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Christie says he didn’t ‘inspire’ bridge lane closures

BY Terence Burlij, Domenico Montanaro and Simone Pathe  March 28, 2014 at 8:56 AM EDT
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie responds to a question from a shore resident during a Town Hall meeting in Belmar, NJ, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Photo by Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg News

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie responds to a question from a shore resident during a Town Hall meeting in Belmar, NJ, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Photo by Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg News

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Christie “Bridgegate” report
  • Mike Rogers to retire
  • Health care enrollments hit 6 million
  • House, Senate approve Ukraine aid bills
  • More Clinton documents set for release

If you want something done right, do it yourself: A law firm hired by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration released a report Thursday that found no involvement on the part of the New Jersey Republican in last September’s lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. As part of the public relations push to get beyond the scandal, Christie also sat down with Diane Sawyer of ABC News for an interview Thursday, calling the episode the “toughest time” in his professional life and saying he “felt taken advantage of.” And Christie holds a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. ET in Trenton.

Christie told Sawyer he “did nothing to create the environment” that spurred his former aides to orchestrate the lane closures. “This is not something that I think I inspired, and to the extent that any of them thought that this was acceptable conduct, then I fell short,” Christie said. The governor added that he didn’t have “any recollection” of former Port Authority official David Wildstein telling him about the shutdown of lanes during a 9/11 memorial service. “I’ll tell you what he didn’t say. He didn’t say, ‘Hey, by the way governor, I’m closing down some lanes of the George Washington Bridge to stick it to the mayor. Is that OK?’ That I’d remember.”

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Christie must also combat charges that the report released Thursday was truly impartial, which is a tough sell. The New York Times editorial board derided the review as a “glossy political absolution” and an “expensive whitewash” that cost New Jersey taxpayers $1 million in legal fees. Democratic National Committee communications director Mo Elleithee said the report was “nothing more than an expensive sham.” But that’s why Christie’s going public with the big interview and press conference. Answer any and all questions and stop the criticism that this was somehow a biased report. Do note: There are still two other investigations into the bridge matter ongoing; one by the New Jersey Legislature and another by federal prosecutors.

Mike Rogers to retire: Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will not seek reelction and will instead try a career as a radio talk show host. “They may have lost my vote in Congress, but you haven’t lost my voice,” Rogers told a local radio host Friday morning. First elected in 2000, the former FBI agent has been one of Congress’ strongest voices on national security issues. In a release, he said his new gig would allow him to “continue serving as a voice for American exceptionalism.” A sometimes-harsh Sunday show critic of Mr. Obama’s, Rogers and the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee recently introduced an NSA reform bill that challenges the administration’s proposed reforms of bulk data collection by allowing the government to get court permission after accessing the data. He’s been one of the staunchest defenders of the NSA at a time when more voices in Washington are leaning toward curtailing government surveillance. Rogers is the 22nd member of Congress to announce retirement this cycle. Mitt Romney carried Rogers’ district by just three points in 2012, and Obama (before redistricting) won it in 2008.

Health care sign-ups hit 6 million: The administration announced that health-care sign ups hit six million. That’s pretty good after the bumpy start and poor rollout of the website. It’s not the seven million the Congressional Budget Office (or HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius) predicted originally, but the more important policy point is that they are still under the ratio needed with young people, who are crucial to offsetting costs. The White House, by the way, was saying in its briefings with reporters months ago that it would be three to nine million, not seven, but when Sebelius put it out there, it stuck. Plus, remember, there are an estimated 45 million-plus without health insurance.

Congress passes Ukraine aid, but process doesn’t bode well for much else: The House and Senate (finally) passed Ukraine aid bills. They are very close and should be wrapped up and merged soon. The Senate also advanced a five-month jobless benefits extension, 65-34, and is expected to win final approval soon. That’s three months after benefits expired. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., now puts the number of those who lost benefits to 2.4 million. But then it’s a familiar story, as it will hit a roadblock in the House. Think about this on Ukraine aid in particular: It took Congress a month to get something as easy as this done. That does not bode well for them doing anything on any big domestic issues before the midterm elections.

More Clinton documents set for release: Friday will bring the latest wave of documents from former President Bill Clinton’s time in the White House, with the 2,500 pages expected to include “include records from Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman and domestic policy adviser Ira Magaziner and documents from Clinton’s farewell address to the nation,” reports Ken Thomas of the Associated Press. So far these Clinton document dumps have not been much beyond stuff for the script writers of House of Cards. Of the approximately 8,000 pages released so far, most of the intrigue has surrounded the failed attempt to pass a national health care overhaul and the efforts by the administration to soften the public image of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. With the former Obama administration Secretary of State now considering a possible 2016 presidential bid, the documents released Friday will be closely watched on both sides for anything that might offer fresh insights into her past.

LINE ITEMS

  • After deriding Sen. Chuck Grassley as a “farmer,” not a lawyer, Rep. Bruce Braley is running into more trouble with Iowa farmers in his bid to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin. The Des Moines Register reports that a campaign press release misspelled several farming terms, and BuzzFeed discovered that an image of a farm on Braley’s Facebook page is actually stock footage of a farm in England.
  • The Washington Post’s Robert Costa highlights Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul’s efforts to build a nationwide network ahead of a potential 2016 presidential bid.
  • As part of his week-long overseas trip the president will stop Friday in Saudi Arabia, where he will look to smooth relations with a key ally in the Middle East.
  • The United Nations General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution Thursday calling the Crimean referendum to secede from Ukraine invalid.
  • Politico Magazine profiles Friends of Democracy, Jonathan Soros’ Super PAC that bankrolls candidates who support clean elections.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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