsy and ham-handed," said committee chair John Wisniewski, a Democrat. "At worst, this was political mischief by a political appointee."
Immediately after his testimony, according to documents released this week, Baroni texted David Wildstein asking how Christie administration officials in Trenton, the state capital, had reacted to his testimony:
[11/25/2013 11:58 AM] David Wildstein: You did great
[11/25/2013 11:58 AM] Bill Baroni: Trenton feedback
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] Bill Baroni: ?
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] David Wildstein: Good
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] Bill Baroni: Just good? Shit
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] David Wildstein: No i have only texted brudget [Bridget Anne Kelly] and Nicole they were VERY happy
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] Bill Baroni: Ok
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] David Wildstein: Both said you are doing great
[11/25/2013 12:06 PM] David Wildstein: Charlie said you did GREAT
Note the two names in that exchange we have placed in bold type: Nicole and Charlie. According to public records and news stories, the only Nicole politically close to Christie at the time was Nicole Davidman, who was the governor's campaign finance director in 2013 and the wife of Christie's press secretary. The only Charlie in Christie's inner circle was Charles McKenna, Christie's chief counsel and the aide who helped lead Christie's internal investigation of the bridge mess. State investigators assume that the Charlie mentioned in this text is McKenna, according to a legislative source, but they are not yet certain about Nicole (though they have not yet identified other possibilities).
Presuming these texts refer to Davidman and McKenna, here's what needs to be answered: Were these two Christie lieutenants happy about Baroni's testimony for the same reason as Kelly? Both Kelly and Wildstein knew the study wasn't the true cause of the traffic mess, and it's reasonable to conclude that they were delighted because Baroni had stuck to that story and not said anything about Kelly instructing Wildstein to cause the jam that paralyzed traffic in Fort Lee for days. But did Charlie and Nicole cheer Baroni's bogus testimony in the same way? And what does it mean that Wildstein, the man who arranged the lane closures, lumped together Kelly, the aide who instigated the closures, and Nicole? (Christie touched on this only briefly in his press conference: "I believe that I've spoken to everyone who was mentioned in the emails except for Charlie McKenna, who is away at a family funeral. And I am confident, based upon my conversations with them, that they had no prior knowledge nor involvement in this situation.")
This is just one line of inquiry Bridgegate investigators ought to focus on. Christie asserts that Kelly was the only member of his political team in on the bridge caper. But if others were aware of Baroni's stonewalling, the governor has a problem—especially if that includes McKenna, whom Christie has used to probe the bridge scandal. At the least, it might be ill-advised for the governor to have a fellow who apparently praised Baroni's bogus testimony in charge of investigating the cover-up.
Christie's office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Chris Matthews this week about what some traffic problems in Fort Lee could end up meaning for New Jersey governor Chris Christie's political ambitions. Watch here:
It is often hard to connect actions to racism—and sometimes it is hard not to. When conservative activists and leaders excitedly contend that the first black American elected president was secretly born overseas and, consequently, is a pretender to the office, it certainly is difficult to ignore racism as a possible contributing motive. (These same people are in no uproar about Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's birth in Canada.) And when President Barack Obama is repeatedly branded a sexed-up flirt, despite the evidence he is a stand-up family guy, a similar query is unavoidable: Is race a factor?
The conservative New York Post this week has done extra duty to promote the idea that the president is a cad (and Michelle Obama is the resentful, jealous, and bossy wife). After photos emerged of Obama taking a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (with British PM David Cameron the third wheel) and the first lady looking displeased, the media was all abuzz, and Rupert Murdoch's paper led the way with its front-page coverage pitched with this witty headline: "Flirting with Dane-ger." The next day, Post columnist Andrea Peyser pushed the story—and the already widely spread meme—further. In an article headlined, "Flirty Obama Owes Us an Apology," she ranted that Obama had "lost his morality, his dignity and his mind, using the solemn occasion of Nelson Mandela's memorial service Tuesday to act like a hormone-ravaged frat boy on a road trip to a strip bar." She referred to the Danish leader as a "hellcat" and pegged the needle in sexualizing this story: "Thorning-Schmidt placed her hands dangerously close to Obama's side. The president's cackling head moved inches from the Danish tart's and yards away from his wife's. Obama then proceeded to absorb body heat from the Dane, which he won't be feeling at home for a long time." Meet Obama, the lustful and wild predator who cannot control his urges at a solemn occasion.
Peyser was working with an idea—the president as sexy beast—not the facts. The day before her story appeared, Roberto Schmidt, the German Colombian news photographer who had snapped the shots that had ignited this nonscandal threw a bucket of cold water on the story Peyser and others were peddling:
I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed—I didn't see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. We are in Africa.
I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.
Schmidt noted that he spotted nothing improper. Obama had not been a wild man who had prompted a wifely rebuke. Still, that did not prevent Peyser from day-threeing this event with lasciviousness: "Michelle frowned and looked as if she wanted to spit acid at the man she married, a good-time guy who humiliated her in front of their friends, the world and a blonde bimbo who hadn't the sense to cover up and keep it clean."
Why is it that Obama repeatedly draws this sort of attack? In 2009, the Drudge Report and Fox News played up a photo from the G8 summit that supposedly showed the president leering at a teenage girl's rump. The Drudge headline: "Second Stimulus Package." Fox Nation went with "Busted?" And the fact that the target of his roving eyes was 17 years old was played to much salacious effect. Examiner.com reported—presumably mistakenly—that the subject of Obama's less-than-honorable attention was only 16 years old. The New York Post exclaimed, "The leader of the free world and his French counterpart were caught sneaking a peek at a the pink-satin-draped booty of a 17-year-old junior G-8 delegate just moments before the summit's official group photo was snapped in Italy yesterday. Obama wasn't the only head of state getting Yankee Doodle randy." And Fox & Friends dug up another photo from the summit that appeared to show Obama staring at the rear end of a different woman.
You know the rest of the story. When the full video of the event emerged, it was clear that Obama had not gazed with ill intent at the young woman. (The video, though, hardly cleared French President Nicholas Sarkozy.) But the point had been made: this guy cannot help himself.
A year ago, the Daily Mail advanced this plot line with a report that Obama repeatedly flirted with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra while on a trip to Thailand. The article—"Obama gets flirty as he schmoozes with Thai prime minister"—was accompanied by several photos that appeared to show Obama and the "attractive" Shinawatra exchanging "playful glances." (The perhaps sexist implication here—as with Peyser's column—is that female heads of state melt into a puddle whenever O is near.)
This sort of coverage might well happen to a good-looking white guy who was president. But remember when George W. Bush gave German Prime Minister Angela Merkel an impromptu back rub at a G8 meeting in 2006? The video went viral, and the episode launched a flood of jokes and spoofs. Yet, there wasn't much talk of Bush being an impulsive flirter driven by sexual temptation. A Google search turned up no indication that Andrea Peyser rushed to her keyboard to pronounce Bush a moral failure and embarrassment to the nation. At least, Bill Clinton gave people a reason to wonder about his behavior. (During the 1992 campaign, cabaret singer Gennifer Flowers publicly claimed she had a 12-year affair with Clinton; years later, Clinton, in a deposition, countered that he had only one sexual dalliance with her.)
What is it about Obama that causes conservative critics to question his legitimacy as a citizen and his ability to control his sex drive? (In something of a twist, right-wing agitator Jerome Corsi, a leader of the birthers, has in the last year been pushing a different Obama sex story: The president is secretly gay and once upon a time was actively part of Chicago's wild gay bar and bathhouse scene.) It is not too far a stretch, when pondering all this, to recall how racists in the past depicted black men as licentious and a danger to women—that is, white women. Is a remnant of that in play when Obama is cast as a lecherous or flirtatious scalawag? There's probably no definitive answer to be reached here. (Can you—do you want to—peer into the soul of Andrea Peyser?) But the question is real enough that it ought to give commentators and columnists (and their editors) pause before they again revive this Obama Unchained narrative.
So it begins—the revival of the right-wing's get-Hillary crusade.
The conservative outfit Citizens United, which in 2008 released the anti-Hillary Clinton film that led to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on supposedly independent political spending for federal campaigns, is working on a new flick assailing the former secretary of state, and it will be released just in time for the next presidential campaign.
On Tuesday, I bumped into David Bossie, the president of Citizens United, and asked what he was up to these days. He said something vague. And another Hillary Clinton film? I asked. Well, yes, he said, we are working on that.
"What's it going to be called?" I inquired. "'Hillary: The Benghazi Years'? Or 'Hillary: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi'?"
"Oh, she's not going to get off so easy," one of Bossie's colleagues interjected, meaning that the film would not be limited to the right-wing Benghazi narrative. Bossie explained: "It will be all of the State Department years."
"No Vince Foster?" I inquired, referring to the Clinton-era right-wing conspiracy theory that Hillary was somehow involved in the supposedly suspicious (though it really wasn't) suicide of the Clinton White House's top lawyer. In those days, Bossie was a hyper-active investigator for a right-wing congressman who was enthusiastically digging into the Foster suicide and other purported Clinton scandals. Bossie eventually was forced out of the job after he manipulated evidence in one of the anti-Clinton inquiries.
No, Bossie said, nothing on Foster; they're sticking to Clinton's stint as secretary of state.
Bossie and Citizens United's original trash-Hillary documentary—titled Hillary: The Movie—recycled well-worn Clinton tales: Bill's affair with Monica Lewinsky and possibly others; alleged corruption in the White House travel office; campaign finance shenanigans related to Hillary's 2000 Senate race; and the conspiracy theory that the Clintons tried to smother information indicating that Bill Clinton had failed to kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance. It was filled with right-wing talking heads: Dick Morris, Robert Novak, Larry Kudlow, and others. The film darkly hinted that Clinton operatives had even killed the cat of a woman who accused Bill of sexual assault.
Despite Bossie's best intentions, the poorly-distributed movie had no discernible impact on the 2008 election. (Hillary did not lose the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama because of this movie.) But that was not the end of the story. Citizens United tried to run television ads touting the film during the election season—the ads were essentially anti-Hillary spots—and federal law prohibited such independent campaign spending that directly targeted a candidate. Citizens United sued the Federal Elections Committee, and the Supreme Court used this case to overturn a century-old precedent and blew up the limits on independent campaign expenditures by corporations, nonprofits, and unions. This led to an humongous increase in special interest spending designed to influence House, Senate, and presidential contests—with a majority of these dollars deployed to assist Republican candidates.
Bossie, perhaps the top Clinton-chaser of the past two decades, had set out to destroy the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton and failed. But his film ended up triggering the Supreme Court case that remade the political campaign system, much to the benefit of corporate and monied interests.
For their new endeavor, Bossie and his merry band are putting aside the outlandish get-Hillary right-wing fodder of the past—nothing on the cat?—and focusing on her years at Foggy Bottom. Yet is there enough red meat—besides Benghazi, Benghazi, and Benghazi—to fill an entire film? Bossie says there is. But given what transpired last time Citizens United declared war on Hillary, who knows what might result when Bossie and his crew go after the former first lady once again?
Bossie says the film is due to be released at the end of 2015—right before the Iowa caucuses.
In politics, hyperbole is routine. It's common for campaign ads to praise a candidate as a savior or denigrate a contender as the destroyer of worlds. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers regularly claim that a particular piece of legislation will yield everlasting rainbows—or bring about complete devastation. President Barack Obama has been hailed by fans as a champion of hope and change and declaimed by foes as a secret, foreign-born, America-hating Muslim socialist bearing a covert plot to weaken the nation he leads. But every once in the rare while, hyperbole is warranted. And as the fierce mud-wrestling over Obamacare continues, it's not going too far to say that this clash is darn close to a life-and-death battle between the Democrats and Republicans. Which explains why the conflict is not ending, even as the White House patches up the glitchy Healthcare.gov website. Tea party leader Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is still tweeting out daily his demand for a full repeal of Obamacare, and Obama, as he is demonstrating at a White House event on Tuesday afternoon, is revving up the White House sales campaign for the Affordable Care Act.
With the website somewhat functioning, the fundamental debate over Obamacare resumes, and this debate pits the basic philosophy of each party against the other. Ever since becoming tea partyized, the Republican Party has essentially stood for one notion: Government is the problem. After the economic crash of 2008, Republicans tended to blame Washington's federal budget woes—not the actions of Wall Street dealers and schemers—for the financial calamity that sent the economy into the most severe recession since the Great Depression. They saw little need for government action to re-regulate the financial shenanigans that led to millions of Americans losing their jobs and homes. And they fiercely opposed the idea that government should stimulate the collapsing economy. The tea party victory of 2010 pushed the GOP further in this direction, with new Republican legislators obsessively peddling a single-minded agenda: Big government must be crushed. Obamacare, naturally, was the main target of this ideological wrath. So much so that this year, House Speaker John Boehner was outmaneuvered by Cruz-inspired tea party back-benchers determined to shut down the government to thwart health care reform law.