TIME 2016 Election

New Jersey Lawmakers Widen Probe of Christie Bridge Scandal

Chris Christie Sworn In For Second Term As Governor Of New Jersey
Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images

The panel looking into the punitive lane closures on the world's busiest bridge has issued subpoenas to 18 additional people in the New Jersey government to determine when exactly the governor learned of the plaguing traffic problems

New Jersey lawmakers investigating last year’s lane closures on the busiest bridge in the world issued new subpoenas on Monday, as the probes buffeting Gov. Chris Christie continued to delve deeper into his administration.

The Democratic-led legislative panel handed out 18 new or amended subpoenas, the Record newspaper reports. Recipients included the governor’s deputy who handles constituent complaints and the State Police Aviation Unit, which flies the governor’s helicopter. Citing an unnamed source familiar with the investigation, the Record reports that lawmakers are investigating are interested in whether Christie flew over the bridge while the lanes were closed and traffic gridlocked the north Jersey town of Fort Lee, and if so, who was with him.

Christie has maintained that he did not know about the lane closures until they were reported by the news media, and that he had no knowledge members of his administration apparently directed the lane closures as political payback after the Fort Lee mayor didn’t back his reelection campaign. Christie, a leading 2016 Republican presidential candidate, won a second term in a landslide victory last year, but his White House hopes have been threatened ever since the scandal broke open earlier this year. Christie fired a top aide and apologized. Both state lawmakers and federal authorities are investigating the matter.

While new subpoenas are going out, some state employees who already received subpoenas have asked the state to help pay their legal bills. The state attorney general’s office confirmed to the Record that several current and former state employees have asked for for assistance paying legal fees but did not say how many or when a decision will be made.

[The Record]

TIME Chris Christie

Christie on Bridge Closure: “I Had Nothing to Do With This”

Chris Christie Sworn In For Second Term As Governor Of New Jersey
Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took to the radio Monday, again denying he had any knowledge of the George Washington Bridge lane closures that snarled traffic in Fort Lee, whose mayor declined to support Christie's re-election

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reasserted Monday that he had no advance knowledge of efforts to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge for political reasons, following allegations by a former political appointee that “evidence exists” that he was aware of the lane closures while they were in effect.

“I had nothing to do with this: No knowledge. No authorization. No planning.” Christie said on a local radio call-in show, as questions swirled about what he did know about the closure of lanes to the busiest bridge in the nation and when he knew about it. The controversy has been a black-eye for the likely 2016 Republican presidential hopeful and could derail his national ambitions entirely.

The former appointee, David Wildstein, resigned from the Port Authority last month, and Christie dismissed two top political aides after emails were released last month showing they were involved in the effort to close the bridge lanes.

“[E]vidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed,” an attorney for David Wildstein wrote in a letter Friday to the Port Authority.

In the interview, Christie said he was only aware of the lane closings once he read a media report on Oct. 1, 2013 in the Wall Street Journal quoting from an email sent by Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye ordering the lanes open on Sep. 13. “That’s when I asked my Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel — I said to them hey, would you look into this and see what’s going on here,” he said.

But in December, Christie said on the same program that he heard about the lane closures in September, before the Foye email was published. “Well, I first heard about the lane closure back in September, you know, from press accounts, but, you know, this has kind of been an evolving thing,” he said then. “There was no, like, moment where I went oh, wow, look at this.”

On Monday night’s radio show, Christie also provided little clarity on whether he knew of traffic on the bridge contemporaneously. “Things could have been mentioned to me about traffic,” he said. Minutes later, when asked why he didn’t order aides to investigate the traffic sooner, Christie replied, “I didn’t know about traffic.”

Christie sought to diffuse those questions, saying the “most important” point was that he didn’t know about or authorize the apparent politically motivated closure in advance. “Nobody has said that I knew anything about this before it happened,” he said, “and I think that’s the most important question.”

Nearly a month after the scandal flared, Christie said he has not yet fully cleared his remaining gubernatorial staff and noted that an outside investigation is ongoing.

“There is nothing that has been brought to light so far that would make me believe that anyone is [still lying],” Christie said, adding he wouldn’t make guarantees about his aides until the probe is complete. He said if he finds out that anyone on his current staff was involved, “they will be fired.”

The governor confirmed that his office has received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s office, and said he will comply with their request for documents. Bridget Kelly, one of the fired aides, invoked the Fifth Amendment Monday and declined to comply with a legislative subpoena for documents relating to the lane closures.

TIME Republican Party

GOP Leaders Rally Around Chris Christie

Paul Ryan, Rudy Giuliani and Bobby Jindal lend support to New Jersey governor

Republican leaders came out on Sunday morning talk shows in support of their embattled colleague Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has faced harsh scrutiny since his administration was implicated last month in a scheme to create traffic gridlock as political retribution against a local mayor.

GOP allies including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal all showed solidarity with Christie, saying that before all the facts are known for certain about Christie’s involvement in the scandal, it’s too early to pull the plug on the aspiring 2016 presidential candidate.

“I consider Chris Christie a friend. I think he’s been a fantastic governor,” Ryan said in an interview on ABC’s This Week Sunday. “Right now, all we know is one person’s word against another. You can’t base any conclusion on such a thing… And so unless something else is known or made clear, I don’t see why you would change what’s going on right now. I don’t think he should step down because nothing has been proven, and you always give a person the benefit of the doubt in those kind of situations, in my judgment.”

Federal and New Jersey state investigations are probing the traffic scandal after it was revealed that a top Christie aide organized lane closures on the George Washington Bridge to snarl traffic as revenge against a local New Jersey Mayor who had refused to endorse Christie for re-election.

A lawyer for former Christie ally and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey appointee David Wildstein claimed Friday that “evidence exists” that Christie knew of the traffic jam, despite his claims to ignorance in a press conference last month. Wildstein’s lawyer wrote a letter citing unspecified evidence tying Christie to knowledge of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge “during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly.”

Christie has virulently denied the allegations, denouncing Wildstein, and Giuliani said Sunday in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation that it’s too early to tell. “The governor has denied it. So far, there’s no evidence to suggest that he’s not telling the truth. I think the governor knows the consequences,” said Giuliani. “If he’s lying, it’s a really bad situation. If he’s not lying, then something very unfair is being done to him. So let’s see what happens.”

“If the governor didn’t tell the truth, the governor is in serious trouble,” Giuliani went on. “[But] we shouldn’t jump to that conclusion until there’s evidence to suggest that.”

Christie plays a highly visible role in the GOP as chair of the Republican Governors Association. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a former head of the association, said he supported the beleaguered governor’s chairmanship, and emphasized unification within the GOP.

“I don’t think he should step down, I think he should stay there,” Jindal said of Christie on CNN’s State of the Union. In the RGA, he said, “no one governor is more important than another… What really matters is the RGA is a place where our governors come together.”

TIME Political Ads

Democrats Target Christie With Online Super Bowl Ad

Ad recaps 'precipitous decline of Christie's political standing,' says DNC

The Democratic National Committee is keeping up the pressure on embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with a web video pegged to Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“As thousands of people head to the Meadowlands for the game, the DNC is launching its own Super Bowl ad highlighting the fall from grace of one of the GOP’s much-hyped prospects – Governor Chris Christie,” a spokesman said. “The ad won’t have a talking bullfrogs or a kid dressed as Vader like other Super Bowl ads but it will have a recap of the precipitous decline of Christie’s political standing since the scouts touted him after his November reelection.”

Christie has been under fire since documents emerged last month revealing lane closures on the George Washington Bridge were orchestrated by aides as apparent political payback for the town’s mayor not endorsing Christie’s reelection bid. Christie has apologized, fired a top aide involved and denied any foreknowledge of the closures.

According to the group, the video “will appear in online ads geo-targeted to within 20 miles of the Meadowlands which includes Fort Lee, much of New York City and many of the festivities surrounding the Super Bowl. Additional Christie-focused online ads will be added in the coming days.”

TIME Chris Christie

Christie Goes On The Offensive Over Bridge Scandal Claims

Aides badmouth former ally David Wildstein in e-mail countering allegations about Christie's role in scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office swung back at the New York Times and a former official and ally Saturday, a day after the paper published a letter from the official’s lawyers claiming evidence exists that Christie was aware of politically-motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

Christie aides sent out an e-mail dismissing the letter, written by the attorney for former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, as an attempt both to get Wildstein’s legal fees paid by the Port Authority, and to encourage prosecutors to grant the Christie appointee immunity over his role in the George Washington Bridge lane closing.

“Bottom line – David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” Christie’s office said in the email.

Wildstein pleaded the fifth last month to a New Jersey legislative panel investigating the apparent politically motivated lane closures on the bridge. Christie fired top aides Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien for their roles in the incident.

“[E]vidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee,” Wildstein’s lawyer wrote in the letter. “Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”

The Christie email, with the subject line “5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell,” also blasts the Times, which was forced to tone down its initial reporting on the letter after it was released.

Christie and Wildstein have known each other since high school, though Christie said they were never very close. But Christie tapped his former classmate to be his “eyes and ears” inside the bi-state transit agency. When Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority last December amid questions about the lane closings, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak called him a “tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests at the Port Authority.”

According to email records turned over by Wildstein to the New Jersey State Assembly, Drewniak and Wildstein had dinner two nights before his resignation. “Thanks again for all your sound advice last night, I always appreciate your friendship,” Wildstein wrote to Drewniak the day before he resigned.

Michael Czin, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said in response to Christie’s office’s email, “If what Christie says about Wildstein in his oppo-dump is true, why did Christie’s administration appoint him to such a senior position at the Port Authority?”

The full email from Christie’s office is below:

5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell

1. New York Times Bombshell Not A Bombshell. A media firestorm was set off by sloppy reporting from the New York Times and their suggestion that there was actually “evidence” when it was a letter alleging that “evidence exists.” Forced to change the lead almost immediately, the Times was roundly criticized, and its editor was forced to issue this extraordinary statement to the Huffington Post:

  • · “We’ve made probably dozens of changes to the story to make it more precise. That was one of them. I bet there will be dozens more.”

2. As he has said repeatedly, Governor Christie had no involvement, knowledge or understanding of the real motives behind David Wildstein’s scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge.

  • · GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: “So what I can tell you is if people find that hard to believe, I don’t know what else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it — and that I first found out about it after it was over. And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study. And there was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday that was brought to my attention or anybody else’s attention.” (Press Conference, 1/9/14)

3. The Governor first learned lanes at the George Washington Bridge were even closed from press accounts after the fact. Even then he was under the belief it was a traffic study. He first learned David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly closed lanes for political purposes when it was reported on January 8th.

  • · GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: “And I knew nothing about this. And until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure, but even then I was told this was a traffic study.” (Press Conference, 1/9/14)

4. In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as “tumultuous” and someone who “made moves that were not productive.”

  • · As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election.
  • · He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.
  • · He had a controversial tenure as Mayor of Livingston
  • · He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge
  • · He had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people’s names without telling them
  • · Thomas L. Adams, Wildstein’s Council Running Mate: “It Was A Tumultuous Time.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
  • · Robert Leopold, Livingston’s former Democratic Mayor: Wildstein Was “A Political Animal” Who “Frightened People.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
  • · “He Was A Very Contentious Person.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,”Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
  • · Wildstein Created “Culture Of Fear” Within Port Authority. “He and others referred to a ‘culture of fear’ within the authority, reflected in testimony from other authority officials about their reluctance to report to Mr. Foye or others what they considered an ‘odd’ request from Mr. Wildstein—to abruptly realign lanes that had been in place for decades and to tell no one about it.” (Ted Mann, “Port Authority Chief Testifies in George Washington Bridge Flap,” The Wall Street Journal, 12/9/13)

5. David Wildstein has been publicly asking for immunity since the beginning, been held in contempt by the New Jersey legislature for refusing to testify, failed to provide this so-called “evidence” when he was first subpoenaed by the NJ Legislature and is looking for the Port Authority to pay his legal bills.

  • · Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich: “Look, from my perspective and Fort Lee’s perspective, we have credibility issues with Mr. Wildstein…He is certainly bucking for immunity.” (Susan K. Livio, “GWB letter raises credibility questions for Chris Christie, Port Authority official, politicians say,” Star-Ledger,2/1/14)
  • · Assemblyman John Wisniewski: “‘I am curious (Wildstein) has documents … he did not provide them to the committee when he was subpoenaed,’ Wisniewski added.” (Susan K. Livio, “GWB letter raises credibility questions for Chris Christie, Port Authority official, politicians say,” Star-Ledger,2/1/14)

Bottom line – David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein.

TIME Chris Christie

Former Christie Ally Says Governor Misled in Post-Scandal Statements

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivers as address after being sworn in for his second term as governor
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivers an address after being sworn in for his second term as governor on Jan. 21, 2014. Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Allegations add to scandal threatening New Jersey governor's political future

A former official at the center of the traffic scandal that has ensnared New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that there’s evidence Christie knew lanes had been closed on a bridge at the time, contradicting Christie’s insistence otherwise and reigniting a scandal that has threatened his political future.

A lawyer for David Wildstein, a top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and longtime Christie friend, said in a letter to the agency that “evidence exists tying Christie to knowledge” of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge “during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly.” The letter also said Wildstein “contests the accuracy of various statements” Christie made about Wildstein and that he “can prove the inaccuracy of some.” Wildstein did not say that he personally has evidence of Christie’s prior knowledge of the lane closures, nor did he detail what that evidence is.

The letter from Wildstein’s lawyer was sent in an effort to get the Port Authority to pay legal fees incurred by an ongoing investigation into the scandal. It is the most serious allegation to date that Christie himself knew lanes had been closed at the time of a traffic jam that snarled a north Jersey town for days last year. Documents disclosed earlier this month revealed the lane closures on the busiest bridge in the world were orchestrated by aides as apparent political payback for the town’s mayor not endorsing Christie’s reelection bid. Christie has apologized, fired a top aide involved and denied any knowledge of a political retribution scheme. But he has also said he didn’t know the lanes were closed until after the September incident, and was only told then that it was for a traffic study.

“I don’t know what else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this—of the planning, the execution or anything about it—and that I first found out about it after it was over,” Christie said on Jan. 9.

Christie’s office said Friday in a statement that the letter actually “confirms what the Governor has said all along—he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with.

“As the Governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th,” the statement read. “The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.”

The leader of a panel of state lawmakers investigating the matter did not immediately comment. Federal authorities have also been probing the matter.

Wildstein resigned in December amid early suggestions that the lane closures were politically motivated. Testifying under subpoena before a state legislative committee earlier this month, Wildstein refused to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment rights to stay silent.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, whose town was turned into a veritable parking lot for days after dedicated lanes to the bridge were closed, responded cautiously to the news Friday.

“They’re only allegations, and I think it’s now as important as ever for the fact-finders to determine who knew what and when,” Sokolich told TIME. “With all due respect, Mr. Wildstein’s overtures don’t hit the height of my credibility scale. … I take them with a grain of salt, but it is of concern.

“I’m not rooting for anyone’s demise,” he added. “I’m rooting for the truth.”

If Wildstein’s allegations prove true, it could be a severe political blow for Christie, seen as a leading Republican presidential candidate in 2016. When the scandal broke open earlier this month, many Republican operatives credited Christie with stanching the bleeding by axing aides and denying culpability, but said evidence that Christie knew more than he let on could prove politically fatal.

-with reporting by Zeke J Miller and Andrew Katz

TIME 2016 Election

Christie’s Support Tanks After Bridge Scandal

Troubling signs for the New Jersey governor and 2016 hopeful

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has sustained significant political damage in the wake of the traffic scandal that has threatened the Republican’s presidential aspirations, according to a new poll.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey out Tuesday found that 29 percent of Americans view Christie positively and 22 percent view him negatively, a sharp change from an October poll that showed 33 percent of Americans viewing him positively and just 17 percent negatively. Christie, who was reelected last year with wide support across party lines, has seen his favorability ratings hit a roadblock with Democrats and political moderates, according to the poll.

Christie, a leading GOP contender for the White House in 2016, has been under fire ever since documents surfaced earlier this month showing that aides worked to purposely snarl traffic in a north Jersey town, acting out an apparent political payback scheme after the town’s mayor didn’t endorse Christie’s reelection bid. Christie has apologized, fired a top aide and said he knew nothing of the scheme. But the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal, in which lanes leading from Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge were closed, has emboldened Democrats in the state legislature to probe the matter and attracted the interest of federal investigators. The latest survey breaks from a different poll two weeks ago that found one-third of voters hadn’t changed their opinion of Christie in the wake of the scandal.

In a troublesome sign for Christie as he looks to move past the issue, almost 80 percent of Americans say they’re familiar with the scandal, according to the poll. Americans are divided on whether Christie is telling the truth in saying he had no prior knowledge of the scheme; 42 percent say he’s being honest, 44 percent say he’s not.

The poll of 800 adults, conducted Jan. 22 to Jan. 25, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percent.

TIME Chris Christie

Lawmakers Launch Probe of Christie Bridge Scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
In this Jan. 16, 2014, photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering of home owners in Manahawkin, N.J. Mel Evans / AP

Garden State lawmakers are pledging a 'deliberative, thoughtful and thorough' investigation into the actions taken by Christie aides that forced lane closures on the George Washington Bridge and caused major gridlock in one small town

The New Jersey state Senate formally began an investigation Thursday into the traffic scandal that has ensnared Gov. Chris Christie and threatened his presidential hopes.

The Senate unanimously authorized a bipartisan committee to investigate the incident, in which Christie aides closed lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as political punishment for a small-town mayor in north Jersey who didn’t endorse Christie’s reelection bid. The state Assembly and federal authorities are also probing the incident, but the Senate pledged an expansive investigation with subpoena power, and a round of more than a dozen subpoenas were issued almost immediately after the panel was formed.

“The investigation will be deliberative, thoughtful and thorough,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “It will pursue all aspects of this case and go wherever the evidence takes it. We want to get the full story and we want the truth about what happened and who was involved.”

Christie, a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2016, fired a top aide last week, apologized and said he did not know about the political payback ploy. His administration hired outside counsel Thursday to investigate how the scheme played out and to facilitate cooperation with the growing number of investigations underway.

The committee in the state Assembly that is investigating the lane closures hit a road block last week when a subpoenaed former transportation official at the center of the scandal refused to answer any questions, citing his constitutional rights to stay silent.

TIME Chris Christie

Why Pundits Shouldn’t Read Too Much Into Chris Christie’s Pronouns

New Jersey Governor Christie gives news conference in Trenton
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gives a news conference in Trenton, January 9, 2014. Carlo Allegri—Reuters

It's hard to say "I'm sorry" without venturing into first-person singular territory

In the first lines of his public apology about the traffic scandal imperiling his political future, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie referenced himself repeatedly. Arranged as a first-person poem, those lines would look like this:

I come out here to this office where

I’ve been many times before and

I’ve come out here today to apologize …

I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and

I apologize to the members of the state legislature.

I am embarrassed and humiliated …

Pundits pounced on Christie’s usage of self-referential pronouns during his marathon news conference—about lane closures near the George Washington Bridge that turned out to be an act of political vengeance—presenting them as confirmation that Christie is egotistical and self-centered. But while the governor may have such unflattering attributes, academics have pointed out that drawing such a conclusion based on “I” and “me” counts is a faulty science.

New York magazine’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells argued that when Christie rephrased a reporter’s question as “What does it make me ask about me?”, the prospective 2016 candidate had unwittingly captured “the essence of Chris Christie,” a man who “can make any story, no matter how big, about him.” In the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote that Christie “found a way to spell apology with a thousand I’s,” and tied this to an assertion that Christie “always seems to have himself first and foremost in mind.”

This isn’t the first time that the governor has been accused of self-aggrandizing based partly on how many times he strayed into first-person singular territory. And Christie’s critics are hardly the first to imply that kind of correlation. After President Barack Obama announced Osama bin Laden’s death, National Review’s Victor Davis Hanson said that his usage of words like I and my reflected “a now well-known Obama trait of personalizing the presidency.” In a review of a book Bill Clinton wrote after his presidency, Newsweek’s Evan Thomas said that “judging from his use of the first-person pronoun four times in the first sentence, his agenda is not entirely selfless.” In 2008, columnist Frank Rich declared that “All presidential candidates… are egomaniacs,” and he submitted first-person pronoun tallies from speeches by Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain as evidence.

Language researchers have taken the time to do more math than that. One thing they’ve found is that politicians maligned for using an inordinate amount of first-person pronouns don’t necessarily use them more than other politicians. “If you struck from Barack Obama’s vocabulary the first-person singular pronoun, he would fall silent,” conservative columnist George Will has said. But in his book The Secret Life of Pronouns, social psychologist James Pennebaker examined presidential press conferences from Truman to Obama and found that the current president actually used the I-word less than any other president in recent history.

In the wake of Christie’s so-called Bridgegate scandal, University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman conducted a similar test. He took a selection of apologies excerpted by the New York Times the day after Christie’s news conference and analyzed the frequency of first-person singular pronouns in the full statements. He found that Christie’s was in the middle of the pack, containing a lower percentage than apologies given by politicians such as Bill Clinton, David Vitter, Anthony Wiener and Eliot Spitzer.

Courtesy of Mark Liberman

“When pundits make quantitative claims, even implicit ones, those claims ought to be true,” Liberman said in an email. “If they complain about how so-and-so is inordinately fond of doing whatever, we should be able to trust that if we count so-and-so’s whatevers, there really will be more than we’ll find for other similar people in similar circumstances.”

In this circumstance, Christie was apologizing, which means it’s natural for him to use more personal pronouns than he would in, say, a speech about inclement weather. In his analysis, Liberman looked at the excerpts as a composite and found that nearly 10% of the words were first-person singular pronouns. “That’s just the nature of the situation,” Liberman says. “The person apologizing needs to take responsibility or deny it, to explain what they did or didn’t do, why they did it or didn’t do it, how they feel about it, and what if anything they’re going do about it.” Talking about his aide who was partly responsible for the closure, Christie could have used a shirking passive voice and said “someone who was in that circle of trust… betrayed my trust.” Instead he upped the I-count and said, “someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust… betrayed my trust.”

In his research, Pennebaker found that I-words work differently than people would likely expect. People who are insecure and self-deprecating tend to use a lot of I-words, while people who are confident or lying tend to drop them. After examining a transcript of Christie’s presser, Pennebaker tells TIME that his use of first-person pronouns is in a “high-normal” range. “The way he is using I-words is consistent with someone who is self-focused and self-reflective, perhaps guilty, anxious, and even self-effacing,” he says. “The overall tone of the press conference is not one of arrogance—at least as measured by I-word usage.”

Determining someone’s state of mind through their use of pronouns is still a far cry from declaring their character. The suggestion that Christie showed his egomaniacal colors through pronouns in his mea culpa is “like accusing someone of lying because he blinks so often, when (a) he doesn’t blink especially often, and (b) blinking a lot is not a reliable sign of lying anyhow,” Liberman says. That’s not to say that critics are wrong to accuse Christie or Obama or any other politician of egotism—just that even a thousand I’s or me’s aren’t proof.

This is an edition of Wednesday Words, a weekly feature on language. For the previous post, click here.

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