Episode 150, with guests Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker and Kate Zernike of the New York Times

Ryan Lizza and Kate Zernike are our guests this week.
Guest host this week: Jeff Smith, New School professor and former Missouri State Senator
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: May 10, 2014 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
PoliOptics airs on POTUS on Saturdays at 8 am & 6 pm, Sundays at 4 am & 5 pm and Mondays at 2 am.
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Show also available for download on Apple iTunes and other streaming services.

I’m Jeff Smith – urban policy professor at The New School, ex- Missouri state senator, and former federal prosecutorial target – sitting in for Josh King this week as we analyze the trials and tribulations of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie with two of the nation’s top Christie-ologists: the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, and the New York Times’ Kate Zernike.

Don’t take my word for it; read their work for yourself. Here’s Ryan’s recent tour de force on the political milieu that nurtured Christie’s rise, in which he gets one Christie intimate after another to say things – on the record! – that no one had previously elicited. And Kate was one of the first reporters to grasp the potential explosiveness of the George Washington Bridge lane closings last fall, as you can see if you dig into her archived stories on Christie and other Jersey political figures.

Since “Bridgegate” broke, I’ve argued – contra some of the nation’s leading pundits (see here, here, and here) – that Christie’s real problem was legal, not political, and that he would ultimately be brought down not by Bridgegate itself but by an unrelated investigation stemming from it in the same way that Monica Lewinsky had nothing to do with an ill-fated Arkansas land deal called Whitewater. Federal prosecutorial tentacles would make an octopus envious, and the fear of prison can cause the most loyal friend to flip. (Trust me, I know.) And so despite two marathon press conferences, an exculpatory 360-page report produced after an internal investigation by Christie’s lawyer Randy Mastro and beheadings for much of his inner circle, I’ve argued that Christie is in far worse shape than he was in when the scandal first broke.

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Years may elapse between the time federal agencies open a probe and a decision to bring charges. The recent lull in the Christie case (briefly interrupted last Tuesday afternoon by a New Jersey state legislature investigative committee hearing) may be just an illusion – a glassy ocean surface with vicious activity occurring in the depths. While a federal target like Chris Christie is traipsing around with billionaires in Las Vegas and meeting prospective presidential primary voters in Iowa and South Carolina, the gears of justice continue grinding away. For federal prosecutors focused on public corruption, the bigger the name, the larger the scalp; when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And what could be sweeter than bringing down a top-tier presidential candidate who once made his name prosecuting public corruption as a U.S. attorney?

Christie’s continuing travel and exceptional fundraising as Republican Governors Association chair and likely presidential candidate is aimed in large part at combating the impression of a weakening governor. But given the length, breadth and opacity of federal investigations, this recalls a surfer in the eye of the hurricane exhorting his pals, “Rain’s stopped – surf’s up!” Perhaps there’s even a whiff of denial on Christie’s part: If I just pretend that everything’s back to normal, then maybe this will all fade away. Indeed, even on the day he left for prison, former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich appeared to remain in denial.

So, enjoy our fascinating conversation with Ryan and Kate, who have covered Bridgegate and its ancillary stories as tenaciously as Chris Christie once pursued federal targets of his own. Other than MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, no national reporter can better explain the ins and outs of Christie’s complicated past – and his even messier future. And tweet your thoughts to us @JeffSmithMO, @KZernike, @RyanLizza, and @Polioptics.

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