Nightline Lets Democrats Open Fire on Christie, Touts 'Alleged Abusive Behavior'

ABC's Nightline let New Jersey Democrats pile on the Chris Christie controversy and take shots at the Republican governor, on Friday's show. Anchor Dan Harris hyped the nasty gossip and asked if Christie's political future was over.  

"Democrats in Trenton, the state capitol, clearly see an opening," Harris touted. He added that "Democrats, including Christie's former opponent, Senator Barbara Buono regaled us with stories about the governor's alleged abusive behavior."

Harris also spoke with Democratic state senator Richard Codey and quoted Fort Lee's Democratic mayor Mark Sokolich, both of whom blasted Christie. Harris teed up Codey by asking if Gov. Christie was right in saying he wasn't a bully. Codey responded, "He is a bully. Simple as that. If you disagree with him, he's going to get you and he's going to stamp you out and he's going to seek revenge."

Buono was Christie's Democratic opponent in November's election, and Harris gave her the opportunity to cut down Christie. "She says one time after she publicly criticized him several years ago, she was never allowed into a meeting with him again, even though she was the senate majority leader."

Harris even borrowed a juicy Christie story from the 2012 election memoir "Double Down":

"The questions about the governor aren't just coming from Democrats. In a recent best-selling book "Double Down" the authors claim Mitt Romney's team was very troubled by video of Chris Christie arguing with hecklers on the Jersey shore as seen in this clip from TMZ."

And the Nightline anchor panned Christie's Thursday press conference as "what may have been one of the longest and most bizarre press conferences in modern American politics."

Below is a transcript of the report:

ABC
NIGHTLINE
1/10/14
[12:39 a.m. EST]

DAN HARRIS: Good evening. Tonight, we are going to take you inside a scandal that is threatening the future of one of the most popular and intriguing politicians in this country, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, considered by many Republicans to be their best hope for the White House in 2016. Today, we witnessed an extraordinary scene. The famously brash Christie repeatedly begging forgiveness in one of the most unusual and prolonged news conferences any of us can remember.

(Video Clip)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Well we made a promise –

HARRIS: There are three bosses in the state of New Jersey: Bruce Springsteen, –

JAMES GANDOLFINI, actor: They were crooks and killers too.

HARRIS: Tony Soprano –  

Gov. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R-N.J.): Maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune to their TVs right now.

HARRIS: And governor Chris Christie. He is enormously popular. He's considered a front runner to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, and he became a national political star because of his tell-it-like-it-is, take-no-prisoners brashness.

CHRISTIE: You know, some may go down tonight, but it ain't going to be jobs, sweetheart.

Your rear end's going to get thrown in jail, idiot.

Damn man, I'm governor, could you just shut up for a second?

HARRIS: He's built his reputation not only on tough talk –

CHRISTIE: First off, it's none of your business.

HARRIS: -- but also on representing a fresh alternative to the old corrupt style of New Jersey politics as dramatized in The Sopranos –

GANDOLFINI: I'm not trying to insult you. I'm just saying –

 HARRIS: – and American Hustle.

CHRISTIAN BALE, actor: Always take a favor over money.

HARRIS: But tonight, Chris Christie is embroiled in a scandal so potentially damaging that it forced him to launch an extraordinary day-long contrition mission.

CHRISTIE: I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.

HARRIS: This scandal has its roots in, of all things, a traffic jam. An epic traffic jam this past September. An agency controlled by the governor reduced the number of toll lanes on the George Washington bridge, the busiest bridge in the world. That provoked paralysis, adding hours to the commute for millions of people, including police officers and ambulances. Quickly, the questions came. Was this all an act of political retaliation? After all, the mayor of Fort Lee, home of the bridge, a Democrat named Mark Sokolich, had recently refused to support Christie in his re-election campaign against Democratic state senator Barbara Buono. Governor Christie responded to questions about a possible political vendetta by mocking reporters.

CHRISTIE: But I actually was the guy working the cones out there. You really are not serious with that question.

HARRIS: But then yesterday, a bombshell. The release of a wave of e-mails and texts in August shortly after the mayor refused to support Christie, the governor's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly sent a note to a transportation official named David Wildstein saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee. Wildstein replied, "Got it." About a month later, he ordered the lanes closed. That day, a frantic Mayor Sokolich called somebody in Wildstein's office regarding "an urgent matter of public safety in Fort Lee."

"Did he call him back?" Kelly asks. "Radio silence," says Wildstein. The next day, Christie officials were told "there's a problem getting kids to school. Help, please. It's maddening." "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?" wrote one unidentified staffer. "I feel badly about the kids, I guess," replied another. To which David Wildstein responded, "They're the children of Buono voters," referring to the governor's Democratic opponent. And so today in response, the governor came out and held what may have been one of the longest and most bizarre press conferences in modern American politics.

CHRISTIE: All of the people who were affected by this conduct deserve this apology and that's why I'm giving it to them.

HARRIS: He said he was blind-sided by the revelations, that he knew nothing about the scheme to cause the gridlock, and that he just fired Bridget Kelly.

CHRISTIE: Mayor Sokolich was never on my radar screen. Until I saw his picture last night on television, I wouldn't have been able to pick him out of a lineup.

HARRIS: The whole thing lasted an epic 108 minutes, nearly two hours. Even as Christie was talking, the mayor of Fort Lee came out said he would rather not receive the governor today.

Mayor MARK SOKOLICH, Fort Lee, New Jersey: He certainly wouldn't be shunned but if Fort Lee has built up enough capital at this point to be granted one request, we would ask that this visit come once this investigation is either over or all of the material facts have surfaced.

HARRIS: But apologies may not be enough here. Today, David Wildstein who resigned several weeks ago as this scandal was gathering steam, refused to answer questions in front of a legislative committee.

DAVID WILDSTEIN: On the advice of my council, I respectfully assert my right to remain silent under the United States and New Jersey constitutions.

HARRIS: Democrats in Trenton, the state capitol, clearly see an opening.

State Senator BARBARA BUONO (D-N.J.): The governor has certainly conducted himself over the last four years as the worst combination of bully and boss.

HARRIS: Today, Democrats, including Christie's former opponent, Senator Barbara Buono regaled us with stories about the governor's alleged abusive behavior. She says one time after she publicly criticized him several years ago, she was never allowed into a meeting with him again, even though she was the senate majority leader.

BUONO: He told the senate president he would not meet with me, and so they would have leadership meetings and I was not invited, ever.

HARRIS: (on camera) So after that one comment –  

BUONO: Correct.

HARRIS: – you were not allowed into meetings.

BUONO: Correct. It's not unusual. That's not unusual. He's very thin-skinned.

HARRIS: Governor Christie got up today and said the following words, "I am not a bully." In your experience, truthful?

State Sen. RICHARD CODEY (D-N.J.): He is a bully. Simple as that. If you disagree with him, he's going to get you and he's going to stamp you out and he's going to seek revenge.

HARRIS: (voice over) Former governor Dick Codey who's now a state senator, said one time after he disagreed with the governor on a policy issue, Christie lashed out, killing the funding for a program to help women suffering from postpartum depression, a program Codey had created in honor of his wife who had experienced the condition himself.

CODEY: $800,000 was removed from the budget and each year we've tried to restore it. He wouldn't allow it.

HARRIS: (on camera) How do you know he wasn't just doing budget cutting because he thought this was –  

CODEY: That wasn't budget cutting. That was sending a message, I'm the boss.

HARRIS: Christie fans watching this interview may say this is just sour grapes. You're no longer in power, you're in the opposite party, you're just taking advantage of the situation to nail him.

CODEY: Absolutely not. Not in any way, shape or form. I love being governor. I'm embarrassed that a governor would conduct himself that way. I will always respect that office and anybody that holds it.

HARRIS: (voice over) The questions about the governor aren't just coming from Democrats. In a recent best-selling book "Double Down" the authors claim Mitt Romney's team was very troubled by video of Chris Christie arguing with hecklers on the Jersey shore as seen in this clip from TMZ.

JOHN HEILEMANN: A video of Chris Christie on a New Jersey boardwalk get into a confrontation with one of his constituents, a shouting match in which the constituent finally has had enough and walks away. And Christie won't let go. And he chases this constituent down the boardwalk, brandishing an ice cream cone as if it were a weapon.

HARRIS: So tonight, the question. Can Chris Christie survive this scandal? There is definitely the potential for more damaging revelations as the state legislature and now the U.S. Attorney each investigate the matter.

HEILEMANN: In the absence of any new facts, this is a survivable thing for him. You think about the kinds of scandals that bill Clinton overcame, George W. Bush had a DUI. Barack Obama survived Reverend Wright. Big politicians in American life have survived scandals much bigger than this.

HARRIS: In the end, it may be dangerous to underestimate Chris Christie. Late today, he emerged from a 30-minute meeting with the mayor of Fort Lee, claiming to feel better having apologized in person. And he was greeted by shouts of support, and even signed a few autographs.

(Video Clip)

HARRIS: However, the unpleasant surprises may not be over for Christie. Tonight, we're hearing about a class action lawsuit against government officials brought by hourly workers who claimed they didn't get paid because the traffic on the GW bridge made them late for work.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014