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Networks Hype 'Bombshell:' Christie 'Thrown Under Bus'; Spotlight Call for Resignation

The Big Three networks' evening newscasts on Friday jumped on the latest development in the traffic scandal surrounding Chris Christie. NBC and CBS both led with the accusation from the former Christie appointee, who claims that the New Jersey governor knew more about the lane closures than he previously asserted. CBS's Scott Pelley trumpeted how "Chris Christie just got thrown under the bus in that traffic jam scandal that has jeopardized his presidential ambitions."

Brian Williams hyped the "explosive new allegations," and that "this scandal has again engulfed Chris Christie – embarrassingly on the eve of the Super Bowl, the first ever held in New Jersey." On World News, ABC's Diane Sawyer played up the "bombshell of a new accusation," and correspondent Jim Avila spotlighted that New Jersey's "largest newspaper has published this: 'Christie is now damaged goods. If... [the] disclosures are as powerful as he claims, the Governor must go.'" [MP3 audio available here; video below]

Williams led the NBC Nightly News broadcast by wondering, "What did he know? Explosive new allegations about Chris Christie. Tonight, the man at the center of the bridge shutdown scandal says the governor isn't telling the whole truth. He says there's evidence to prove it." Moments later, the anchor continued with more hype:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Despite the governor's repeated denial tonight, this scandal has again engulfed Chris Christie – embarrassingly on the eve of the Super Bowl, the first ever held in New Jersey. Tonight, the state's leading newspaper is saying if this is true, the governor must resign, and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said tonight, Chris Christie needs to hire a criminal lawyer if he hasn't already.

NBC correspondent Katy Tur led her report by underlining that "it is important to note we don't know what the evidence is, the letter didn't specify. Also important to note: his lawyer is trying to get his legal fees paid for." However, she continued that "if this is substantiated, you have to wonder: how can Chris Christie survive this?"

Tur then outlined the accusations from former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, which were released through his lawyer. She included a soundbite from fellow NBC journalist Michael Isikoff, who contended that "this is a hugely significant development in the investigation. It's a direct challenge to the credibility of Governor Christie." He added a caveat: "But until we see the evidence that David Wildstein is talking about, it's very hard to know how to evaluate."

The NBC evening newscast followed Tur's report with a second Christie segment from correspondent Kelly O'Donnell, who reported on the response to Wildstein's allegations from the New Jersey's governor's administration. O'Donnell noted that "the timing is also interesting, because these new allegations come just as Christie is arguably getting some more favorable media attention as his state hosts the Super Bowl, and before Monday's deadline, when the responses to those subpoenas are due."

Pelley introduced correspondent Elaine Quijano's report with his "thrown under the bus" line. After Quijano gave a rundown of the scandal so far and the latest development, the CBS anchor pointed out "[it's] important for us to underline that the letter says that there is evidence, but it offers no evidence of Chris Christie's involvement."

ABC's World News didn't lead with the Christie story, but waited until eight minutes in. Sawyer led with her "bombshell" label, and turned to Avila, who first noted that "in the beginning, Governor Christie cynically mocked the notion that his office was behind the traffic mess that paralyzed Fort Lee, New Jersey for a week in September." He continued that "after a smoking gun e-mail from his deputy chief of staff – 'time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee' – he held a two-hour news conference, emphatically denying that he knew anything about what happened on the busiest bridge in America, until the traffic was long gone."

The ABC correspondent mentioned the Star-Ledger's analysis of Wildstein's allegation near the end of the segment: "Now, Wildstein says he can prove the governor was inaccurate at that press conference. And already, the state's largest newspaper has published this: 'Christie is now damaged goods. If Wildstein's disclosures are as powerful as he claims, the Governor must go.'"

A January 10, 2014 study from the Media Research Center found that in the first two days of the Christie bridge scandal, ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted 88 minutes to the story, compared to a mere two minutes for the last six months of President Obama's IRS controversy.

The transcripts of the Christie reports from ABC's World News; CBS Evening News; and NBC Nightly News on Friday:

01/31/2014
07:00 pm EST
NBC Nightly News

BRIAN WILLIAMS (teaser): What did he know? Explosive new allegations about Chris Christie. Tonight, the man at the center of the bridge shutdown scandal says the governor isn't telling the whole truth. He says there's evidence to prove it.


07:01 pm EST

BRIAN WILLIAMS: A former appointee of governor Chris Christie of New Jersey says he has evidence the governor knew of the forced slowdown on the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and New York while it was going on, and that he is prepared to prove it. Despite the governor's repeated denial tonight, this scandal has again engulfed Chris Christie – embarrassingly on the eve of the Super Bowl, the first ever held in New Jersey. Tonight, the state's leading newspaper is saying if this is true, the governor must resign, and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said tonight, Chris Christie needs to hire a criminal lawyer if he hasn't already.

NBC's Katy Tur starts us off tonight in the shadow of the G.W. Bridge, which has been lit up for the big game just 11 miles away. Katy, good evening.

KATY TUR: Good evening, Brian. That appointee is David Wildstein. It is important to note we don't know what the evidence is, the letter didn't specify. Also important to note: his lawyer is trying to get his legal fees paid for. But if this is substantiated, you have to wonder: how can Chris Christie survive this?

DAVID WILDSTEIN: David Wildstein.

TUR (voice over): Late this afternoon, a lawyer for David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official embroiled in the George Washington bridge lane closure scandal, released a letter disputing Chris Christie's claim that he didn't know anything about it.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY (from press conference): Let me tell you, everybody, I was blindsided yesterday morning.

TUR: In the letter, Wildstein's lawyer argues the governor not only knew about the closures, but described them as, quote, 'the Christie administration's order,' writing, 'evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed,' contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: This is a hugely significant development in the investigation. It's a direct challenge to the credibility of Governor Christie. But until we see the evidence that David Wildstein is talking about, it's very hard to know how to evaluate.

TUR: On January 9th in that press conference, Christie adamantly denied knowing about, not to mention okaying, what he called a political vendetta.

CHRISTIE: I am humiliated by the fact that I did not know this, and that I was deceived. And that's an awful way to feel.

TUR: Wildstein, who was appointed by Christie, had already resigned from the Port Authority when he appeared at a hearing in front of the New Jersey state assembly, but wouldn't answer any questions.

WILDSTEIN: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully assert my right to remain silent.

TUR: What did the governor know and when did he know it have been the key questions since documents were released showing Christie's now former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent a e-mail to Wildstein saying, 'Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.' Wildstein replied, 'Got it.'

New Jersey lawmakers conducting their own investigation issued 20 subpoenas seeking documents from Christie's current and former top aides and his re-election campaign. Responses to those subpoenas are due next week. Assemblyman John Wisniewski is leading the investigation.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI, (D), NEW JERSEY GENERAL ASSEMBLY: I don't know what documents he is referring to. We had subpoenaed documents from him. I'm a little frustrated as committee chair that we had asked for documents from him through a valid subpoena. He provided us over 900 pages. And apparently the documents he's referring to were not part of that response.

TUR (on-camera): And the voices are only going to get louder after this. Forget presidential hopes, Brian – many are now saying that if this is proved, he should resign or be impeached.


07:04 pm EST

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And as we said, the governor has responded to this charge late today in the form of a statement.

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell has been covering the governor and this story since it's broke. She is in our Washington news room tonight. Hey, Kelly – good evening.

KELLY O'DONNELL: Good evening, Brian. So, after all of this erupted, the governor's administration – not Chris Christie personally, but his office – reacted to these new allegations, and again denied that the governor knew anything about a political, deliberate operation that might have been behind the bridge traffic jam – knowing about the traffic is different than knowing there was an operation to bring it about. So the statement reads in part. 'Mr. Wildstein's lawyer confirms that what the governor has said all along – he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened, and whatever Mr. Wildstein's motivations were for closing them to begin with.'

Now the statement goes on to say that Christie had 'no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8. The governor denies Mr. Wildstein's lawyer's other assertions.' So Christie's office is raising the spectre of the former Port Authority official's motivations – for example, looking for criminal immunity. And the lawyer's letter explicitly asks that Wildstein's legal fees be paid for by his former employer, the Port Authority, and not out of his own pocket.

The timing is also interesting, because these new allegations come just as Christie is arguably getting some more favorable media attention as his state hosts the Super Bowl, and before Monday's deadline, when the responses to those subpoenas are due.


01/31/2014
06:30 pm EST
CBS Evening News

SCOTT PELLEY (teaser): Tonight, the Christie scandal.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY (from press conference): I knew nothing about this.

PELLEY: A former ally turns accuser, and says the governor is not telling the truth. Elaine Quijano is on the breaking story.


06:31 pm EST

SCOTT PELLEY: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie just got thrown under the bus in that traffic jam scandal that has jeopardized his presidential ambitions. Today, the former bridge authority official, accused of helping to engineer the traffic jam, said the governor knows more about it than he is telling. The huge traffic tie-up in Fort Lee, New Jersey was created by closing lanes leading to a bridge that links New Jersey to New York City. It was allegedly political revenge cooked up by Christie's allies. The target: Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, who had declined to endorse Republican Christie for re-election.

Here's Elaine Quijano.

ELAINE QUIJANO (voice-over): Governor Chris Christie has always denied that he knew about the lane closures leading to the George Washington Bridge that snarled traffic for four days in Fort Lee last September – either before or while they were occurring.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY (from press conference): I don't know what else to say, except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this – of the planning, the execution, or anything about it – and that I first found out about it after it was over. And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study.

QUIJANO: In a letter today, the lawyer for the man who helped carry out the lane closings disputes that, writing, 'A person within the Christie administration communicated the Christie administration's order that certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed, and evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures.'

David Wildstein is the former Port Authority executive who set the closings in motion, after he received an e-mail from Christie's former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. She wrote an e-mail saying, 'Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.' The lane closures were apparent political payback against the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing the governor's re-election campaign. Wildstein replied, 'Got it.' The letter went on to say, 'Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.'

QUIJANO (on-camera): Late today, the Christie administration released a statement, saying, 'Mr. Wildstein's lawyer confirms what the governor has said all along – he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened, and whatever Mr. Wildstein's motivations were for closing them to begin with.' Scott, the statement went on to say, 'The governor denies the lawyer's other assertions.'

PELLEY: And, Elaine, important for us to underline that the letter says that there is evidence, but it offers no evidence of Chris Christie's involvement. Elaine Quijano at the George Washington Bridge tonight – thank you, Elaine.


01/31/2014
06:38 pm EST
ABC – World News

DIANE SAWYER: And next here tonight, a bombshell of a new accusation on Governor Chris Christie and that traffic scandal. The former official who engineered the closing of the lanes, saying tonight the New Jersey governor knew more than he has said, and there is evidence.

The very latest now from ABC's senior national correspondent Jim Avila.

JIM AVILA (voice-over): In this letter obtained by ABC News late today from the lawyer of Chris Christie's appointee to the Port Authority who ordered the actual lane closure, David Wildstein, a claim that the governor lied. Wildstein refused to testify before the New Jersey legislature this month, but through his attorney writes today, 'Evidence exists trying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed' – something that the governor has repeatedly denied.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY (from press conference): I had knowledge of this, of the planning, the execution, or anything about it. And then I first found out about it after it was over.

AVILA (voice-over): In the beginning, Governor Christie cynically mocked the notion that his office was behind the traffic mess that paralyzed Fort Lee, New Jersey for a week in September.

CHRISTIE: I worked the cones actually. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there.

AVILA: Then, after a smoking gun e-mail from his deputy chief of staff – 'time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee' – he held a two-hour news conference, emphatically denying that he knew anything about what happened on the busiest bridge in America, until the traffic was long gone.

CHRISTIE: I'm telling you, I had nothing to do with this.

AVILA: Now, Wildstein says he can prove the governor was inaccurate at that press conference. And already, the state's largest newspaper has published this: 'Christie is now damaged goods. If Wildstein's disclosures are as powerful as he claims, the Governor must go.'

AVILA (on-camera): Late today, a denial from Governor Christie's press office saying he is sticking to his story, he knew nothing about the lane closures before or during the traffic mess, and only found out from press reports which began after the George Washington Bridge mess had ended. Diane?

SAWYER: Jim Avila on the fast-moving story today. Thank you, Jim.

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.