TIME Chris Christie

Christie’s Lawyers Clear Him Of Wrongdoing After Inquiry

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to local residents of Belmar, New Jersey.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to local residents of Belmar, New Jersey, March 25, 2014. Mike Segar—Reuters

A two-month investigation by a team of lawyers hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has determined he wasn't at fault for the lane closure scandal last year

An extensive investigation by Chris Christie’s lawyers tentatively cleared the New Jersey governor of wrongdoing in connection with the lane closure scandal that has tainted his presidential prospects.

“Our investigation found that Governor Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes,” according to the authors of the report, which was released Thursday morning. “Once the Governor became aware,” the report said, “he made appropriate inquiries and even convened a special meeting of his senior staff on December 13, 2013, demanding to know whether any of them were involved in this decision, only to be lied to.”

The inquiry was conducted by lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which Christie’s office retained in January. The $1 million review combed public and private emails and text messages. The lawyers, led by Gibson, Dunn partner Randy Mastro, interviewed Christie, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and more than 70 Christie aides and appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It came at a cost to taxpayers of $650 per hour.

The report suggests Christie behaved appropriately upon learning the truth about the lane closures that took place on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge last September. The report asserts Christie’s public accounting of what he knew about the lane closures “rings true.”

In a press conference to unveil the report on Thursday, Mastro said the report was “vindication” of Christie’s public comments about the matter. “We found that Gov. Christie had no knowledge beforehand of the George Washington Bridge realignment idea, and that he played no role whatsoever,” Mastro said.

The document places the blame for the incident on a tight circle of culprits, led by Bridget Kelly, a member of the governor’s senior staff. It provides a fuller picture of the scope of the scheme, as well as the subsequent cover-up by Kelly.

“We have not found any evidence of anyone in the Governor’s Office knowing about the lane realignment beforehand or otherwise being involved, besides Bridget Kelly,” the attorneys concluded. “Whatever motivated [Port Authority official David] Wildstein and Kelly to act as they did, it was not at the behest of Governor Christie, who knew nothing about it.”

The report has significant limitations, not least because of the lawyer’s ties to the Christie Administration. In addition, the three people at the heart of the scandal—Kelly, a former Christie deputy chief of staff; Bill Stepien, his two-time campaign manager; and Wildstein, who supervised the lane closures—all declined to participate in the probe.

According to the report, during a private dinner in December Wildstein told Christie’s press secretary that he had previously mentioned the lane closures to the governor. “Wildstein said this as he reiterated that the lane realignment was his idea and a legitimate traffic study,” the report notes.

Though Mastro defended the inquiry as “thorough and exhaustive,” the lawyers acknowledge the report has holes. In particular, lingering questions remain over the precise motivation of Wildstein and Kelly for closing the lanes. Media reports have suggested that the lanes were closed as retribution for Democratic Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich declining to endorse Christie for re-election. However, Christie and Sokolich have both raised questions about that theory.

Christie’s office hopes the report will help put the controversy behind him, though there are ongoing legislative and criminal inquiries into the lane closure scandal. Christie is sitting down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer Thursday in his first television interview since his two-hour press conference after the emails were revealed.

The 345-page report also examined Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegation that Guadagno had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy recovery aid over a development project. Zimmer and Hoboken officials declined to speak with the lawyers, but they concluded her “allegations are unsubstantiated and, in material respects, demonstrably false” regardless.

Democrats have called the report a sham in advance of its release, pointing to the fact that Mastro is a confidant of Christie ally and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

“The report released today is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded PR blitz to give Christie a crisis management talking point before all the facts are even known,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin said in a statement. “While numerous questions remain about Bridgegate, we do know that Christie created a culture in his office that led to the lane closures. Following the closures, Christie’s government office, campaign staff and Port Authority officials conspired in a months-long effort to cover up the damage that was done by their petty actions.”

Mastro defended his impartiality in the press conference, noting that he has defended many local Democratic politicians and that subsequent probes would reveal any inaccuracies in his firm’s report. “This is a search for the truth, and we believe we have gotten the truth,” he said. “We believe we got it right, and we will ultimately be judged by that.”

The review recommends several changes to Christie’s gubernatorial office, including restricting the use of personal email for state business and eliminating the intergovernmental affairs office held by Kelly and Stepien before her. The attorneys also called on Christie to appoint an Ombudsperson and a Chief Ethics Officer within his office to prevent similar situations in the future. Additionally, they called on Christie to work with the State of New York to consider reforms to the bi-state Port Authority.

The full report is below:

TIME 2016 Election

Republicans Vie For 2016 Support From Casino Magnate

Las Vegas Sands Corp Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson rides his wheelchair after a news conference in Tokyo , Feb. 24, 2014
Las Vegas Sands Corp Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson rides his wheelchair after a news conference in Tokyo , Feb. 24, 2014 Yuya Shino—Reuters

This weekend in Las Vegas, four potential 2016 candidates will gather at billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Venetian hotel and casino to address a gathering of the influential Republican Jewish Coalition, a group backed by Adelson

The 2016 Republican presidential primaries are still almost two years away, but the race is on for the support of one key donor: billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

This weekend in Las Vegas, four potential 2016 candidates will gather at Adelson’s Venetian hotel and casino on the strip to address a gathering of the influential Republican Jewish Coalition, a group backed by Adelson. The staunchly pro-Israel Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated well over $100 million to Republican groups in the 2012 election cycle, including Super PACs backing Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

According to a program for the conference, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will address a group of top-tier donors on Thursday evening during a “VIP Board Dinner” at the Las Vegas Sands Hangar at McCarran Airport open to donors who give more than $25,000 a year to the organization. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will address the entire conference, which is open to donors who give more than $1,000 a year to the group, on Saturday morning, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich will speak at a luncheon hosted by the group’s National Women’s Committee. Kasich and Walker will also attend a “Discussion and Photo Op” for the RJC donors who meet a $5,000 annual donation level or greater.

For the potential candidates, the opportunity to interact with the high-dollar donors, particularly Adelson, is hard to overstate. The pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, was backed almost entirely by the Adelson family and was central to the former House Speaker’s surge in the South Carolina primary. The group’s attacks on Mitt Romney also helped lay the groundwork for the Obama campaign’s message against the eventual Republican nominee.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have addressed the group in the past. One name not to look for: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose father was the only 2012 candidate not invited to the group’s candidate forum in 2011.

In addition to the presidential hopefuls, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer will address attendees at Sabbath dinner on Friday night, while former Vice President Dick Cheney will be the keynote speaker at a dinner Saturday night, with Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) serving as master of ceremonies and entertainment provided by Australian Motown group Human Nature. Cheney will hold a discussion and photo-op with donors who’ve given more than $10,000 to the group before the dinner. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer will hold a “communications workshop” on Saturday for the group’s donors focused on selling the group’s ideas, while Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) will host a late night dessert reception for young leaders. On Sunday morning, GOP commentators David Frum and John Podhoretz will discuss the path forward for the GOP in a debate moderated by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is running for Senate.

RJC donors will also be offered the opportunity to play in a golf tournament at the Royal Links Golf Club, which has holes modeled on famous British golf courses, as well as a poker tournament on Friday afternoon.

Most of the action will be taking place behind closed doors, as the speakers meet with Adelson and other top-tier donors privately. Only the Saturday morning speeches are open to the press.

TIME Tesla

Tesla’s War With the States Shifts Into Overdrive

Christie Appointees Ban N.J. Direct Sales for Musk's Tesla Cars
A Model S is displayed at the Tesla store in the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, N.J., on March 12, 2014 Emile Wamsteker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The electric car maker run by PayPal billionaire Elon Musk is fighting powerful auto interests in states across the U.S. for the right to sell its cars directly to consumers, upending the traditional dealership model

Tesla’s campaign to sell its electric cars directly to consumers shifted into high gear this week as state lawmakers debated Tesla-related bills while powerful auto lobbyists braced for a fight. In New York, a measure designed to ban Tesla from opening new stores passed a key hurdle, while in Arizona, lawmakers pushed a bill to make it easier for Tesla to sell its cars without establishing a dealer network.

The escalating conflict underscores Tesla’s role as a disruptive force in the U.S. auto industry, not only because the company’s cars don’t use gasoline engines, but also because Tesla is trying to upend the dealership-franchise model that has underpinned the automobile industry for decades. That model — and laws protecting it — emerged in the 1930s as a way for automakers to build a national sales and service force and help foster local economic growth.

Tesla sells cars directly to customers through its own retail locations — much like Apple does with its high-tech products — whereas other car companies rely on independently owned dealerships for sales and service. Auto-industry lobbyists say this model protects the public by ensuring consumer choice. They also warn that if Tesla is allowed to skirt the franchise model, consumers could be left in the lurch without a local service location if the electric-car maker goes bankrupt.

Tesla is currently barred or restricted from selling its cars directly to consumers in several states, including Texas, Arizona and, as of last week, New Jersey. In those states, the company operates “galleries” where consumers can inspect Tesla cars, but employees are prevented from discussing pricing or offering test-drives. After inspecting a Tesla, consumers in those states can purchase a vehicle online.

(MORE: Tesla CEO Rips New Jersey Over ‘Backroom Deal’ Auto-Sales Ban)

New York state assemblyman David Buchwald will hold a press conference on Friday joined by Tesla officials and environmental advocates to oppose the New York bill, which Tesla says would end the direct sale of its cars in New York. The bill, which passed a key New York state Assembly committee on Wednesday, and is backed by several dealership associations, would stifle innovation and limit consumer choice, according to Buchwald.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, lawmakers are set to consider a bill that would allow Tesla to sell cars in the state without establishing a dealer network, reversing a ban that dates back to 2000. “This is a great opportunity for us to send a message that we welcome business and we welcome Tesla here to Arizona,” state representative Warren Petersen, the bill’s sponsor, said in comments cited by the Associated Press. “We shouldn’t deny our consumers from being able to purchase a product if they want.”

The Arizona bill highlights an awkward situation facing lawmakers there. Arizona is one of four states that Tesla is considering for its planned 10 million-sq-ft (900,000 sq m) lithium-ion-battery factory, which would supply the company’s California electric-car-assembly plant. Tesla plans to invest $2 billion in the new battery facility, dubbed the Gigafactory, and says it could employ as many as 6,500 workers at the plant. Earlier this week, Arizona’s entire U.S. congressional delegation sent Tesla a letter touting the state as an “ideal choice for this revolutionary factory.”

But even as Arizona officials woo Tesla over the Gigafactory, the company is prohibited from selling its cars directly to consumers in the state. (Texas, another candidate for the Gigafactory, also bars Tesla from selling its cars directly to consumers.) According to Arizona state senator Bob Worsley, the bill allowing Tesla to sell directly to consumers is “not a quid pro quo,” he told the AP. “I want the message from our state to be that we welcome the opportunity to work with large successful companies with this size market cap.”

Tesla is battling powerful state auto-dealership interests across the country. In Ohio, the state Automobile Dealers Association waged an unsuccessful legal fight to shut down Tesla’s two existing locations in Cincinnati and Columbus. Now the group is urging state lawmakers to pass a bill that would prevent the company from expanding to new retail locations by blocking auto manufacturers from obtaining dealer licenses.

Back in New York, the anti-Tesla bill is headed for a full vote just days after the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, which is composed of political appointees selected by Governor Chris Christie, blocked Tesla’s ability to sell electric cars through its own retailers in that state. In response, Tesla CEO Elon Musk charged that auto-dealer lobbyists “cut a backroom deal” with Christie “to circumvent the legislative process.” Jim Appleton, head of the N.J. Coalition of Automotive Retailers, shot back by claiming that Musk was having a “hissy fit.”

Musk mocked the “consumer protection” rationale that was presented. “If you believe this, Governor Christie has a bridge closure he wants to sell you!” Musk wrote in a company blog post. “Unless they are referring to the mafia version of ‘protection,’ this is obviously untrue.'”

As a result of the new rule, New Jersey residents will soon have to go out-of-state or use the Internet if they want to purchase a Tesla vehicle. Musk urged would-be Tesla buyers to visit the company’s New York City store or its King of Prussia, Pa., location near Philadelphia.

For his part, Christie blamed the New Jersey state legislature for effectively banning Tesla from selling cars to consumers directly in the state. “I’m not pushing Tesla out; the state Legislature did,” Christie said at a town-hall meeting, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. “I have no problem with Tesla selling directly to customers, except that it’s against the law in New Jersey.”

TIME Electric Cars

Tesla CEO Rips New Jersey Over ‘Backroom Deal’ Auto Sales Ban

Christie Appointees Ban N.J. Direct Sales for Musk's Tesla Cars
A Model S with sits on display at the Tesla store in the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, NJ, March 12, 2014. Emile Wamsteker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The state's motor vehicle commission blocked Tesla's ability to sell electric cars through its own retailers, so Tesla CEO Elon Musk is urging buyers to visit the company's locations in New York City and Philadelphia

Tesla CEO Elon Musk blasted New Jersey officials on Friday for moving to prevent consumers from buying vehicles directly from the electric car maker, charging that auto dealer lobbyists “cut a backroom deal” with Gov. Chris Christie “to circumvent the legislative process.” In response, the head of the state Coalition of Automotive Retailers accused Musk of throwing a “hissy fit.”

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, which is composed of political appointees selected by Gov. Christie, blocked Tesla’s ability to sell electric cars through its own retailers, as it does in New York and Pennsylvania. Tesla sells cars directly to customers through its own retail locations, whereas most car manufacturers rely on third-party dealerships for sales.

As a result of the new rule, New Jersey residents will soon have to go out-of-state if they want to purchase a Tesla vehicle — and that’s exactly what Musk is now suggesting. In a blog post, Musk urged would-be Tesla buyers to visit the company’s New York City store or its King of Prussia, Pa. location near Philadelphia.

For decades, the major U.S. automakers have sold vehicles under the now-familiar dealership franchise model. As a result, the U.S. auto market is composed of thousands of independently owned dealerships, which are granted the right to market and sell brands like Ford — much in the same way that fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s are independently owned franchises.

“When Tesla came along as a new company with no existing franchisees, the auto dealers, who possess vastly more resources and influence than Tesla, nonetheless sought to force us to sell through them,” Musk wrote. “The reason that we did not choose to do this is that the auto dealers have a fundamental conflict of interest between promoting gasoline cars, which constitute virtually all of their revenue, and electric cars, which constitute virtually none.”

This market structure has created a conflict of interest that stacks the deck against Tesla, according to Musk, because the auto dealers “make most of their profit from service, but electric cars require much less service than gasoline cars. There are no oil, spark plug or fuel filter changes, no tune-ups and no smog checks needed for an electric car.”

In the blog post, Musk wrote that he has “made it a principle within Tesla that we should never attempt to make servicing a profit center. It does not seem right to me that companies try to make a profit off customers when their product breaks. Overcharging people for unneeded servicing (often not even fixing the original problem) is rampant within the industry and happened to me personally on several occasions when I drove gasoline cars.”

Musk mocked the “consumer protection” rationale that was presented to justify the New Jersey rule change. “If you believe this, Gov. Christie has a bridge closure he wants to sell you!” Musk declared. “Unless they are referring to the mafia version of ‘protection,’ this is obviously untrue. As anyone who has been through the conventional auto dealer purchase process knows, consumer protection is pretty much the furthest thing from the typical car dealer’s mind.”

Kevin Roberts, a spokesperson for Gov. Christie, defended the policy. “This administration does not find it appropriate to unilaterally change the way cars are sold in New Jersey without legislation and Tesla has been aware of this position since the beginning,” Roberts told CNNMoney. Jim Appleton, head of the N.J. Coalition of Automotive Retailers, denied there was a backroom deal, and told NorthJersey.com that Musk was having a “hissy fit.”

As for Tesla, Musk said that the company’s New Jersey stores will “transition to being galleries, where you can see the car and ask questions of our staff, but we will not be able to discuss price or complete a sale in the store. However, that can still be done at our Manhattan store just over the river in Chelsea or our King of Prussia store near Philadelphia.” Musk added: “We are evaluating judicial remedies to correct the situation.”

TIME Automotives

Tesla Slams N.J. Ban on Direct Car Sales

Elon Musk at the Tesla store at Westfield Stratford City retail complex in London, Oct. 24, 2013.
Elon Musk at the Tesla store at Westfield Stratford City retail complex in London, Oct. 24, 2013. Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Elon Musk's electric car company is criticizing Gov. Chris Christie's administration and the state's motor vehicle commission for blocking automakers from selling cars directly to customers as Tesla does to cut down on costs to consumers

Electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors criticized New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration and the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission for blocking auto companies from selling cars directly to consumers Thursday. As a result of the new rule passed earlier in the day, New Jersey residents will likely have to go out of state if they want to purchase a Tesla vehicle, unless the electric car maker changes to a dealership sales model.

“The Administration and the NJMVC are thwarting the Legislature and going beyond their authority to implement the state’s laws at the behest of a special interest group looking to protect its monopoly at the expense of New Jersey consumers,” the company said in a press release. “This is an affront to the very concept of a free market.”

Tesla sells cars directly to customers through retail locations it owns, whereas most car manufacturers rely on third party dealerships for sales. New Jersey is the third state to ban the direct car sales, according to TechCrunch. Texas and Arizona also ban the practice.

The New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, a car dealership advocacy group, supported the rule change.

Shares in the company slipped 1.85 percent during regular trading.

TIME White House

The Next President Is Getting Some New Wheels

A security officer gives a thumbs-up to the driver of 'The Beast,' a modified Cadillac DTS that is the current U.S. presidential limousine, after U.S. President Barack Obama exited it for a dinner at the Orangerie at Schloss Charlottenburg palace on June 19, 2013 in Berlin.
A security officer gives a thumbs-up to the driver of 'The Beast,' a modified Cadillac DTS that is the current U.S. presidential limousine, after U.S. President Barack Obama exited it for a dinner at the Orangerie at Schloss Charlottenburg palace on June 19, 2013 in Berlin. Adam Berry—Getty Images

Whoever wins the next presidential election has at least one definite perk to look forward to: A new presidential limo, complete with classified armor specifications, that'll replace the current "Beast" introduced for President Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural parade

The leader of the free world is getting some new wheels.

The Secret Service is proceeding with development of a new presidential limousine to replace the Cadillac model currently used by President Barack Obama, according to a new General Services Administration contract posting. The new vehicle is expected to be ready for the inauguration of the next president—whomever she or he may be.

Classified armor development for the new rolling Oval Office has been underway since last year. The government is now seeking bidders to integrate that armor into a new design for “The Beast,” as the heavily-protected vehicle is popularly known, with options for the final construction stages. Details of the new design, like the old, are highly classified and contractors must meet strict security requirements just to get a peek at what they will be asked to build.

The current model was introduced in 2009 for Obama’s inaugural parade, partially replacing a 2005 Cadillac DTS model introduced at President George W. Bush’s second inauguration. The older model is occasionally used to transport the president, as well as visiting heads of state.

The Beast is designed with withstand an array of conventional and unconventional attacks, with heavy, foot-wide, and airtight doors, and packed with communications gear to keep the commander in chief safe and connected to the rest of the government. They are essentially custom-designed off of truck chassis, with just a handful of off-the-shelf cosmetic parts.

A spokesman for the Secret Service did not comment on the need for the new model.

-with reporting from Mark Thompson in Washington

TIME Election 2016

Rand Paul Tops Conservative Straw Poll

Rand Paul CPAC
Rand Paul supporters stand and cheer when the results of a straw poll show Rand Paul winning the GOP Presidential nomination during the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. Lexey Swall—GRAIN for TIME

Sen. Rand Paul finished again first among conservative activists for the 2016 presidential nomination in a straw poll at the three-day conference, with tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz coming in at a distant second

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul repeated his first-place finish as the preference of conservative activists for the 2016 presidential nomination Saturday, finishing with 31 percent of the vote at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Paul drew a large crowd of supporters to the three-day conference and drew the largest and most enthusiastic crowds with his speech on Friday rallying against the National Security Agency. The straw poll has been a poor predictor of future success, even among the conservatives who vote in it.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another tea party favorite, placed a distant second among the 2,459 votes cast in the annual measure of conference attendees, with 11 percent of the vote. Former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson placed third with 9 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was not invited to the conference last year, placed fourth with 8 percent.

The results highlight the fractured state of the Republican Party, with potential tea party and libertarian candidates drawing the energy of the party’s grassroots. Sen. Marco Rubio, who drew intense flack from the base for his support for immigration reform, saw his support drop from 23 percent second-place finish last year to just 6 percent, for a seventh place finish. Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential candidate, saw his support cut in half from 6 percent to 3 percent, as he is increasingly viewed as being part of the party’s establishment.

For the first time, a majority of conference attendees, 51 percent, disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress are handling their jobs.

After his victory, Paul tweeted his thanks to his supporters:

TIME 2016 Election

CPAC Gives Republicans a 2016 Preview

The Republican presidential field won't start taking shape for another eight months, but the 2016 race was the unspoken theme of the first day of an annual conservative conference on the banks of Washington's National Harbor

A deep roster of potential presidential contenders presented competing visions of the Republicans’ future while subtly jostling to position themselves as the right candidate to lead the party.

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is a rite of passage for the right’s presidential aspirants, who must showcase their ability to enthrall activists, excite donors and enlist talent. At least five legitimate GOP contenders (sorry, Donald Trump and John Bolton: we’re not buying it) addressed activists in a ballroom at an airy resort here Thursday. In each case, the candidate’s approach to courting the crowd offered an early preview of how he interprets his niche in a crowded field of presidential hopefuls.

Senator Ted Cruz: The Tea Party Icon

Lexey Swall—GRAIN for TIME

“Now, I do have to start with a bit of bad news this morning,” the Texas Senator began his speech, which opened the three-day conference. “I’m sorry to tell you that by virtue of your being here today, tomorrow morning each and every one of you is going to be audited by the IRS.”

It’s a joke Cruz has told time and again, but it brought down the house — and it illustrated how his keen ability to tap into the anxieties of the GOP base makes him a Tea Party darling.

Representative Paul Ryan: The Ideas Guy

Lexey Swall—GRAIN for TIME

Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012, may not run this time around. But his remarks were a reminder of why he has forged a reputation as one of his party’s brightest thinkers. He likened his successful pitch for entitlement reform to his former boss Jack Kemp’s belief in supply-side economics: an idea considered a political liability until it became party doctrine.

The message? Republicans should embrace the battle of ideas and hold fast to convictions that may not play well at the polls. “A majority party welcomes debate,” Ryan told the crowd. “It brings people in. It doesn’t burn heretics. It wins converts. And it knows people don’t want to be pandered to. They want to be treated like adults. They want to be convinced. They want to be inspired.”

Governor Bobby Jindal: The Bomb Thrower

Bobby Jindal CPAC
Brooks Kraft—Corbis

A week after breaking an unwritten rule by lambasting President Obama on the White House grounds, the Louisiana governor flung more red meat than perhaps any other presidential hopeful. Jindal, a Rhodes scholar who has urged the GOP to “stop being the stupid party,” has put his wonky side on the back burner and unleashed scathing attacks on his political opponents. On Thursday he opened his remarks with an apology to former President Jimmy Carter for previously calling him the worst President of his lifetime. Later he said Obama should sue Harvard for his law-school tuition because he didn’t learn anything about the Constitution.

Governor Chris Christie: The Pragmatic Conservative

Lexey Swall—GRAIN for TIME

Thursday’s speech reinforced what is almost certain to be a central problem for a potential Christie candidacy: the base’s skepticism in his conservative bona fides.

Senator Marco Rubio: The American Exceptionalist

Lexey Swall—GRAIN for TIME

The young Senator from Florida has distinguished himself by hewing to a muscular foreign policy that has lost favor in a party weary from the costs of war. Rubio, who has been mending ties with the base that frayed after his pitch for immigration reform, unspooled an optimistic speech that hammered Obama’s foreign policy and stressed the U.S.’s central place in the world.

“There is only one nation on earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the spread of totalitarianism,” Rubio said, drawing on his biography as the son of Cuban immigrants to lay out his belief in American exceptionalism. “Every time I talk about how special America is, some commentator or whoever it may be will roll their eyes and say, ‘Well, that’s just something Americans tell each other to make themselves feel good.’ You have the right to believe that. I don’t have that option, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

Still to Come

Senator Rand Paul brought down the house in his speech last year and is the odds-on favorite to win this year’s straw poll. Former Senator Rick Santorum finished second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican presidential primary and is flirting with another bid for the White House. Texas Governor Rick Perry is working to resurrect his national brand following a disastrous 2012 campaign. All three will speak to the group on Friday.

The No-Shows

Several Republican governors thought to be eyeing potential White House bids all skipped the conference, preferring instead to focus on their re-election campaigns. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and Michigan’s Rick Snyder all received shout-outs from Christie for their conservative stands but did not travel to the conference. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a favorite of Establishment Republican donors but has shown no real signs of throwing his hat in the ring.

TIME 2016 Election

A Humbled Christie Strikes Low-Key Tone at Conservative Confab

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Md.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014, in National Harbor, Md. Lexey Swall—GRAIN for TIME

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivered an uncharacteristically low-key speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference this afternoon, aiming to reconnect with the Republican base amid a traffic scandal that has dented his 2016 ambitions

Humbled by a scandal that has hampered his rise on the national stage, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sought to reconnect with the Republican base on Thursday, delivering an uncharacteristically low-key speech to GOP activists that sounded traditional conservative themes.

“You know I’m shy and retiring, and I don’t like to speak my mind,” Christie joked during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual confab held at a convention center on the banks of the Potomac River outside Washington.

But the reference to his swaggering image seemed to invoke a figure who wasn’t there. Christie’s remarks were neither brusque nor stirring. He courted the crowd by ticking off familiar tropes, reminding skeptical conservatives of his anti-abortion bona fides and his record of taking on public-sector unions and instituting budget reforms. The Garden State governor assailed the media for bias, cast Democrats as “the party of intolerance,” and urged the GOP to define itself as the party of ideas.

“Our ideas are better than their ideas,” Christie told the packed ballroom. “We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for.”

Christie framed himself as a conservative who has secured a governing majority in a reliably blue state. If the GOP can win in New Jersey, he said, it can borrow the blueprint to expand the political map in coming elections.

“Governors are about getting things done,” Christie said, lumping himself in with a passel of conservative executives leading blue and purple states, while distancing himself from Washington lawmakers. “Republican governors in this country have stood up and done things — not just talked about them.”

Christie’s remarks, which lasted about 15 minutes, were a far cry from the all-about-me message he delivered at the 2012 Republican National Convention. His speech Thursday earned a polite reception from the crowd and was punctuated by several rounds of applause. He spoke off the cuff, using notes instead of a teleprompter.

But his very attendance is a sign that the frost between Christie and his party’s base has thawed. Christie addressed the group in 2012 but did not receive an invitation to CPAC last year. The snub came just months after his public embrace of President Barack Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Many Republicans believed Christie’s effusive praise of the President in the final days of Obama’s re-election campaign helped lift the President over GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Christie spent much of 2013 focused on appealing to his state’s Democrats in order to run up the score of his re-election in preparation for a 2016 presidential campaign.

The reception may have reflected the media onslaught buffeting Christie, who has been under fire in recent months amid revelations that aides initiated a traffic jam in an apparent act of political retribution. The harsh spotlight from a media conservatives see as biased has earned him new affection from the right.

Working a crowd that has not always been friendly to his brand of Northeast conservatism, Christie sought to mend fences. He defended the political activity of the billionaire Koch brothers, whose spending on 2014 races has become a rallying cry for vulnerable Senate Democrats. He urged conservatives to stress an economic platform that can lift Americans out of poverty. And he lambasted Obama for standing on the sidelines when Washington required leadership.

“Mr. President,” he said, “what the hell are we paying you for?”

TIME 2016 Election

Christie Aides Joked About Jamming Traffic at Rabbi’s House

David Wildstein
David Wildstein, who was Christie's No. 2 man at the Port Authority, speaks during a hearing at the Statehouse in Trenton, Jan. 9, 2014. Mel Evans—AP

According to newly released documents, Bridget Anne Kelly and David Wildstein -- former aides to the N.J. governor caught up in a traffic scandal -- joked last year about creating a traffic jam outside a local rabbi's house

Former aides to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at the center of a politically damaging traffic scandal joked last year about creating a traffic jam outside a local rabbi’s house, according to newly released documents.

The exchange between former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and former transportation official David Wildstein took place Aug. 19, the New York Times reports, just six days after previously released documents showed the two planning to snarl traffic in a north Jersey town—”time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly had written—in apparent political payback after the local mayor declined to back Christie’s reelection campaign.

“We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?” Kelly wrote to Wildstein,

Wildstein, who was a top Christie official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, jokingly called for taking an even larger step. “Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed,” he wrote back.

The documents, supplied by Wildstein as part of a state legislative panel’s probe of the scandal and obtained by the Times without many of the previous redactions, reveal that the lane closures were something of a recurring topic among the same members of the Christie administration who eventually oversaw the closure of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge. The ensuing scandal has threatened Christie’s 2016 presidential aspirations.

It’s unclear why Wildstein and Kelly joked about the rabbi—and there’s no evidence of actual traffic problems in front of his house—though the documents show that Wildstein previously wrote that the rabbi “has officially pissed me off.”

“I am clueless,” the rabbi, Mendy Carlebach, told the Times.

Wildstein resigned in December amid early suggestions that the lane closures were politically motivated. Testifying under subpoena before a state legislative committee last month, he refused to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment rights. Christie, who has apologized and denied any knowledge of a political retribution scheme, fired Kelly in January.

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