The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza On Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton
The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza has a big story out today on Chris Christie and his rise in Jersey politics right through to today. Lizza spends the first hour of the show with me, and you won’t want to miss the conversation about Christie –or about Hillary and the MSM’s disparate treatment of the two.
HH: The biggest political story in America today is the one by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker about Chris Christie, and the Washington correspondent for the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza, joins me now. Hello, Ryan, how are you?
RL: I’m good. It’s been a while. I miss the show.
HH: Well, I’m glad you’re back for this. This is a big story and congratulations, a lot of great reporting. I’m going to have to walk through this in a number of segments. I hope I can hold you for a few, a couple of segments here.
RL: Yeah, it’s complicated. New Jersey politics is complicated.
HH: Well first off, remind me never to cross George Norcross, and I bet Lee Laskin agrees.Would you tell people, let’s get a scorecard going of who Norcross is…
HH: …Loretta Weinberg, Wildstein, Joe D., tell them about the cast of characters here.
RL: There are a lot of characters. I mean, it’s like, so you know, Jersey politics, you know, Christie obviously is in a Democratic state, and the legislature is Democratic. And the two most important, I mean, this phrase sounds pejorative, but this is what everyone in New Jersey calls them, and this is what the call themselves, the two Democratic political bosses in the state are Joe Divencenzo, who’s a county executive in Essex County, that’s where Newark is, and it’s the most Democratic county in the state. That’s in North Jersey just west of Manhattan. And then in South Jersey, there’s a guy named George Norcross. And he’s based in Camden, you know, on the other side of the river from Philadelphia. And he sort of runs the Democrats, the Democratic Party in South Jersey. And together, those two guys are the most powerful political brokers in the state on the Democratic side. And they are the two people that if Christie wanted to get anything accomplished when he became governor, he essentially had to work with, because they control blocs of votes in both the assembly and the senate. So to understand New Jersey politics, and to understand how Chris Christie, his sort of climb in Jersey politics, you kind of have to understand that system, and that’s why I focus on, I spend a lot of the piece focusing on those two characters.
HH: Now that may be familiar to, like, my AM970 The Answer listeners in New York…
HH: And it might be familiar to my WNTP listeners in South Jersey and Philadelphia, but to the rest of the country, the idea that there are these two guys, Joe D. and George Norcross, who are both Democrats, who are, they have, they’ve entered into a deal with Chris Christie on how to run Jersey. That’s a spectacular story, and I just don’t think that’s generally well understood, do you?
RL: I don’t, and that’s why when I first started looking into okay, what’s the story, but what am I going to say about Chris Christie, what am I going to write, I realized that understanding the sort of power structure of the state and how he mastered it, because he did master it, right? He’s reelected with 60% of the vote. That’s the backstory to understanding this guy, or at least understanding his political biography. You had to understand all that. And you’ll meet the whole spectrum of opinion about this in New Jersey from, you know, there’s nothing with this, these guys are power brokers, every state has power brokers, and what’s the big deal that he worked with them, to people who say oh, you know, Joe D. and Norcross are everything that’s wrong with politics, and I can’t believe that Chris Christie has ever done anything with them. And you know, I’m sure there are merits to both of those arguments.
HH: Now Ryan Lizza, at the end of this, and probably there’s more to come, I would guess, now that you’ve got this deep, and knowing what you now know about Chris Christie, does he have a future in national politics?
RL: You know, I actually think he does, Hugh. I mean, his plan, of course, was to use that big 60% reelection and sort of enter the GOP primaries as the dominant figure. That game plan is finished, right? That’s not the way it’s going to work anymore. But, and you know the Republican primary politics better than anyone, tell me if I’m wrong about this, but I don’t really see the dominant figure out there that he needs to be so scared of that he should just sort of pack it in, right? I mean, he’s got, you know, he’s got a semi-fighting chance, I think.
HH: Well, I actually didn’t think Bridgegate was a big deal until I read this story, and that’s why I’m going to pay some attention to this today and grill you a little bit about it, because…
HH: This story is, it tells me maybe why Romney didn’t ask him to be his vice president…
HH: …in that it raises so many questions, especially, I want to go right to the quote, I’ve got a few quotes from your piece. I’m talking with Ryan Lizza, his new piece in the New Yorker is available online. Just Google Lizza and Christie and you’ll get there. George Norcross, this Democrat from down in South Jersey, says Christie, as I’ve come to know him, is somebody who if he has a head shot, he will take it.
HH: Now that is, and the context in which he delivers that meaning…
RL: Yeah, you have to have a backstory of that quote, because it’s fascinating.
HH: You know, you always give me a money quote here, Ryan, whether it’s leading from behind or if he has a head shot, he will take it. That comes in the context of Norcross not being indicted. And his defense to not being indicted is that Christie would have come for me if he had a shot.
RL: That’s right. So when Christie was U.S. attorney, remember, the reason Christie is governor is because he spent from 2002 to 2008 as U.S. attorney, and he put a lot of people in jail, and he had a big public profile in New Jersey for doing that. And one of the people he had to think about indicting was the most important Democratic political boss in the state, George Norcross. And at the time, the backstory is a little complicated here, but the case was being investigated by the state. The state then handed it over to the feds, that’s Chris Christie. Chris Christie looked at the case carefully, and he made a very dramatic announcement saying that the state had bungled the case, and that the case against, and that maybe Norcross had done something wrong, but the case was so messed up that he wasn’t going forward with the indictment. And so fast forward a few years, Christie’s now governor. Who becomes one of this most important political allies? George Norcross. Now for many years, a lot of people have said huh, well, did he let George Norcross when he was U.S. attorney because he knew he could be an ally later when he was governor? Other people say well, that’s too cute by half. He couldn’t have been thinking that far ahead. But whether that’s true or not, he did not indict Norcross, and Norcross became his most important political ally, or one of his most important political allies as governor.
HH: And here’s a revelation from your piece that I did not know. There’s a lot of Norcross on tape.
HH: And you quote that tape at one point. “’In the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines,’ George Norcross is heard on a tape saying, ‘they’re all going to be with me not because they like me, but because they have no choice.’” This is a tough guy, obviously, who’s on a lot of tape, and Chris Christie did not indict him. Do we have all those tapes?
RL: Believe it or not, all that is online. If you Google Norcross tapes, you can get it all online. It was all posted online, and that’s, basically someone went in with a wire and when they were investigating George Norcross, they recorded all sorts of interviews. And in a really unusual circumstance, those tapes actually became public, even though no indictment was ever brought forward with Norcross. And so basically what those tapes show is this tough guy, South Jersey political boss, sort of making deal and running a small political fiefdom. But you know, in his defense, there’s nothing on those tapes that showed he did anything illegal. But that quote that you picked out from the piece probably is one of the most famous quotes from the tapes, because he’s basically saying I’m so important in this state that these governors, they don’t have to like me, but they will have to deal with me. And he mentioned McGreevey and Corzine, and of course Christie was no different.
HH: And up north, there’s Joe D.
HH: And this is different. He actually endorses Christie, and he is quoted…
RL: Endorsed his reelection. I mean, this is the most, this is the single highest ranking, or most influential Democrat in the state to endorse Christie’s reelection.
HH: All right, now what’s interesting to me about this is that he talks to you. Joe D. talks to you, and he says it wasn’t about Joe D. endorsing, it was a national story about the Christiecrats, first time I’ve seen that term. Tell people about it.
RL: Yeah, in New Jersey, the Christiecrats are, it’s sort of a pejorative term that more liberal Democrats use for the Democrats who worked with Chris Christie to help him pass some of his legislation in the first term, and how, you know, people like Barbara Buono, his Democratic opponent last year, would call the sort of Christie enablers, right? So that’s who the Christiecrats are. They’re Democrats who worked with Christie, and they’re usually criticized from more liberal Democrats for helping Christie both pass his agenda and get reelected.
HH: Is it a larger umbrella term for, like, the Reagan Democrats as well? Or is it…
RL: It’s not, there’s a little crossover, because in South Jersey, you know, with Norcross’ people, it is more, it is, it’s close to what we think of as a Reagan Democrat. So that’s a split between North Jersey and South Jersey.
HH: Okay, and so does that term travel in national politics? Does Christiecrat have legs?
RL: Honestly, I don’t think so. I think this whole argument that Christies, I was going to say was going to make, I think he still will make it, I think his argument that what he did in New Jersey is, he can take to Washington. Frankly, it strikes me as not very plausible. The politics and the political structure in New Jersey is so different, that what he would find in Washington would just be a giant wall of Democratic obstruction. I mean, I think that’s just the nature of what Washington is all about right now.
HH: Of course, it reminds everyone of George W. Bush and the lieutenant governor who was a Democrat whom he worked with in Texas.
HH: Isn’t that the same deal?
RL: Absolutely. And it reminds me of a guy named Barack Obama who told, who said in 2008 that he’d had such a good working relationship with Republicans in Illinois. And when he got to Washington, he was going to pass all this bipartisan legislation. And without pointing fingers at either party, I think the general strategy of both parties with…the White house is controlled by a member of the opposite party, you just, you’re not going to see cooperation because the two parties are so polarized and disagree on just about everything.
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HH: How long have you been working on this, Ryan?
RL: You know, on and off since early January.
HH: All right, now here’s the key quote in your whole story. It comes from a top official at the Port Authority not named, told you that Chris Christie, “injected 50-60 political patronage jobs as well as strategic political people into the Port Authority, ‘with a view that he can use this entity to drive capital projects for New Jersey and satisfy campaign promises.’” Now is that illegal, in your view, Ryan Lizza?
RL: You know, there is some, let me tell you specifically what he’s talking about here, because this is a little complicated, but it gets to the root of why this Bridgegate scandal even is an issue for him. You know, the Port Authority is like a, you know, it’s got a budget the size that’s bigger than 26 states. You know, that’s where its budget would rank, around 26th. There was a big tunnel project in New York and New Jersey that the Port Authority was going to help pay for. I don’t know if you remember this, but it was the, they called it the ARC Tunnel Project.
RL: Back in 2010, Chris Christie made a big splash, and a lot of conservatives cheered him for this. He cancelled that project, because he said he couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t going to cost more than everyone said it was going to cost. A lot of conservatives, remember that was a time when the Obama stimulus program was very unpopular, right? And there were a lot of Republican governors who were taking a hard look at infrastructure projects and not going forward with them, because they thought they cost too much. When he did that, he took the money that the Port Authority was going to spend on that tunnel project, and he injected it into the state of New Jersey’s transportation trust fund. Now what did this allow him to do? It allowed him to keep a campaign promise not to raise gas taxes to fund that transportation fund. It all looked like a very deft political move. This was coming at the time when Christie was becoming a national star on the right when he was engaged in some big battles with teachers unions and public employee unions, and it was sort of the moment where he really gained a lot of traction among conservatives.
HH: No, it was his PATCO moment.
RL: …very well.
HH: Yeah, it was his PATCO moment. It was a big deal.
RL: Right. Well, the root, the sort of seeds of Bridgegate were planted after that, because what happens after that is a Democratic assemblyman who nobody really knew who this guy was, he runs a transportation committee in New Jersey, he says wait a second, I don’t like this. I’m going to investigate what’s going on at the Port Authority, and he gets the assembly to grant him the power to subpoena documents from the Port Authority. Now this is a rare thing in the New Jersey legislature. They don’t get committees that have investigative power to subpoena things. He got that. He spent two years investigating things. They never handed over anything. And then lo and behold, as September comes along and the Bridgegate, and this unusual event happens on the George Washington Bridge, he decides, along with another, along with a state senator named Loretta Weinberg, that he’s going to use that long-dormant subpoena authority to look into Bridgegate instead. And what happens? He finds the famous document.
HH: The famous emails that everyone knows about that let to the shake-up in Christieland.
RL: Yeah, but the seeds of that were all planted in 2010 when Christie made this move with Port Authority, that he would, there would not have been any subpoena authority to investigate Bridgegate if that move, if that hadn’t happened back in 2010.
HH: Now your top official who says 50-60 political patronage jobs, is he a Democrat? Is he an enemy of Christie?
RL: Let me say this about him. I don’t want to say anything else, and I don’t want to identify him in any way that I haven’t in the piece, and that was done carefully. I will say this. That fact is not a, if you Google around, if you look at the reporting on the Port Authority, that is not a controversial fact. That is essentially this person restating what’s been widely reported already.
HH: But this person does, this person does go on to indicate that there would be nefariousness in the redirection. So my question to you is Paul Fishman’s the new Chris Christie. He’s the new United States attorney.
RL: Is it illegal?
HH: Yeah, is it legal? If Paul Fishman comes to Ryan Lizza and says tell me who your source is, I’ve got to talk to him, are you going to dummy up?
RL: I honestly don’t think this is, and no, you know, I’d go to jail for my sources. But I honestly don’t think that this specific thing, Christie cancelling that project and using the money to fund the transportation fund in New Jersey, it’s a pretty well-ventilated issue in New Jersey politics.
HH: No, but I’d want to talk to this guy to find out what, to drive capital projects for New Jersey and satisfy campaign promises, that’s the guy. That’s where, if he is in fact taking money out of the Port Authority, and in fact, one of my sources asked Chris Christie people today what did you think of the Lizza piece, and they say oh, it’s just normal tension at the New York/New Jersey Port Authority. They think you’ve got New Yorkers talking to you. What do you think?
RL: Well, that’s exactly what, and remember, that was exactly what they said after the Bridgegate, right? When the scandal first broke, and Pat Foye on the New York side said, wrote his famous email that was leaked to the Wall Street Journal, and said I’m reversing this decision and I think something illegal may have happened, they dismissed that whole thing as just tension. Look, there’s no doubt about it, and we’ve all read this in the papers. The Port Authority is split down the middle. Any time a dollar is spent on the New Jersey side, the New York side thinks they have to have an equal dollar spent and vice versa.
HH: Is Fishman, to your knowledge, going hammer and tong on this thing, because you correctly identify, as I’ve said to everyone, the real danger here is not anything that’s happened. It’s anything that might happen. An investigation, as you know, like any independent counsel investigation, any criminal investigation, they can go on for years.
HH: I mean, they can literally last for years.
RL: Fishman is the danger. And you know, he’s, let’s be honest, if Chris Christie were the U.S. attorney instead of Fishman, I think this investigation would be a little bit more aggressive. Fishman has not made public corruption a priority in the same way that Christie did when he was U.S. attorney. Fishman is a very, he was not, he was obviously appointed by Obama, but he doesn’t have the reputation as being partisan or a particularly political person. And you know, but we don’t know. There’s no visibility into that investigation. Nothing has leaked out.
HH: When you were doing this, and a minute to the break and we’ll come back and talk about Tom Keane.
HH: But when you were doing this, did anyone raise the concern on the Republican side that if you’re Democrats and you’re sitting on Christie explosives, you don’t detonate them until he’s the nominee and it’s three weeks to the election, the George Bush DUI.
RL: You know, I didn’t come up against any of that, because in the state, in New Jersey, look, the Democrats in New Jersey have been so frustrated by this guy. They feel like they have thrown everything they can at him, and none of it ever stuck. Nobody ever cared about it until Bridgegate. So I don’t believe that New Jersey Democrats would have sat on anything before the reelection.
HH: And the Fishman investigation, though…
RL: And look, if Fishman is a partisan Democratic hack, maybe that’s what his office is thinking. But look, I’m not an expert on that office, but everything I’ve read, everyone I’ve talked to in New Jersey, that is not his reputation.
HH: So among the people you interviewed for this in-depth story, do they think Bridgegate is effectively over?
RL: No. No, of course not.
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HH: His big piece on Chris Christie dropped into the nation’s news cycle today, and it’s driving a lot of the narrative as Republicans read it with an eye on 2016. And to that, it was a story already that there had been a falling out between Chris Christie and Tom Keane, Sr.
HH: And you detail it. Would you tell people about how the son and the father and the estrangement? I mean, that roast that you describe, it made me uncomfortable reading about it, much less being there.
RL: It was amazing. They sat there next to each other for two hours and basically silent. They didn’t say hello, they didn’t say goodbye. I noticed only one interaction between them the entire time. It was very awkward. What happened was the day after Christie was reelected in November, he decided to enter into, he decided to push out Tom Keane, Sr.’s son, Tom Keane, Jr., who was the senator minority leader. And why did he do this? He did it partially because the Democratic senate president hates Tom Keane, Jr.
HH: And by the way, what, I don’t know, Ryan, you might not be old enough to know this. Do you know what that immediately echoed for me?
RL: Tom Keane, Sr. tried to do the same thing.
HH: No, it echoed for me Nixon calling for the resignation of all his cabinet members after the ’72 election.
RL: Well, there you go. And there’s a sense of hubris here, right, after winning such a big election. And I think the sort of byzantine Jersey political angle here is that guy Norcross we were talking to down South…
RL: He is Christie’s ally. The Democratic Senate president, who is controlled by Norcross, a guy named Steve Sweeney, he’s a Christie ally. They both hate Tom Keane, Jr., and they don’t like working with him. They go to Christie, or really, Steve Sweeney went to Christie and said let’s use this opportunity to get rid of him. And Christie, very stupidly, says all right, I’ll do it. And this gets back to Tom Keane, Jr., and he’s now got to fight for his political survival. And they have an internal caucus vote to see if they’re going to keep him as leader or not, and he beats Christie. Christie backs a guy named O’Toole, Kevin O’Toole, and Tom Keane, Jr. whips the votes, and he wins, 10-6.
HH: And what’s amazing is family.
RL: And this infuriates Tom Keane, Sr., as you might imagine.
HH: Of course. That’s what I want people to understand is that Chris Christie came into politics because of Tom Keane, Sr.’s sponsorship. I did not know that until I read your piece.
RL: Yes. He knocked on his door.
HH: And then he tried to take out his son.
HH: And I thought to myself my gosh, that is, that’s not presidential.
RL: But here’s what your listeners have to know, because you have to know the backstory to understand Tom Keane Sr.’s importance both in New Jersey politics and to Christie. When Christie was 14 years old, he saw Keane speak. He went and knocked on his door and said I want to be a politician like you, how can I do it? Keane takes him under his wing. Christie volunteers on all his campaigns. Keane’s the first person to endorse Christie when he runs for governor. He raises money for him. When he was going to be U.S. attorney, he wrote a letter to the Bush administration supporting him. This is his political mentor. And what he told me is that he is not sure that if Christie runs for president he will back him. And he’s now looking at Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Scott Walker. I mean, that’s almost like Mario Cuomo saying he’s not sure he would support Andrew Cuomo if he were to run for…
HH: Exactly. That’s why this is a huge story today. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. Now the implications of that takeaway, that Tom Keane, Sr.’s walking away from Christie could be misunderstood by the national news media as being related to Bridgegate, when in fact, it’s related to family politics.
RL: That’s right. That is exactly right. That is exactly right. If Christie had not tried to take out Keane’s son, I do not think Keane, Sr. would be criticizing Christie over Bridgegate. It’s more about this personal issue. And those are the words that Keane, Sr. used to me, because I asked him. When I first saw him, I saw him at the Christie swearing in, and I came up to him and I say hey, Governor, is the press exaggerating this split between you and Christie? You know, usually politicians always say this, yeah, the press is exaggerating. He said no. He tried to take out my son. Those were his exact words.
HH: Now how much did, did Chris Christie talk to you, Ryan Lizza?
RL: He did not. As you can tell from the story, I worked very, very hard to get an interview with him, and frankly, they strung me along for a really long time giving me some hope that he was going to sit down with me. And then as we were in the final home stretch of putting the piece together, his communications director called me and said that it just wasn’t in the cards.
HH: Why do you think they won’t talk to you?
RL: You know, I think they’ve got a pretty clear media strategy. A couple of weeks ago, they put out that report that exonerated him, and then he did the Diane Sawyer interview and the Fox News interview, and I think that that was their big, that’s what, they wanted to put it all behind them and turn the corner. And frankly, when I, I was very clear with what I was writing about. I said I’m writing about his political climb through Jersey politics, and I’m really going to get into the nuts and bolts of this structure, the power structure of the state. And I think they think that that’s not a story that they want to be involved in.
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HH: Ryan, last week, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times sat down with Hillary Clinton. And have you had a chance to read that interview, yet?
RL: I have, yeah.
HH: You know, softball after softball, right?
RL: It’s, yeah, it’s not a (laughing), it wasn’t the most hard-hitting interview. I agree with you there.
HH: Yeah, and so my question is Chris Christie gets, I mean, it’s a trip to the proctologist every time he goes near the media. Hillary goes out, sits down with the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, and even as Afghan women are voting, gets asked about, you know, what did you do at State, and she has nothing to say. Is this just the way it’s going to be for Republicans, that you know, there are Chris Christies, their dynamic people get the absolute finger/white glove treatment, and Hillary is off limits to the press?
RL: Now you are not going to convince me that Hillary Clinton, who has been in politics a really long time, has not had her fair share of critical media. I mean, you know how these things go in waves, right? She’s not really, you know, she’s not in elected office right now, and she’s not running, so she’s in this in between phase where she’s getting some pretty soft coverage. As soon as she steps into the race, the same thing that happened in 2008’s going to happen, and so the coverage will be incredibly aggressive, just as it was, think back to her earliest days in the White House. She got…
HH: Let me ask you this, Ryan. Do you think, if I gave you fifteen minutes in the Google search engine…
HH: …that you could find a piece about Hillary Clinton from the last 20 years that is anywhere near as detailed as the one you’ve written about Chris Christie?
RL: Yes, I absolutely think, you want me to take you up on that?
HH: Yeah, you can send it before show time. Any time you’ve got, you find it, because I don’t think this kind of Hillary’s rise story, this is fascinating, because it is Chris Christie’s rise. And I mean, there’s stuff…
RL: I mean, here’s the thing, all right, here’s the thing about Hillary. She is set in stone. The people that don’t like her, don’t like her. And they’re never changing their mind. The people that love her, love her. They’re not going to change their mind about her. And it’s really hard to find new information about her that changes people’s opinions.
HH: Well, they are, but that’s not the question. The question is do people…
RL: I’m not saying that’s an excuse…
HH: Do people dig? That’s what I asked. Let me ask you. What’s her accomplishment at State, Ryan Lizza? What did she get done at State?
RL: I think that’s a good question. I think that her best case is that she came into the State Department during a period when the United States’ reputation had suffered at the end of the Bush years, and she tried to revive that reputation. I think the second thing she would brag about is this sort of soft containment strategy in China, right, opening up relations with some of China’s neighbors and trying to hem China in a little bit in that area of the world, and this whole pivot that the Obama folks talk about a lot, and sort of thinking of Asia as the most important region of the world for the next 50 years. But I agree with you, this is not, we don’t have any, you know, a lot of previous secretaries of State are judged on some breakthrough diplomatically, right, some kind of peace accord or treaty that they, that happened on their watch. That didn’t happen with her. I agree.
HH: Yeah, I had Robert Kaplan on last week, his new book, Asia’s Cauldron. And that soft pivot strategy is a fiasco. It’s in utter shambles as the Chinese press both Japan and the Philippines and Taiwan. They haven’t contained China in any way, shape or form. And so if, and that’s what I’m talking about though, people would ask her those sorts of questions the way you’ve gone after Christie, or more specifically, let me ask you about this. Has anyone to your knowledge, just Ryan Lizza off the top of your head, do we know what she did on the night of Benghazi?
RL: I don’t think we know the full story of what she did on the night of Benghazi.
HH: Do we know anything about what she did on the night of Benghazi?
RL: I’m not sure, I’m not the world’s greatest expert on Benghazi, so I don’t know the answer to that, Hugh, but…
HH: I think the answer is no.
RL: I think that the issue of Benghazi has been fairly well explored at this point, don’t you think?
HH: No, actually, I don’t know what happened to her after she hung up the phone call with Greg Hicks. And what I’m saying is, I don’t expect you…
RL: You think that’s the most important question about Hillary Clinton at this point in her career?
HH: Yeah, I think she ran away from the crisis because of an instinct that was political that demonstrates that everything she has always done has been about politics, not about principle. So I do think what she did that night with Greg Hicks, with the ambassador missing, with her number two under siege, they were evacuating not just Benghazi but Tripoli, and she never called the guy back? And she used…
RL: Well look, okay, there may be questions that have not been answered about that. I won’t disagree with you there. But I will tell you this. If she runs for president, those questions will be asked. Those questions will be answered. That issue will be fully ventilated in a campaign, you know, and assuming that she’s the nominee.
HH: I don’t know about that, Ryan, because your piece is wonderful. I mean, and I’m a Republican.
RL: There are basic questions about Christie that are going to be well ventilated.
HH: Yeah, but the fact that this got done about Christie after Bridgegate, and Bridgegate was in December, and we still don’t have a piece that is a parallel piece, not from you, but from anyone about Hillary on Benghazi. Bridgegate and Bentghazi are to me parallel events in parallel figures – frontrunners for presidential nominations. Bridgegate generates this, Benghazi generates nothing.
RL: Well, I haven’t personally done a piece on Benghazi like this, but the New York Times has done quite a lot of work on it, right? I mean, it’s been an obsession of the media for a long time. And again…
HH: The David Kirkpatrick piece to which you refer exonerated her, and did not answer the questions of where she went that night, and he’s a fine reporter. It just didn’t pass the smell test. I mean, do you really think that…
RL: But Hugh, there’s just, she’s not, there’s no, she’s going to, if she runs for president, that issue is going to be fully explored, that her opponent, her Republican opponent will make sure of that, don’t you think?
HH: Well, but my question is about the media, not about that. You did this, because it’s great journalism, and it’s a great piece. No one is doing the same sort of piece about Hillary, because she’s a Democrat, and Manhattan-Beltway elite media protect her.
RL: That’s just not true. Hugh, that’s just not true.
HH: Then how come we have this great…
RL: Look at the history of Hillary journalism. Do you remember what she, the way she was covered in the 90s?
HH: I am talking about Benghazi and Bridgegate, seminal events in the two frontrunners for the presidency, Jeb bush aside, have both been, and he’s got Common Core…
RL: I wouldn’t call, I honestly wouldn’t call Christie a frontrunner anymore, would you?
HH: I still call him a frontrunner, yeah, although you may have winged him badly here. This head shot quote, that’s a keeper, and people are going to read this and the Tom Keane thing. There’s a lot here that would give people pause. And in fact…
RL: And you hit it before on the Romney thing. This is not new. If you read Game Change II, they have a very detailed report of how when Romney started to scratch the surface of New Jersey politics and Christie’s rise through New Jersey politics, he started to think do I really want to spend the fall fighting, having debates about crazy stuff that was going on in New Jersey?
HH: Okay, one more three minute segment, Ryan Lizza.
RL: You got it, no problem.
HH: Don’t go anywhere. I want one more three minute segment.
— – – – –
HH: I have not spent an hour with a political reporter on one story in five years. That’s why I attach such importance to Ryan Lizza’s piece on Chris Christie today, not just because of what it tells us about the New Jersey governor and the danger signals it may or may not give about his candidacy, but by contrast what we got into the end, the Benghazi comparison. And I just didn’t want to leave it lying there, Ryan. My argument isn’t with you. You’ve got to understand that.
RL: No, I know. Believe me, I understand.
HH: It’s just I haven’t seen anyone do basic investigative reporting about what she did and where she went in the way that they’ve done it about Chris Christie and Bridgegate. We know all about, I mean, these Baroni and who’s the crazy guy at the Port Authority?
RL: Well, Wildstein.
HH: Yeah, I mean, this is great stuff. But we don’t know anything about who was on the call with Gregory Hicks. And I find it odd, and I just want you to comment on it how that great story about the frontrunner for the presidency, she’s ahead of everyone right now, no one has bothered to report.
RL: Do you really think that no one has bothered to report on Benghazi? Is that really what you’re…
HH: No, no. I’m talking about what specifically she did that night.
RL: Well, there’s a difference between asking questions and trying to get to the bottom of something, and answering those questions. What you’re saying is that the questions that you have about what she did that night just haven’t been answered. I know a lot of reporters who would like the same answers, that have the same questions and who would like answers, and just haven’t been able to get to the bottom of that one specific part of it.
HH: Oh, I’m saying it is journalistic malpractice for Thomas Friedman to sit down with Hillary Clinton in front of an international audience and not bring up Benghazi, much less not bring up, now tell us, please, where did you go and what did you do?
RL: But what do you think she’s going to do about that? Do you think she’s going to give him anything?
HH: I would press her. I would press her in front of the stage. You know, the fact that she’ll stonewall, and maybe she has a perfectly good answer. Maybe she fell down the stairs and hit her head and nobody knows, but…
RL: Look, I mean, we have the same, any issue you explore you have the same problem. I couldn’t get to the bottom of why Bridget Kelly sent that email. Nobody can. The only person that’s going to get to the bottom of that, if anyone gets to it, is the U.S. attorney, right? There’s some things that are just beyond your, if you can’t get people to talk, you’re not going to…
HH: Ah, but it’s the level of effort that goes in. I mean, you’ve got Mr…
RL: But for you to go from that to, you know, nobody cares about Benghazi.
HH: I didn’t say that.
RL: That they’re protecting her, or that she doesn’t get tough coverage, I just think that’s…
HH: I’m talking about specifically…that was very New Jersey of you, Lizza. I didn’t say that.
HH: I said that the night of, that was very New Jersey.
RL: I learned something from watching Christie at his press conferences.
HH: (laughing) Ryan Lizza, thank you for joining me. It’s a great piece, but I think my audience may not be persuaded about…
RL: Well, I wanted to thank you. You read these pieces so carefully, and you ask the best questions, Benghazi aside.
RL: I mean that. I appreciate the way, the care with which you read that piece, and I can tell from the questions you asked.
HH: Oh, it’s a fascinating piece. Thank you, Ryan.
RL: All right, take care, Hugh.
End of interview.