Bureaucrat Whispering And The Christie Bridge Scandal

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Gregory and GiulianiThis past weekend on Meet the Press, David Gregory offered up a tough question for Rudy Giuliani after the former New York City mayor tried to deflect attention from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's bridge scandal by pointing to the now-deflated allegations that the IRS had mishandled the non-profit applications of conservative groups. "I think it's fair to point out that for those who have raised that issue, what they said is the culture was created by President Obama for this kind of abuse to have occurred," said Gregory of the IRS story. "That link has never been proven or established. But if that's your standard, then isn't Governor Christie accountable for creating a culture where this kind of abuse could've occurred and been ordered by top lieutenants?"

As Gregory noted, conservatives spent months claiming that while no evidence links President Obama or the White House to improper IRS actions, the president was nonetheless culpable because the agency's bureaucrats agents were subconsciously responding to Obama's anti-Tea Party rhetoric by going after his political enemies. This "Bureaucrat Whispering" theory never made much sense, and was largely rendered moot after the IRS "scandal" largely fell apart.

As Gregory points out, intellectual honesty should lead the proponents of the IRS Bureaucrat Whispering theory to grapple with the possibility that Christie, whose pattern of bullying and abuse of power is well-known, created a culture in which his top aides and appointees felt comfortable creating a four-day traffic jam as a means of political retribution. But that hasn't happened.

In reality, responses to the Christie scandal from the advocates of the Bureaucrat Whispering theory include Fox News contributor Erick Erickson minimizing the bridge story as "routine hardball politics" and claiming that the "only difference is that Christie's staff put it in emails, which was not smart." Meanwhile, Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin has pretended Christie's bullying reputation is an invention of the media.

And then there's Kimberley Strassel.

The Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member wrote at least three separate columns last year explaining how the White House was "involved in the IRS's targeting of conservatives" because President Obama's Tea Party criticisms created an "environment in which the IRS thought this was acceptable." According to Strassel:

President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an "independent" agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.

But that's not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn't need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he'd like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.

After spending thousands of words discussing how President Obama's speeches trickled-down to IRS bureaucrats and impelled their actions, here's Strassel's sole mention at the Journal of Christie's aides ordering political retribution, from her January 16 column: "And now back to our previously scheduled outrage over the Chris Christie administration's abuse of traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge."

The comment came, of course, in the middle of a piece otherwise dedicated to trumping up a new IRS scandal.

Strassel addressed the Christie story in greater detail on the Journal's weekly Fox News program. But when Journal editorial editor Paul Gigot asked her on January 12 whether the story demonstrates "a culture of payback," in Christie's administration, she blamed the inherent corrupt political environment of the state, not the state's governor.

GIGOT: But, Kim, are there any lessons here we can take away about Gov. Christie's management style? Is there really possibly a culture of payback, a thin-skinned attitude on his staff? "You cross us, we're going to go after you"? And is that a message you want to take to a campaign in 2016?

STRASSEL: Look, New Jersey is a rough place to play politics. One of the things we haven't mentioned here is: Does it really surprise anybody that this happened in New Jersey? And, yes, there probably are members of his staff that come out of that New Jersey political environment and do have that approach. I think what voters, however, are going to look at is his argument that he is a straight shooter and he handles problems when they come up. And that's what he tried to do this week. And that's the message he'll take when he goes out.

Strassel isn't the only conservative running from the Bureaucrat Whispering charge now that it risks damaging one of their own. "That's a very, very ambiguous and amorphous charge that the culture created it. My goodness, you know, things go wrong in every administration," Giuliani explained on Meet The Press. "People would do things. They thought I wanted it. I didn't. I had to straighten it out. I'd have to say, 'I don't want it.'"

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