By Brad Friedman on 9/12/2011, 2:20pm PT  

During the billionaire Koch brothers' secret Summer Seminar near Vail, Colorado, on June 26th, their secret superstar keynote speaker, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie, criticized President Barack Obama, charging that he "had failed the fundamental test of leadership, which I believe is to tell the people who hired you the truth, unvarnished truth."

Never mind that until our exposé at Mother Jones last week, based on a complete audio recording of his secret speech, Christie himself had failed to tell the truth to those who had hired him, by concealing the fact that he had flown half way across the country to address the Koch's gathering...just a few months after he had also secretly met with billionaire brother David Koch himself one-on-one, "for about two hours --- just the two of us," as Koch revealed during his introductory remarks, in the oil and chemical magnate's New York City office. That secret meeting took place just prior to a major announcement by Christie to unilaterally withdraw from a Northeast greenhouse gas initiative which Koch had been long advocating against.

So what are the local media obsessed with, given so many of the revelations that suddenly came to light in both our detailed report and its accompanying audio and transcript? Whether or not one of the state's top Democrats, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, should step down from her position!

Naturally. Heckuva job, New Jersey media! (And Democrats!)...

We covered that particular political firestorm, one of several in the wake of Part 2 of our exclusive report, as it began to ignite last week with questions about whether Oliver should step down in light of Christie's claim during his speech (see this section of the transcript), that she had called him to request help in saving her speakership position against a possible Democratic coup, in exchange for her support of his landmark bill cutting public worker pensions and benefits. After the revelation last week, questions then arose about whether the call and meeting that Christie described with the Republican caucus to rally their support for Oliver ever actually happened. She then jumped into the kerfuffle by responding that he was "lying", that such a phone call never occurred, and that she believed the Republican Governor might well be "mentally deranged".

That firestorm, in particular --- of all of those which could be, should be, still roiling in New Jersey --- is the one that has yet to cool down in the local media.

Over the weekend, Jane Roh of NJ's Cherry Hill Courier-Post filed an excellent and detailed report on the continuing fall-out, including both on and off-the-record accounts from loads of both D and R Assembly members, as well as local political operatives in the know, in an attempt to try and sort the entire mess out, discover who is actually telling the truth, and what the eventually fall-out is likely to be.

Roh ledes with her finding that "two highly placed Democrats with direct knowledge of caucus negotiations" deny that Oliver "is in danger of a leadership challenge." With mid-terms coming up this fall, and a new Speaker election to occur with the new term in January, they say, no matter what really happened between Oliver and Christie --- an issue which has raised questions on both sides of the aisle --- Democrats are likely to focus on more immediate concerns at the moment.

Don't get me wrong, Roh's article seems to include some very good and enterprising reporting and digging. My critique here is not on her report, per se, but on my amazement that this part of the revelations seem to be garnering the most sustained interest by the local press --- at least for the moment.

All the while, there are a number of what seem to be very serious questions concerning Christie's behavior in the entire Koch affair which local media don't seem to be bothering nearly as much with.

Among the many questions that I'd think would demand some answers from the Governor:

  • While the state Republican Party has now claimed they paid for Christie's secret flight to and from Colorado, do they have any hard evidence to offer for that?
  • Did he fly commercial or private? If private, which corporation's private plane, if any, was used for the quick flight out and back on June 26th?
  • Were any state resources at all --- such as a state security detail, etc. --- used on the Governor's purely political trip?
  • Why didn't Christie reveal his trip and, indeed, seem to work hard to keep it entirely secret from the voters and media? (Remember, he said himself during his speech that Obama "had failed the fundamental test of tell the people who hired you the truth." Didn't the Governor do exactly what he had criticized Obama for doing here?)
  • Is the Governor ashamed of his associations with the Kochs? If not, why weren't the voters of the state informed that he would be leaving the state for the day to meet with them and offer their keynote address at their secret political strategy and fund-raising session in Vail?
  • Was the state's Lieutenant Governor properly informed that Christie would be gone for the day?
  • What did Christie discuss with David Koch when they met privately, as we've now learned, for a full two hours in advance of Christie's surprising withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade market among 10 Northeast states which the Kochs and their various political front-groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, have long been fighting to derail?
  • Was there any quid pro quo in exchange for Christie's pull-out from RGGI?

...and many other such questions. We had done our best prior to the stories publication at Mother Jones to get answers to some of the above questions, but once we'd informed the Governor's office that we were interested in asking about the Colorado trip, they stopped returning our calls.

We'd love to keep digging, and will, where possible, but it seems local media is uniquely positioned to do so with more resources --- and fewer opportunities for Christie's folks to duck questions --- than we are. So are they doing so? If not, why not?

To be sure, the Christie/Oliver story is an important one, at least to the near future for politics in the state, as Tom Moran of The Star-Ledger noted in his report on all of this over the weekend: "If that story is true, then Oliver committed high treason. She was giving the governor the power to pick the Democratic leadership."

Moran led this way, focusing on the "storm [which] broke in Trenton" thanks to our report, and whether the revelations might actually hurt Christie himself:

It was June 26, at a luxury retreat in Colorado, and the governor was on a roll, bragging about how he manhandled Democrats back home to get pension and health reforms passed.

It was a dance in the end zone, designed to impress a group of wealthy conservatives who were eyeing Christie as a potential president.

The governor was in his zone, with the crowd laughing and applauding at each twist.

The problem is this: Someone was secretly recording it all. And the recording shows that the governor stretched the truth over and over. Each distortion made Democrats sound like clueless pushovers, dominated by the hero governor.

Moran reports that Christie's next major agenda item, reforming education in the state (Christie had told the Koch crowd in Vail, when he thought nobody else would be hearing his comments, that "we need to take on the teachers' union once and for all"), could now be imperiled.

"Getting that agenda through a Democratic Legislature was a heavy lift to begin with," reports Moran, "The Colorado show adds a new weight to the load." He also says that Oliver has called on Christie to release his phone records, which will prove she never called him to ask for help, as Christie claimed in Vail, and still stands behind. A spokesman for the governor's office has "declined to answer" when asked to provide those records, says Moran. So it's not just us, in any case, having trouble getting answers at this point from Christie.

An unbylined editorial published by the Philadelphia Inquirer today calls on Christie to disclose his secret trips and who is paying for them, etc. charging "If there was nothing tawdry about the trip [to Vail], there was no reason to hide it."

But, by and large, the local political tete-a-tete have gotten far more "ink" than questions about Christie's behavior itself and the many unanswered questions it has raised.

All in all, in any case, it's certainly been an interesting object lesson to note that media in the state seem to be focusing more on whether a Democrat should pay a price in the wake of Christie's secret speech half way across the country with oil tycoons and other corporate barons, rather than the Republican big-wig superstar --- and potential future Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate --- who carried out the duplicitous behavior in the first place and, according to a number of media reports since, has a well-established history of not telling the complete truth "to the people who hired" him.

Should I be surprised by now? No. Am I? Admittedly, somewhat, yes, I still am.

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