David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

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.

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Chris Christie's Not in the Clear Yet. These Text Messages Show Why.

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 4:57 PM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

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.

Yet text messages turned over to investigators by Wildstein raise the possibility that months before the disclosure this week of Kelly's bombshell email—"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee"—other senior Christie aides knew the traffic study excuse wasn't true.

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
[REDACTED MESSAGE]
[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.

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VIDEO: David Corn on What Chris Christie's Bridge Scandal Means for 2016

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 11:19 AM EST

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:

Will an Anti-Hillary Sequel Again Rock American Politics?

| Thu Dec. 12, 2013 7:00 AM EST

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.

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