I am not the first to note the striking similarities between the Watergate scandal and the Bridgegate fiasco Governor Chris Christie is facing but as someone who knew many involved directly in Watergate and many in Christie’s inner circle I can say the similarities are more telling than they appear.
Christie was leading his opponent by 25 points when his operatives launched their dirty trick, Nixon was up by 29 when a crew broke into the Watergate.
Both would win by landslides. Neither the Watergate break-in or the George Washington Bridge closing were about winning votes. The motives of the Watergate burglars and those who directed them are still not clear. No one is sure why Christie’s henchman closed the George Washington Bridge, either.
Christie invited this comparison when he said “I am not a bully,” evocative of Nixon’s famous “I am not crook.” We know how that worked out.
When Christie’s Port Autority hatchetman David Wildstein said he would plead the Fifth Amendment rather than say what the Governor knew and when he knew it, I recalled Nixon’s instructions to Haldeman for his White House Staff: “Tell them to cover-up, plead the Fifth, anything to save the plan.”
Just as it was impossible in the early days of Watergate to determine the true extent of the damage to Nixon (it took 17 months before Watergate eroded Nixon’s public standing and thus his ability to govern) it is far too early to determine how Bridgegate will ultimately impact Christie and his governorship. Those like the National Review‘s Rich Lowry who think Christie can transcend Bridgegate misjudge how deep the Governor’s hand is into the tar-baby. The governor’s claim that he knew nothing can be disproved by so many people. Two people can keep a secret — if one is dead. Coordinating testimony in the Watergate cover-up only held until one — James McCord broke ranks. Christie laughed off the bridge lane closing for three days just as Nixon has his press man Ron Ziegler call Watergate a “second-rate burglary.” Those three days will become the most examined in the governor’s life.