How Christie's 'Bridgegate' Scandal Helps Jeb Bush Win In 2016

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on January 12, 2014

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a big winner so far in the political scandal and cover-up engulfing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Bush, shown in his official photo, can remain comfortably in the background for the 2016 presidential race, and thereby avoid the kind of scrutiny imposed on front-runners like Christie.

Christie, Bush's leading center-right rival for the Republican nomination, faces grave political wounds from a horrendous four-day traffic jam his top aides inflicted last September on Fort Lee, a commuter suburb of New York. 

Chris ChristieChristie, right, staved off political disaster by a nearly two-hour press conference Jan. 9 in which he denied involvement and fired two top political advisers. One was Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly. The other was Bill Stepien, his 2013 campaign manager who helped achieve Christie's re-election victory with 60 percent of the vote.

In rambling responses to 94 questions, Christie portrayed himself as more of a victim than a perpetrator of the scheme. "I am not a bully," said a politician famous for his blunt style.

Louis ManzoFor the foreseeable future, Christie is going to surprise most opponents with his resiliency, according to a Louis Manzo, author of the forthcoming Christie biography, Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie. [Editor's note: The book title has changed since this column first appeared.]

"I think he's going to survive," Manzo told me in a phone interview Jan. 11. Shown at left, Manzo is a former state assemblyman from Jersey City.

"He's found a patsy, this woman Kelly," Manzo continued. "Christie and his team are going to make her the scapegoat, and blame just about everything on her."

As U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christie set in a motion an indictment of Manzo and more than 40 others on corruption charges that helped win Christie his state's governorship in 2009. But Manzo prevailed over federal prosecutors, who were forced to drop their case after Manzo vehemently denied the allegations and showed other serious problems with the prosecution. Manzo has spent five years researching his book, which is scheduled for publication in June and will include this year's revelations on the bridge scandal.

Christie aides are implicated in closing two of Fort Lee's three access ramps to the George Washington Bridge, the nation's heaviest-trafficked bridge.

The national headlines from the scandal overlook three matters about Christie and Bush that I have researched in-depth for the Justice Integrity Project and for my new book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama Romney and Their Masters.

  • Christie and Bush have each hidden scandals far more serious than what is being called "Bridgegate" in Fort Lee.
  • Thus, Bush greatly benefits from keeping a weakened Christie prominent as a prospective 2016 nominee while Bush remains above the party battles -- and scrutiny.
  • Because the Bush dynastic ties overlap with Christie's power base Bush can readily overwhelm Christie and his presidential aspirations later in the 2016 race.

Update: A Washington Post poll announced in the paper's print edition for Jan. 30 showed Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Bush, and Christie as favored by 20, 18 and 13 percent of Republicans respectively for the 2016 nomination.

My next column about this will review in-depth scandal allegations against both Christie and the Bush family.

As a summary for now, Christie's problems arise from wide-ranging abuses of power in his post as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey from 2002 to 2008, and as governor beginning in 2009.  

The Bush family's vulnerabilities extend over several generations, as documented in multiple books, including mine. Jeb Bush's vulnerabilities include his scheme in 2000 to help steer the presidential election to his brother, George W. Bush, by disenfranchising tens of thousands of Democrats in ways largely ignored so far by the national media. 

Regarding the current controversy in New Jersey: Emails surfaced last week revealing that Christie's top staff wanted to retaliate against Fort Lee for reasons still-unknown by the public.

One potential reason for reprisal was that Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, refused to support Christie's re-election last fall. Another possible target was State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D). She often criticizes Christie, who suggested in 2011 (as what he later called a "joke") that the media "take a baseball bat" to the legislator, then aged 76. Another idea being floated by MSNBC commentator Steve Kornacki is that the traffic tie was to pressure Fort Lee developers of a billion-dollar real estate development near the bridge to protect their investment by seeking the support of the governor's office.

For whatever reason, Kelly wrote an email last August, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Her addressee was David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which supervises bridge and tunnel operations between the states. Wildstein and Kelly are shown below left. The email correspondence was revealed last week by The Record, a North Jersey newspaper that obtained the materials via Freedom of Information Act requests.

"Got it," replied Wildstein. The Port Authority then imposed gridlock on a 35,000-population community, which is located on bluffs overlooking the Hudson River across from Upper Manhattan.

Fort Lee officials and commuters had protested the traffic chaos beginning on the first day, but received few answers. New York authorities also undertook inquiries.

David Wildstein and Bridget KellyFor months, Christie appointees claimed that access had been closed merely for "traffic study."

That term may now achieve political comedy hall of fame status along with such favorites as President Nixon's "I am not a crook" and President Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman."

Christie added to the comedy by invoking in his State of the State address the excuse, "Mistakes were clearly made." This is a variant of the time-tested bureaucratic catch-phrase to avoid responsibility, "Mistakes were made, but not by me."

More seriously, at least four emergency vehicles were delayed in trying to reach or transport patients, one of whom died.

Wildstein, a Christie friend since high school, and Bill Baroni, another top Christie appointee to the Port Authority, resigned their jobs last month as the controversy percolated.

In a legislative oversight hearing Jan. 9, Wildstein claimed a Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refused to answer to questions.

The Justice Department has launched a probe under U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, a Democrat. But Manzo, for one, discounts the likelihood that Fishman's probe will create a serious problem for Christie.

Manzo, a Democrat during his political career but now highly critical of party leaders and prosecutors who fall short of their rhetoric, said, "People forget that in the Justice Department there are no Democrats or Republicans. They protect one another."

He said that the protection stems from abuses of power victimizing the public. For example, he argues that a high-level former law enforcer like Christie tends to have too much sensitive information and too many VIP connections to be investigated aggressively. So, he argues that a double-standard of justice exists.

Regarding 2016, Bush faces both problems and opportunities stemming from generations of Bush forbears prominent in government and business.

"Even Republicans who like Jeb a lot," a former high-ranking Republican office-holder told me, "worry about whether the public is ready for a third Bush presidency."

But Jeb Bush benefits from every passing week whereby he can polish his image without announcing a candidacy.

Most voters have short memories. Many know far more about a favorite singer or sports star than even an elected president like Obama, much less a candidate.

Those advising job-seekers for top federal posts often warn against seeking front-runner status too early. Better to work quietly on fund-raising and stature with books, speeches, civic initiatives.

Front-runners attract attacks from rivals and the media. "Lie low in the tall grass" is a great slogan for Washington, not just other jungles.

That way, an aspirant can pounce if some unfortunate accident befalls a front-runner.

That is a longstanding formula in politics that has worked many times. In a variant, President Obama's ascendancy was enabled by election-year revelation of separate sex scandals in 2004 that destroyed his primary and general election opponents in Obama's campaign for a U.S. Senate seat.   

The Case for Bush?

Some would argue that there is no way that the public would restore the Bush dynasty to power, especially after what happened to the economy, civil liberties and the military from from 2001 to 2009.

But Republicans have to pick someone -- and GOP primary voters are not  focused on long-hidden Bush history so much as restoration of Republican rule.

No Republican aside from a Bush has won the presidency since Ronald Reagan's election in 1984.

Viewed this way, political commentary over the weekend makes more sense. Karl Rove, a protégé of the Bush family for many years, refused to criticize Christie on a Fox News program. Pragmatists know they do not need to choose any time soon.

For many months and perhaps well into 2015, Christie can stretch out a defense by stonewalling. That helps Jeb Bush.

Christie may even revert to his tough persona of the schoolyard bully who jokes about having elderly opponents bashed with a baseball bat.

But at some point later in the campaign, "loyal Bushies" of real stature are likely to take Big Boy himself to a quiet corner of the schoolyard and eat his lunch.

Democrats and the media will be blamed.

Meanwhile, Jeb, Karl and the rest of the varsity squad can wrap up the GOP nomination while whistling their version of "Happy Days Are Here Again!"

 

Coming Next In Part II of this Coverage: Comparing Christie and Bush Hidden Scandals


 

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Other Justice Integrity Project Columns 

Justice Integrity Project, Christie Faces Probes, Smears Like He Inflicted On Foes, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 20, 2014. Misconduct allegations mounted over the weekend against embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie despite his attempt to blame the George Washington Bridge scandal on underlings. New Jersey's U.S. Attorney office met Jan. 19 for several hours with Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer regarding her claim against two top Christie aides. Zimmer has alleged that the aides threatened last spring to hinder federal relief for her city's Hurricane Sandy damage unless she supported Christie's picks among Wall Street investors for a Hoboken redevelopment plan.

Justice Integrity Project, How Christie’s Bridge Scandal Helps Jeb Bush Win in 2016, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 12, 2014. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a big winner so far in the political scandal and cover-up engulfing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Justice Integrity Project, Court Slaps Feds Again For Christie-Era NJ Prosecutions, Andrew Kreig, Feb. 21, 2011. In a major setback for the U.S. Justice Department and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a federal appeals court last week dismissed federal bribery and conspiracy charges against two New Jersey Democrats targeted in a trap set by Christie. Our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project has repeatedly pointed to the 46-defendant “Bid Rig III” case as one of the nation’s most scandalous political prosecutions of recent years.

OpEdNews, Christie's Corruption Case Shows Horrid Legacy of 'Loyal Bushies,' Cover-ups, Andrew Kreig, Dec. 3, 2010. The Justice Department this week resumed its massive New Jersey political corruption "Bid Rig III" case with a trial that continues the self-inflicted damage from its 2006 political purge of U.S. attorneys.

 

Related News Coverage

Christie Administration Bridge Scandal

Washington Post, For 2016, Hillary Clinton has commanding lead over Democrats, GOP race wide open, Philip Rucker and Scott Clement, Jan. 29, 2014. Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a commanding 6 to 1 lead over other Democrats heading into the 2016 presidential campaign, while the Republican field is deeply divided with no clear front-runner, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Clinton trounces her potential primary rivals with 73 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, reinforcing a narrative of inevitability around her nomination if she runs. Vice President Biden is second with 12 percent, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) is third with 8 percent. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was at or near the top of the Republican field in many public opinion surveys last year, appears to have suffered politically from the bridge-traffic scandal engulfing his administration. The new survey puts Christie in third place — with the support of 13 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents — behind Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) with 20 percent and former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 18 percent. The rest of the scattered pack includes Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), who are at 12, 11 and 10 percent, respectively.

New York Times, A Bridge To Scandal, N.R. Kleinfield, Jan. 13, 2014.

Huffington Post, Chris Christie Addresses Bridge Scandal In State Of The State: 'Mistakes Were Clearly Made,' Amanda Terkel, Jan. 14, 2014. With the "Bridgegate" scandal hanging over his administration, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) took a moment at the beginning of his State of the State address Tuesday to address the controversy. "The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better. Much better," he said. "I'm the governor and I'm ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch -- both good and bad. Now without a doubt we will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure this breach of trust does not happen again."

Washington Post, Ahead of annual speech, Christie faces fresh scrutiny over growing scandal, Robert Costa, Matea Gold and Carol D. Leonnig, Jan. 13, 2014. Democrats announce special committees to investigate. A roiling political scandal involving the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expanded into new areas Monday, ratcheting up the pressure on the embattled Republican on the eve of his annual address to state legislators. As Christie spent the day finalizing his State of the State speech, Democratic lawmakers announced the creation of special investigative committees with subpoena power to further scrutinize a scheme in which top aides to the governor worked to paralyze traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., in an apparent plot against the town’s Democratic mayor. Meanwhile, new documents released by Jersey City officials Monday suggest that the Christie administration punished the Democratic mayor of that town last summer by cutting off his access to top state officials when he declined to back the governor’s reelection bid. And in Washington, federal auditors have begun looking into Christie’s use of Hurricane Sandy recovery money to pay for an expensive tourism marketing campaign last year starring him and his family.

Truthdig via OpEdNews, Chris Hedges: The Trouble With Chris Christie, Chris Hedges, Jan. 13, 2014. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been Wall Street's anointed son for the presidency. He is backed by the most ruthless and corrupt figures in New Jersey politics, including the New Jersey multimillionaire and hard-line Democratic boss George Norcross III. Among his other supporters are many hedge fund managers and corporate executives and some of the nation's most retrograde billionaires, including the Koch brothers. The brewing scandal over the closing of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge apparently in retaliation for the Fort Lee mayor's refusal to support the governor's 2013 re-election is a window into how federal agencies and the security and surveillance apparatus would be routinely employed in a Christie presidency to punish anyone who challenged this tiny cabal's grip on power. Christie is the caricature of a Third World despot. He has a vicious temper, a propensity to bully and belittle those weaker than himself, an insatiable thirst for revenge against real or perceived enemies, and little respect for the law and, as recent events have made clear, for the truth. He is gripped by a bottomless hedonism that includes a demand for private jets, huge entourages, exclusive hotels and lavish meals.

Chris Christie as Sgt. SchultzWashington Post, Christie apologizes for scandal, fires deputy chief of staff, ousts top political aide, Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, Jan. 9, 2014. A contrite New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized Thursday for a scandal that threatens his political future, announcing that he had fired a senior aide and banished his top campaign adviser for their roles in days of traffic jams orchestrated to punish a small-city Democratic mayor. Christie at once accepted responsibility as the state’s chief executive but also insisted he had no involvement in shutting down a pair of access lanes to the heavily trafficked George Washington Bridge over four days in early September. The Republican governor said he was “blindsided” by this week’s release of e-mails and text messages detailing his office’s role in the plot to create severe gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J. Earlier report: Christie said he had fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, , one of the aides apparently responsible for the closure, and has told Bill Stepien, his 2013 campaign manager, not to apply to become state party chairman or to work with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie is taking over.

Washington Post, Christie faces speculation about his aides’ real motives in bridge scandal, Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa, Jan. 14, 2014. Whether the N.J. governor will be able to move past the scandal partly depends on findings of inquiries.

MSNBC via Huffington Post, Steve Kornacki Floats New Theory About Chris Christie's Bridge Scandal, Staff report, Jan. 12, 2014. MSNBC host Steve Kornacki floated a new theory as to why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's staff and appointees engineered the closure of two lanes leading into the George Washington Bridge last year. "It wasn't just the everyday lives of commuters and residents that were altered or in some cases jeopardized by what happened in Fort Lee," Kornacki explained. "Something else was affected and possibly jeopardized, something of enormous economic and political significance."  Kornacki explained that there is currently a billion dollar development project in Fort Lee, right next to where the lane closures occurred. The project is a keystone of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's tenure.

Fox News via Huffington Post, Brit Hume Thinks Chris Christie's Too Much Of A Man For Our 'Feminized' Culture, Jan. 13, 2014. "I would have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old fashion tough guys, run some risk.... This guy is very much an old fashioned masculine, muscular guy, and there are political risks associated with that. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s how it is."

Washington Post, Christie’s bridge scandal and the muddled search for a GOP nominee, Dan Balz, Jan. 11, 2014. The bridge scandal that has engulfed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also brought more disruption to the already-muddled early stages of the Republican Party’s search for a 2016 presidential nominee. Republicans appear headed for the most wide-open and unpredictable nomination campaign in decades. A power struggle is underway between the party’s establishment and insurgent wings — the business elite and the populist tea party factions. No one is certain what the balance of power in the party will be when the primaries and caucuses begin. After his reelection in November, Christie became the closest thing to a genuine 2016 front-runner for the Republican nomination, at least among the party establishment and elite donors. His victory margin in a blue state and his strong numbers in the Hispanic community were interpreted as evidence that he could help Republicans capture territory that has eluded them in the past two presidential campaigns. Now, he is struggling to prove that the qualities that made him so attractive to so many Republicans — blunt talk and tough leadership — have not created a climate of fear and retribution inside his administration that may have led to the bridge scandal.

Washington Post, Documents show coverup in N.J. traffic shutdown, Philip Rucker and Aaron Blake, Jan. 10, 2014. Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenants worked furiously to hide the apparent act of political retaliation, though the documents do not directly implicate the governor. Read the documents released Friday. The Fix: 5 big unanswered questions. By our count, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answered 94(!) questions over a nearly two-hour press conference Thursday focused on his administration's push to cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee as a measure of political payback. Still, there are plenty of questions that either didn't get asked or Christie couldn't (or wouldn't) answer. Here's five.

Christian Science Monitor, Chris Christie is learning who his friends are. And his enemies, Peter Grier, Jan. 9, 2014. Gov. Chris Christie's George Washington Bridge scandal is not taking a toll, so far, on his political support among establishment Republicans or even moderates. But the 2016 presidential race is just ramping up. The George Washington Bridge scandal is a big problem for Chris Christie, obviously. It’s damaging his reputation as a take-charge administrator and has made him the subject of days of pointed political jokes. If it turns out he had any foreknowledge that his aides were creating traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., by blocking bridge access lanes, his electoral career may be dry and crumbly toast. (He says he had no idea what was happening, and there’s no hard evidence indicating otherwise.)

Mother Jones, Chris Christie's Not in the Clear Yet. These Text Messages Show Why, Andy Kroll and David Corn, Jan. 10, 2014. At his Thursday press conference, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he played no part in causing a traffic jam last fall on the George Washington Bridge and in nearby Fort Lee. Yet text messages turned over to investigators by Wildstein raise the possibility that months before the disclosure this week of Kelly's bombshell email other senior Christie aides knew the traffic study excuse wasn't true. Note two names: Nicole and Charlie. The only Nicole politically close to Christie at the time was Nicole Davidman, who was the governor's campaign finance director in 2013 and the wife of Christie's press secretary. The only Charlie in Christie's inner circle was Charles McKenna, Christie's chief counsel and the aide who helped lead Christie's internal investigation of the bridge mess. Were these two Christie lieutenants happy about Baroni's testimony for the same reason as Bridget Ann Kelly?

North Jersey Com, Christie urges media to 'take the bat' to Senator Weinberg on pension issue, Elise Young, April 13, 2011. Governor Christie told reporters Wednesday to “take the bat” to 76-year-old Sen. Loretta Weinberg for collecting a taxpayer-funded pension while making $49,000 a year as a legislator.

Huffington Post, Karl Rove On Chris Christie Scandal: Let's Talk About Benghazi, IRS, Jennifer Bendery, Jan. 12, 2014. GOP strategist Karl Rove weighed in on the bridge scandal engulfing New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration by raising wholly unrelated questions about past problems with the Internal Revenue Service and the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. His unwillingness to discuss Christie's current situation bordered on comedy as he routinely brought up unrelated issues.

OpEdNews, Christie's Corruption Case Shows Horrid Legacy of 'Loyal Bushies,' Cover-ups, Andrew Kreig, Dec. 3, 2010. The Justice Department this week resumed its massive New Jersey political corruption "Bid Rig III" case with a trial that continues the self-inflicted damage from its 2006 political purge of U.S. attorneys.

Washington Post, How damaged is Chris Christie? Dan Balz, Jan. 9, 2014. Two months after winning reelection in a landslide, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has hit the low point of his political career. Two months after being touted as the nominal frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, his prospects for claiming the White House are clouded by controversy. The fall came quickly for the brash governor. His self-made reputation for blunt talk, and his seeming enthusiasm for confrontation with anyone who disagreed with him, always has been part asset and part liability. The worry for Christie today is that the scandal over a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge ordered by his own people will tip the scales decisively in the direction of liability.

Huffington Post, New Jersey Lane Closures Delayed Emergency Response To 91-Year-Ol d Woman Who Later Died: Report, Mollie Reilly, Jan. 8, 2014. Emergency response teams were reportedly delayed in traffic caused by lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September, including one vehicle responding to a 91-year-old woman in cardiac arrest who later died. The lane closures and its resulting gridlock, which created major problems for New Jersey commuters, have become a political headache for Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has maintained that he had nothing to do with the decision to close the lanes. According to a letter from EMS coordinator Paul Favia to Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich obtained by the Bergen Record, at least four emergency vehicles were stuck in traffic caused by the unannounced lane closures, doubling response time in at least two of the cases.

Rob KallOpEdNews, Christie's Apology and Firings Are Not Good Enough, Rob Kall, left, Jan. 9, 2014. Chris Christie's has fired key people and apologized. That's not good enough. It's not good enough because Christie put the people who conspired to punish political opponents into power. Christie gave them the free rein and trust to operate independently. The abuses of the citizenry happened because of the decisions and judgment made by Chris Christie. He says that the behavior and language used in the emails was not acceptable. But he created the milieu. He formed the team. He set the values and guidelines. This abuse of power fulminated out of a culture of contempt and arrogance, of nastiness and meanness that did not just pop out of nowhere. Christie says he was told it was a traffic study. We don't know if he knew or not. We don't know if he is lying. It doesn't matter. Leaders are accountable. Christie says, "I delegate enormous authority to my staff... I do not manage in that kind of micro way." This is a confession of guilt. This is an acknowledgement that his style of leadership produced this shameful behavior.

Huffington Post, Chris Christie Denies Knowledge Of Bridge Payback Scheme, Amanda Terkel, Jan. 8, 2014. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) denied any involvement in a political payback scheme carried out by some of his top aides on Wednesday, saying the whole thing was "inappropriate and unsanctioned." The emails released Wednesday showed that Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, deliberately plotted to wreak havoc on Fort Lee, N.J., once it became clear that the borough's mayor, Democrat Mark Sokolich, wasn't going to publicly back Christie in his reelection bid.

TPM Livewire, N.J. Senate Majority Leader Says Criminal Charges May Come In Bridge Scandal, Hunter Walker, Jan. 8, 2014. New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) said Wednesday she thinks criminal charges may come in the growing scandal over last September's lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Weinberg's comments came after TPM and other news outlets obtained emails and other communications that showed one of Gov. Chris Christie's (R) closest aides was involved in the discussions of the lane closures weeks before they took place. Democrats, including Weinberg, have alleged that the closures were ordered in an effort to snarl traffic in nearby Fort Lee, N.J. in retaliation for the Democratic mayor there not endorsing Christie's reelection bid. When asked if she thought criminal charges were possible based on the new revelations, Weinberg replied: "Yes."

 

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Paul Craig Roberts

OpEdNews, No Jobs For Americans, Paul Craig Roberts, left, Jan. 10, 2014.The alleged recovery took a direct hit from Friday's payroll jobs report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy created 74,000 net new jobs in December. Wholesale and retail trade accounted for 70,700 of these jobs or 95.5%. It is likely that the December wholesale and retail hires were temporary for the Christmas shopping season, which doesn't seem to have been very exuberant, especially in light of Macy's decision to close five stores and lay off 2,500 employees. A job gain of 74,000, even if it is real, is about half of what is needed to keep the unemployment rate even with population growth. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate fell from 7.0% to 6.7%. Clearly, this decline in unemployment was not caused by the reported 74,000 jobs gain. The unemployment rate fell, because Americans unable to find jobs ceased looking for employment and, thereby, ceased to be counted as unemployed.

New York Times, Blogger’s Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions, Campbell Robertson, Jan. 11, 2014. For over six years, Roger Shuler has hounded figures of the state legal and political establishment on his blog, Legal Schnauzer, a hothouse of furious but often fuzzily sourced allegations of deep corruption and wide-ranging conspiracy. Some of these allegations he has tested in court, having sued his neighbor, his neighbor’s lawyer, his former employer, the Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the Alabama State Bar and two county circuit judges, among others. Mostly, he has lost. But even those who longed for his muzzling, and there are many, did not see it coming like this: with Mr. Shuler sitting in jail indefinitely, and now on the list of imprisoned journalists worldwide kept by the Committee to Protect Journalists. There, in the company of jailed reporters in China, Iran and Egypt, is Mr. Shuler, the only person on the list in the Western Hemisphere. A former sports reporter and a former employee in a university’s publications department, Mr. Shuler, 57, was arrested in late October on a contempt charge in connection with a defamation lawsuit filed by the son of a former governor. The circumstances surrounding that arrest, including a judge’s order that many legal experts described as unconstitutional and behavior by Mr. Shuler that some of the same experts described as self-defeating posturing, have made for an exceptionally messy test of constitutional law.

Eric CantorWashington Post, Eric Cantor and Bill de Blasio exchange fire over schools, Lyndsey Layton, Jan. 8, 2014. Calling school choice the best route out of poverty, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, right, took aim at New York City’s new mayor on Wednesday for his cooler stance toward public charter schools and warned that Republicans may hold congressional hearings on the education policies of Democrat Bill de Blasio’s administration.

Washington Post, How Bob Gates’s memoir could haunt Hillary in 2016, Chris Cillizza, Jan. 7, 2014. Bob Gates might just have handed Republicans (and maybe even a Democrat or two) an issue in their potential fight to keep Hillary Rodham Clinton from the presidency in 2016.

Washington Post, New Ailes biography claims Fox News chief orchestrated anti-Obama video, Paul Farhi, Jan. 13, 2014. Childhood abuse and a feud with Google over an unflattering blog are among other revelations in the book.

Washington Post, Gates clarifies: Obama didn’t say his opposition to surge was political, Aaron Blake, Jan. 13, 2014. Former defense secretary Robert Gates on Monday clarified comments made in his book, saying he didn't mean to contend that President Obama opposed the troop surge in Iraq for political purposes. "What I say in the book was that the president conceded a lot of opposition to the surge had been political," Gates said on NBC's "Today Show." "He never said that his opposition had been political. And, in fact, his opposition was consistent with his opposition to the war all along."

NOLA.com / New Orleans Times-Picayune, Federal judge's law clerk denies charges of attempted rape, solicitation of a young child, Juliet Linderman, Jan. 10, 2014. A New Orleans-based federal judge's law clerk pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he used the Internet to solicit sex with a 10-year-old boy. It wasn't actually a 10-year-old boy with whom Thomas Jackson, 32, made an online date for sex; it was an FBI agent, waiting with a New Orleans police officer and a pair of handcuffs, authorities said.

Weather Channel, America Burning: The Yarnell Hill Tragedy, Jan. 4, 2014. "I Told Them Daddy Had an Accident' On June 30, 2013, 19 firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed battling a wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona.  Huge questions remain about the last moments of their lives. Why did they move out of a safe area in their final minutes of life? Why did the fire move so quickly? Could their deaths have been prevented? The tragedy also raises a crucial environmental issue: Has the very act of fighting wildfires made our forests more dangerous? Weather.com investigates in this original documentary.