Is Roger Ailes Advising Chris Christie Again?

Right now, Fox News is Chris Christie's best friend.

As New Jersey's Republican governor struggles to regain his political footing in the wake of the George Washington Bridge dirty tricks scandal, Fox News has been one of the few places to mount any kind of sustained defense on his behalf. That defense has alternately come in the form of downplaying the scandal at first, invoking Benghazi as often as possible, blaming a "feminized atmosphere" for the governor's troubles, and championing Christie's alleged brand of "leadership" in response to the scandal.

The strategy might be scattershot but at least Fox is coming to Christie's side at a time when many conservative voices are not.

Which leads to the question: is Fox chairman Roger Ailes once again advising Christie? It's worth asking given that Fox is now acting as Christie's de facto War Room, stressing the governor's talking points and doing its best to deflect attention away from the growing questions about why so many of his senior aides knew about the four-day scheme to choke off Fort Lee, N.J. with nightmarish traffic, yet Christie, he says, remained clueless.

And if Ailes is pitching in, it wouldn't be the first time he sat down with Christie in the role of an informal political advisor.

Ailes has a long history of back-channel communications with prominent Republican politicians, including a sitting president. As New York magazine write Gabriel Sherman details in his new tell-all Ailes biography, the Fox boss sees himself as the head of the Republican Party and wants very much to oversee GOP strategy and campaigns. During a meeting before the 2010 midterm elections, Ailes reportedly told executives he wanted “to elect the next president.”

When the 2012 primary season got underway, “Republican presidential candidates--current, former and would-be--have been flocking to Fox News' offices to seek the advice of the network's chief executive,” reported Yahoo News. And in 2011, Ailes dispatched on-air contributor K.T. McFarland to urge General David Petraeus to run for president with the idea that Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch might even help bankroll his campaign. (McFarland was reportedly also under orders to find out from Petraeus if there was anything he thought Fox News was doing “wrong.”)

So yes, it's plausible that Ailes has reached out to Christie and inserted himself into the story. Still, it's a strange preoccupation for someone who runs a “news” organization.

In 2011, Sherman reported that Ailes had fallen hard for Christie. “A few months ago, Ailes called Chris Christie and encouraged him to jump into the race. Last summer, he'd invited Christie to dinner at his upstate compound along with Rush Limbaugh,” Sherman wrote in New York. Ailes lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to run for president in 2012.

The revelation of a cable news chairman actively recruiting presidential candidates prompted John Cook at Gawker to request from the governor's office, via New Jersey's Open Records Act, any correspondences Christie had with Ailes, as well as any records of meetings and phones calls with Ailes included in the governor's schedule or call logs.

Christie's office responded by telling Cook any communications with Ailes wouldn't be turned over because he'd fall under the category of confidential advisors, and under New Jersey law the governor doesn't have to publicly disclose his dealings with confidential advisors.

As Cook wrote at the time:

New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled that the state's executive privilege extends to "communications pertaining to the executive function," a judgment based on the U.S. Supreme Court's recognition of the "president's need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers."

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey then took up the Gawker case and pressed for additional information. Christie's office confirmed a September meeting between Christie and Ailes, his confidential advisor.

While Sherman reports that Ailes was upset with Christie for the governor's embrace of President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, based on Fox's recent behavior, any lingering anger seems to have cooled off.

“The public has a right to know whether the head of America's most-watched cable news channel is advising a sitting governor on state matters,” Cook wrote at the time. That same rule applies today, as Fox News mounts a Christie defense during the governor's time of political peril.