Chris Christie’s Shaky Relationship with the Truth

New Jersey governor and floundering Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has enjoyed a fair deal of celebrity as governor for his various right-leaning policies and grandstanding throughout his governorship.

But while he has earned a reputation as some sort of skilled leader, nonetheless there appears to be something else that is an ingrained constant in Chris Christie’s political career: his disregard for the truth.

Christie’s willful distortion of reality goes back at least to his very first run for office, in which he primary challenged an incumbent Republican for Morris County freeholder. Christie ran a campaign television ad over 400 times declaring that the incumbent freeholders were under investigation by the county prosecutor. In reality, the county’s chief counsel had recommended certain freeholder board meeting minutes should not be made public, and the county prosecutor reviewed the matter. Regardless, television viewers were inundated with the false narrative and Christie went on to win, only to be forced to issue a court-ordered apology two years later.

And once he started his much-ballyhooed governorship, Christie again was apt to make statements that were not factual. While cutting funding for education, Christie blamed the teachers unions, saying that cuts to school programming could have been avoided if only teachers contributed out of pocket to their insurance costs. There was just one problem with the claim: they already were contributing. Employees in some districts even agreed to further concessions, and still were subjected to layoffs and budget cuts.

“Clearly there has been a pattern of the governor playing fast and loose with the details,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science at Montclair State University, speaking to the New York Times in 2011.

On another occasion, Christie in a press conference blamed Washington bureaucracy for New Jersey losing out on $400 million in Race to the Top funding, because the state’s proposal had a few points deducted for having provided state budget numbers for the wrong years. In reality, the state lost even more points for having failed to gain the support of the teacher’s union for its plan. For that matter, federal officials had indeed asked the state for the other budget information and the state did not have it at hand. Christie then fired his education commissioner, Bret D. Schundler, claiming he lied to the governor, although in reality the commissioner had told Christie the facts in advance of the press conference and warned him not to tell the public an incorrect version.

“Consistently, from before and after the press conference, I did not mislead the governor at all, I tried to correct an error,” said Schundler. “The bottom line is rather than say ‘I erred in my comments to the press,’ he’s firing me saying I gave him bad information. I gave him good information.”

Christie is also fond of proclaiming frequently that he has never raised taxes as governor. Which is only accurate if you don’t count cutting back tax credits as raising taxes, which he did with the Earned Income Tax Credit and two property tax credits.

And Christie on the presidential campaign trail has continued his, shall we say, creative renditions of the truth. That includes bolstering his Homeland Security credentials by seriously overstating his prosecution of terrorists in the Department of Justice, which goes much further than claiming he became a prosecutor on September 10, 2001, only to clarify that he meant he was informed of Bush’s intent to nominate him that day.

In a Republican debate, Christie claimed, “I’m the only person on this stage who’s actually filed applications under the Patriot Act, who has gone before the Foreign Intelligence Service Court.” In reality, the court is called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and it is the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence that submits applications for surveillance.

Christie also boasted on his campaign website that his office obtained an indictment for the kidnapper of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was later sentenced to death. The campaign website made a key omission: the death sentence stemmed from a trial in Pakistan.

Ironically, his presidential campaign slogan is “Telling It Like It Is.”

Of course, Governor Christie is hardly the first politician not to tell the truth. And, to make a bold prediction, I suspect he will not be the last. Perhaps in his mind he is justifying advancing falsehoods as being for some sort of greater good. But his consistent distortion of reality to improve his image and advance his political ambitions is highly troubling, and raises questions of his trustworthiness and ability to make judgments based on facts.