NJ.com - Most Americans don't know Chris Christie like I do, so it's only natural to wonder what testimony I might offer after covering his every move for the last 14 years.
|Gov. Chris Christie as he vetoes New Jersey budget tax hikes less than a day after the Legislature sent Christie a budget raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Christie stripped more than $1.6 billion from the 2016 Democratic budget and signed a roughly $34 billion budget into law. Trenton, NJ 6/26/15. (Photo by Adya Beasley | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Is it his raw political talent? No, they can see that.
Is it his measurable failure to fix the economy, solve the budget crisis or even repair the crumbling bridges? No, his opponents will cover that if he ever gets traction.
My testimony amounts to a warning: Don't believe a word the man says.
If you have the stomach for it, this column offers some greatest hits in Christie's catalog of lies.
Don't misunderstand me. They all lie, and I get that. But Christie does it with such audacity, and such frequency, that he stands out.
He's been lying on steroids lately, on core issues like Bridgegate, guns and that cozy personal friendship with his buddy, the King of Jordan. I'll get to all that.
He has a silver tongue. But if you look closely, you can see that it is forked like a serpent's.
But let's start with my personal favorite. It dates back to the 2009 campaign, when the public workers unions asked him if he intended to cut their benefits.
He told them their pensions were "sacred" to him.
"The notion that I would eliminate, change, or alter your pension is not only a lie, but cannot be further from the truth," he wrote them. "Your pension and benefits will be protected when I am elected governor."
He then proceeded to make cutting those benefits the centerpiece of his first year in office.
This, we know now, was vintage Christie. Other lying politicians tend to waffle, to leave themselves some escape hatch. You can almost smell it.
But Christie lies with conviction. His hands don't shake, and his eyes don't wander. I can hardly blame the union leaders who met with him for believing him.
"He seemed very sincere," says Bill Lavin, head of the firefighters union. "Why doubt someone who tells you this is sacred to them?"
Here are some more recent examples:
• In May, Christie told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that the Bridgegate scandal was basically over:
"The U.S. Attorney said in his press conference a few weeks ago there will be no further charges in the bridge matter. He said it affirmatively three or four times."
Not even close. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said the investigation continues, and that the two indicted Christie aides could wind up pleading guilty, which would yield a new trove of evidence.
"It's like the end of Downton Abbey," Fishman said. "You have to wait for a whole 'nother season."
• In March, Christie told a conservative gathering in Washington that he cut money to Planned Parenthood because he was "unapologetically" pro-life.
That was probably true. The lies came earlier, when he fended off criticism in pro-choice New Jersey by repeatedly saying the state's financial pinch forced him to cut "worthy" programs like this one.
•In June in South Carolina, Christie danced for the gun rights crowd by saying this:
"I know there's a lot of perception about my view on gun rights because I'm from New Jersey and because the laws are the way they are. But these laws were being made long before I was governor and no new ones have been made since I've been governor."
Again, not close. Christie signed one law increasing penalties for unlawful possession of guns, another to ban those on the terrorism watch list from buying guns, and a third that required the state to cooperate with the federal criminal background check system.
•In February, Christie claimed that he was a personal friend of the King of Jordan, which would allow him to accept gifts without limit, like a sumptuous weekend with his extended family in a desert resort enjoyed at the king's expense.
The friendship exemption to the gift ban was meant to allow real friends to offer things like birthday presents without getting into a legal tangle.
Christie and his clan ran up a hotel bill of $30,000. He had met the king once, at a political dinner.
It's enough to make his "friendship" with Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, seem almost intimate.
•Two weeks ago, Christie bragged to a national TV audience about his success with pension reform.
"We just won a major court decision supporting the pension reforms that we put into place in 2011," he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.
Supporting the pension reform? The court found those reforms to be unconstitutional. Christie had to know that, because it was an argument put forward by his own lawyers so that he could escape the law's provision requiring big payments into the pension fund.
These are painful moments for New Jersey reporters who cover Christie. Stephanopoulos and Kelly are facing a crowded Republican field with more than a dozen contenders. They can't be expected to know this stuff. Which is why Christie prefers to sit down with the national press. It's easier to get away with these lies. For now.
Is it fair to use the word "lies" to describe these moments? After all, an honest mistake is not a lie. And sometimes politicians make promises they intend to keep, but circumstances prevent them. So what qualifies as an actual lie?
Here is one that doesn't make the cut: Christie broke his promise to make pension payments, which some consider a lie. But I don't. The economy slowed down and he didn't have the expected revenue. Democrats were surprised as well.
But the examples in the list above, which is only a sampling, are deliberate and serve Christie's political purposes. None are course corrections based on fresh information.
Webster's defines lie this way: "To make an untrue statement with intent to deceive." That fits neatly.
And that's my warning to America. When Christie picks up the microphone, he speaks so clearly and forcefully that you assume genuine conviction is behind it.
Be careful, though. It's a kind of spell.
He is a remarkable talent with a silver tongue. But if you look closely, you can see that it is forked like a serpent's.
This editorial appeared on nj.com authored by Tom Moran.