(Article changed on January 13, 2014 at 12:52)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a big winner so far in the political scandal and cover-up engulfing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Bush, shown above in his official photo, can remain comfortably in the background for the 2016 presidential race, and thereby avoid the kind of scrutiny imposed on front-runners like Christie.
Christie, Bush's leading center-right rival for the Republican nomination, faces grave political wounds from a horrendous four-day traffic jam his top aides inflicted last September on Fort Lee, a commuter suburb of New York.
Christie staved off political disaster by a nearly two-hour press conference Jan. 9 in which he denied involvement and fired two top political advisers. One was Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly. The other was Bill Stepien, his 2013 campaign manager who helped achieve Christie's re-election victory with 60 percent of the vote.
In rambling responses to 94 questions, Christie portrayed himself as more of a victim than a perpetrator. "I am not a bully," said a politician famous for his blunt style.
For the foreseeable future, Christie is going to surprise most opponents with his resiliency, according to a Louis Manzo, author of the forthcoming Christie biography, Big Boy: Chris Christie's Appetite for Power.
"I think he's going to survive," Manzo told me in a phone interview Jan. 11. Manzo is a former state assemblyman from Jersey City.
"He's found a patsy, this woman Kelly," Manzo continued. "Christie and his team are going to make her the scapegoat, and blame just about everything on her."
As U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christie set
in a motion an indictment of Manzo and more than 40 others on corruption
charges that helped win Christie his state's governorship in 2009.
But Manzo prevailed over federal prosecutors, who were forced to drop their case after Manzo denied the allegations and showed other serious problems with the prosecution. Manzo has spent five years researching his book, which is scheduled for publication in June and will include this year's revelations on the bridge scandal.
Christie aides are implicated in closing two of Fort Lee's three access ramps to the George Washington Bridge, the nation's heaviest-trafficked bridge.
national headlines from the scandal overlook three matters about
Christie and Bush that I have researched in-depth for the Justice
Integrity Project and for my book, Presidential Puppetry.
- Christie and Bush have each hidden scandals far more serious than what is being called "Bridgegate" in Fort Lee.
- Thus, Bush greatly benefits from keeping a weakened Christie prominent as a prospective 2016 nominee while Bush remains above the party battles -- and scrutiny.
- Because the Bush dynastic ties overlap with Christie's power base Bush can readily overwhelm Christie and his presidential aspirations later in the 2016 race.
These are the big stakes this column explores. But first, let's recap the lesser mystery of the traffic jam: